Conserving nature by building bridges in the Caribbean

26 May 2014 | Article

“The Caribbean context provides a great opportunity for BIOPAMA to build bridges and make connections that will maximize the benefits to the protected areas in the region”. By Hyacinth Armstrong-Vaughn, BIOPAMA Coordinator for the Caribbean, IUCN

The Caribbean has been identified as one of the most biodiversity-rich regions in the world. Our marine, coastal and terrestrial environments are home to some of nature’s most compelling organisms. More importantly our natural resources provide numerous ecosystem services that drive many of our economies. The tourism sector in most of the Caribbean nations is built on the natural environment that has endowed our islands. Nature enthusiasts come to snorkel and dive in our coral reefs, hike and bird watch in our mangal and rainforests or see the rare sight of turtles nesting. Our resources however, are not without threat. As we prosper and develop activities associated with increasing demands for food, infrastructure and diversification of sectors is placing a strain on our limited natural resources.  

Protected areas have been in place in the Caribbean for centuries but have been challenged by limited management and infrastructural capacity. As a result, the region is blessed to be the beneficiary of several initiatives and projects that are providing vital financial and technical support to improve the management and operation of our protected areas. These initiatives work at the site, national and regional levels, providing training, guidance and much needed infrastructure, to ensure that these protected areas fulfil their raison d’être. However, many of these initiatives tend to work in isolation resulting in duplication of efforts and diluted impacts.

In the Caribbean, BIOPAMA (Biodiversity and Protected Areas Management Programme) covers 15 countries, which means that geographically speaking it overlaps with many of the protected area-focused projects currently being implemented in the region. This provides a great opportunity for BIOPAMA to build bridges and make connections that will maximize the benefits to the protected areas in the region.  Connections have already been established with the UNEP-CEP/CAR SPAW’s CaMPAM Network which saw 7 junior MPA professionals benefit from a learning exchange in Belize. Efforts are being made to have more of these much desired, meaningful, and professional experiences taking place in the future. BIOPAMA also partnered with the TNC’s ECMMAN project to host a workshop on improving data management for decision making. A follow up from this workshop has seen the solidifying of this relationship as both projects recently discussed mechanisms for integrating their respective data management platforms that are being developed to facilitate the collection, cataloguing, analysis, and generation of information needed to make the day-to-day management and policy-related decisions. The impending synergies will see less duplication and the strengthening of efforts to provide the most effective data management support systems for improving PA management.

Alongside the opportunity to connect to existing projects is the opportunity to connect users to experts. Protected area professionals in the region require technical support to initiate and implement many of the strategies associated with effective protected area management. BIOPAMA has access to the network of IUCN experts that exist in the form of the World Commission of Protected Areas (WCPA) and the Species Survival Commission (SSC) for example. These bodies of experts have regional members, many of whom reside in the very countries that need their expertise. BIOPAMA, as it rolls out its capacity building programme for the Caribbean region, will seek to build these bridges and make these connections that will not only see direct results but ensure long-lasting sustained benefits at all levels of PA management.

Hyacinth Armstrong-Vaughn is part of the IUCN Mesoamerican and Caribbean Initiative team as the Protected Areas Officer for the BIOPAMA programme. Hyacinth has significant experience in designing, managing and implementing environmental projects within the Caribbean. Prior to working with IUCN, she managed the ICRAN Coastal and Marine Management and Education in the Southeastern Caribbean project.