Later this month, I’ll be honored to join the first Caribbean Summit of Political and Business Leaders in the British Virgin Isles. Heads of state, business leaders and international agencies will gather to protect the region’s rich coastal and marine environment. These leaders understand the value of nature to the Caribbean’s tourism-based economy and the threats they face from climate change, pollution, overfishing and uncontrolled coastal development.
Hosted by Premier Orlando Smith of the British Virgin Islands, Prime Minister Keith Mitchell of Grenada and Sir Richard Branson, Founder of Virgin Group, the Summit will allow leaders to exchange ideas, share experiences and successes, and strengthen collaboration on conservation across the region.
The leaders will launch a new phase of the Caribbean Challenge Initiative, an ambitious program begun in 2008 to protect 20 percent of the Caribbean’s marine and coastal resources by 2020. Nine Caribbean nations have embraced this challenge to date and more will join at the Summit. One of the most ambitious conservation initiatives ever undertaken, it offers great hope for protecting the region’s globally outstanding natural areas. It is a blueprint for the future — an endeavor of unprecedented scale and scope that will protect marine ecosystems for people and nature.
The Caribbean Challenge Initiative is already showing results:
- The Dominican Republic has already exceeded its 20% goal by creating 31 new marine and terrestrial protected areas, the most since the Initiative was launched.
- The Bahamas created the largest marine protected area in the Caribbean by expanding Andros West Side National Park from 185,032 acres to 1,288,167 acres.
- Jamaica decreed its first offshore marine protected area: Pedro Bank’s South West Cay Fish Sanctuary is the last place in the country where fishers can still make a living from the sea.
- The Bahamas and the Dominican Republic have established coral nurseries to counteract the decline of coral reefs in the Caribbean.
- A total of 50 new Marine Protected Areas have been declared since the Initiative was launched.
Investing in conservation and sustainable management of these coastal resources will help ensure livelihoods for fishers, a thriving coastal tourism sector and greater shoreline protection from future storms. It will create a sustainable future for the nearly 40 million people who call the Caribbean home.
I’m excited and proud of the work The Nature Conservancy is doing to support the Caribbean Challenge Initiative and all the hard work that has gone into organizing the upcoming Caribbean Summit.
We are all committed to keeping the Caribbean healthy for its people, its natural diversity and its economies.
[Image: Aerial view of Exuma Cays Land and Sea Park, Bahamas. Image source: Jonathan Kerr/TNC]