Eighteen protected areas in the Greater Caribbean have been now been listed under the United Nations Environment Programme’s (UNEP) SPAW (Specially Protected Areas and Wildlife) Protocol, an instrument of UNEP’s Caribbean Environment Programme.
All 18 of the protected areas significantly contribute to the conservation of marine and coastal biodiversity in the Caribbean, while targeting various and complimentary features, habitats and species. For example, Everglades National Park in the United States is the most significant breeding ground for tropical wading birds in North America, and contains the largest mangrove ecosystem in the western hemisphere.
The Bonaire National Marine Park encompasses 2,700 hectares of coral reef, seagrass and mangrove ecosystems with 50 species of stony coral and more than 350 species of reef fish. Cuba’s Guanahacabibes National Park counts flora treasures (125 timber, 146 medicinal and 132 melliferous species) and numerous species included in the IUCN Red List or in the Annexes of the SPAW Protocol. The Agoa Sanctuary in the French West Indies covers 59,000 square miles of ocean with the aim of ensuring the conservation of marine mammals (24 species have been identified) within the framework of a harmonious co-existence with human activities.
The protected areas list was created under Article 7 of the SPAW Protocol, which states that Contracting Parties create a regional network of protected areas and develop cooperation programmes. The list aims to identify areas of particular importance to the Wider Caribbean region that are to be accorded priority for scientific and technical research and mutual assistance, as well as to protect the areas from activities that would undermine the purposes for which they were listed.
The initiative has also developed a database (http://www.spaw-palisting.org) to compile data on listed protected areas and allow for specific statistics and analyses, such as site description, ecological data, cultural and socio-economic data, management, monitoring and evaluation, stakeholders, and staffing and infrastructure.
The current list of SPAW Protected Areas includes:
Hol Chan Marine Reserve and Glover’s Reef Marine Reserve in Belize;
Guanahacabibes National Park in Pinar del Río in Cuba;
Sanctuary Cienaga Grande de Santa Marta and Regional Seaflower Marine Protected Area in San Andrés and Providencia Archipelago in Colombia;
Grand Connétable Island Natural Reserve (French Guyana),
National Park of Guadeloupe, St Martin National Reserve and Lagoon Ponds, Petite-Terre National Reserve (Guadeloupe), and Agoa Sanctuary (French West Indies) in France; Bonaire National Marine Park, St Eustatius National Park, the Quill and Boven and Saba Bank National Park in the Caribbean Netherlands; Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, Dry Tortugas National Park and Everglades National Park in Florida, and Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary in Texas in the United States.
A dedicated cooperation programme is currently being developed by UNEP’s SPAW Secretariat, in consultation with Parties and interested partners, in order to support the 18 protected areas and to promote the listing of others under SPAW. A call for proposals will be launched soon by the Secretariat to award small grants for the 18 Protected Areas to support, among other things, specific exchanges and meetings between them or with other Caribbean protected areas. Managers of the 18 protected areas will also be invited next year to join the network of mentors within the mentoring programme recently launched under CaMPAM, the Caribbean Marine Protected Area Management Network and Forum of SPAW, which aims to build capacity for managers and staff of MPAs in the region through peer-to-peer exchanges and training.