Chapter 12. Status and trends of coral reefs of the Caribbean region

Regional Context:

The Caribbean Region represents only 1% of Earth’s marine surface but hosts 10% of the world’s coral reefs, including fringing reefs, which are most common, barrier reefs such as the Mesoamerican Reef, which is the largest barrier reef in the Western Hemisphere, bank reefs, patch reefs, and a few atolls.

Caribbean shallow and mesophotic reefs are characterized by relatively low coral species diversity (70 hard coral species including two Acroporid species: Acropora palmata and A. cervicornis) and high levels of endemism, making them unique among the world’s reefs.

The physical geography of the Caribbean region is also complex with continental coasts (north, central, and south America), large continental islands (Greater Antilles), numerous small sandy islands (The Bahamas), volcanic islands (most of the Lesser Antilles), and coral islands (some Lesser Antilles islands).

The Caribbean is politically and culturally diverse with 30 sovereign states (continental and insular) and 16 European overseas territories or outermost regions (British, Dutch, and French), and considerable economic disparities between nations (e.g. per capita Gross Domestic Product in the USA was USD63,544 compared with less than USD1,200 in Haïti)1 .

About 70% of people in the Caribbean live near the coast. Indeed, Caribbean economies depend heavily on coral reefs and associated ecosystems (seagrasses and mangroves) for recreation and tourism (e.g., sandy beaches, snorkeling, and SCUBA diving), livelihoods, food (e.g., fishes, queen conch, lobsters), and other social, cultural, and economic benefits. Socio-economic monitoring (SocMon) in the Caribbean region, carried out largely according to the GCRMN SocMon protocol, is in use as an approach for coral reef managers and provides valuable insights on how coastal communities value and depend on coral reefs. Thus, SocoMon assessments have been conducted for almost 20 years in the region, including a series of workshops conducted recently beginning in 2016 (Jamaica) to the most recent in 2019 (MesoAmerica) by SPAW-RAC and supported by a NFWF-funded project to develop and refine a set of integrated coral reef monitoring guidelines that explicitly include human dimensions characteristics. For a detailed analysis of the SocMon Caribbean socio-economic assessments, please see the Global SocMon report that is forthcoming in 2022.

Socio-economic monitoring is important in order to understand the human interactions with coral ecosystems so that we can mitigate negative effects to coral reefs while promoting positive benefits that reefs provide []. SocMon has been part of the wider GCRMN effort since 1997 and was developed with the intent for socio-economic monitoring to complement biophysical monitoring. While SocMon data are not included in the present analysis, future work should and will seek to integrate Caribbean node socio-economic data with biophysical data.

The Caribbean is divided into 10 Marine Ecoregions of the World (MEOW) Ecoregions2 that were grouped into five subregions for the analyses underpinning this report (Tab. 1). There are coral reef marine protected areas (MPAs) in many countries in the Caribbean, as well as MPA networks such as MPAConnect and CaMPAM. The MPAs are usually small and generally located in nearshore areas. Efforts to support coral monitoring and capacity-building are underway with support from partner organisations such as the UN Environment Programme/ Cartagena Convention Secretariat, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (United States of America), the Gulf and Caribbean Fisheries Institute, the Specially Protected Areas and Wildlife protocol and its regional activity center (SPAWRAC), through regional projects and via multi-national programmes. MPA financing, enforcement, fisheries management, monitoring and communications are among the top management capacity building needs identified by coral reef managers to implement effective marine protection.

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