Several weeks ago, I traveled to Trinidad with three other Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund (CEPF) staff members to kick off our newest investment: the Caribbean Islands hotspot. Through the award of conservation grants to local organizations, CEPF — a joint initiative of six organizations, including CI — plans to invest $6.9 million in the region over the next five years.
So what brought me — and CEPF — to Trinidad? As a biodiversity “hotspot,” the Caribbean is one of the world’s most biologically-rich, yet threatened, regions. These islands have extremely high numbers of unique amphibians and reptiles and support exceptionally diverse ecosystems, ranging from montane cloud forests to cactus scrublands.
This hotspot extends from the Bahamas in the north to Lesser Antilles in the south (see map below). With the exception of Haiti — the least-developed country in the Americas — the hotspot’s nations are considered to be of middle to high income. However, economic imbalance is quite high even in the richer countries, and poverty is a major concern across the region.
Throughout the Caribbean most people live close to the ocean, so coastal ecosystems like mangroves, beaches, lagoons and cays are essential not only for biodiversity, but also to buffer the effects of the tropical storms that are a regular part of life in the islands. In addition, these ecosystems provide island nations with a basis for recreation and tourism, as well as habitats for commercial fish species.
But the demands on the hotspot’s land and natural resources are unsustainable: soaring population growth, massive seasonal influxes, increasing urbanization and poverty threaten the region’s long-term viability.
What CEPF Will Do
Upon arrival in Port of Spain, Trinidad’s capital city, we drove through lowland areas in the shadow of the city’s lush hills, with candy-colored homes half-hidden by palms, ferns and kapok trees. Throughout our visit, we worked with the team from the Caribbean Natural Resources Institute (CANARI), a local nongovernmental organization (NGO) that will serve as the Regional Implementation Team for the CEPF funding in the Caribbean over the next five years. In this role, CANARI will assist civil society groups as they implement successful projects throughout the islands. The week was a chance to discuss cultural perspectives, plans and procedures, as well as how the region can succeed over the next five years.
CEPF funding in the Caribbean will be available to 11 countries in the hotspot: Antigua and Barbuda; Dominica; the Dominican Republic; Grenada; Haiti; Jamaica; St. Kitts and Nevis; St. Lucia; St. Vincent and the Grenadines; the Bahamas; and Barbados. In order to prioritize funding, local stakeholders first developed an ecosystem profile which highlighted the region’s most crucial conservation needs. All funded projects will be designed with one of four conservation needs in mind:
- Improve protection and management of 45 priority key biodiversity areas.
- Integrate biodiversity conservation into landscape and development planning and
implementation in six conservation corridors — strategically located regions that link key species habitats, including protected areas.
- Support Caribbean civil society to achieve biodiversity conservation by building local
and regional capacity and by fostering stakeholder collaboration.
- Provide emergency support to Haitian civil society to mitigate the impacts of the 2010 earthquake.
While there are challenges working across islands and varied cultures, CANARI’s executive director, Nicole Leoutad, says the key to conservation success in the Caribbean will be about “understanding people first and then working to see their conservation needs. Without that mentality, we get nowhere for conservation or civil society empowerment.”
Keep a look out for updates from the region as we begin this important investment.
Laura Johnston is the program coordinator for CI’s Ecosystem Finance Division. Besides CI, CEPF’s donor partners include l’Agence Française de Développement, the Global Environment Facility, the MacArthur Foundation, the World Bank and the government of Japan. Learn more about CEPF’s projects around the world.