Funding Protected Areas in the Wider Caribbean. A Guide for Managers and Conservation Organizations


This document is an orientation to sources of funding for protected areas and biodiversity conservation. It is designed to serve as a primer for protected area agencies and managers as well as non- governmental organizations carrying out programs of conservation, education, and sustainable uses of biodiversity resources in and around protected areas. The editors intend to provide the reader with a basic understanding of the mechanisms that can be used to raise funds and generate revenues, as well as the sources of financial and technical support generally available for protected areas and biodiversity conservation in the Wider Caribbean. All of the mechanisms, and many of the sources, will also have applications outside the Wider Caribbean region.

This document is also intended to assist governments of the region in meeting their obligations acquired under biodiversity-related agreements, such as the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) and in particular the 1990 Protocol Concerning Specially Protected Areas and Wildlife (SPAW) and the Convention on the Protection and Development of the Marine Environment of the Wider Caribbean (Cartagena 1983). Therefore, the report responds to requests made by the governments of the region, members of the Caribbean Environment Programme of UNEP, and Parties to the Cartagena Convention and SPAW Protocol. In this context, it is expected that this document will contribute to regional and national efforts in strengthening protected areas and also the work of the regional network on Marine Protected Areas (CaMPAM) of the Caribbean Environment Programme. It is a joint effort of UNEP’s Regional Coordinating Unit for the CEP and The Nature Conservancy.

During the 1990s, it became increasingly clear that protected areas and conservation are not a sector unto themselves, but rather, a fundamental element of any country’s overall planning for development and sustainability of the resources fundamental to development —watersheds, forests, fisheries, recreational sites, and more. So, this guide will take a somewhat broader view of funding and revenue generating options than previous overviews of resources available strictly for conservation. We will also take a fairly broad view of the social goods and services provided by, and demanded from, protected areas, bearing in mind that conservation is the fundamental, core purpose. The challenge for managers of achieving participatory management while assuring that community needs and aspirations do not overrun the fundamental purpose of the protected area is, itself, a contributing factor to the need for more resources and more depth of skilled management at many protected areas.

Through the 1970s and 80s and into the 1990s, many protected areas in the Wider Caribbean relied heavily on financing from external donors —bilateral and multilateral assistance, international NGOs, and philanthropic institutions. Today, the resources available from these sources are stretched ever thinner. In many cases, the resources were available primarily for start-up and infrastructure costs, with the expectation that protected area systems would develop on-site or in-country sources for recurrent costs. Protected areas are also turning to permanent income- generating mechanisms to diversify their revenue sources. As protected area systems rely increasingly on revenues from services ranging from tourism and recreation to watershed protection, the very nature of protected area management has undergone subtle and not-so-subtle changes of emphasis, including meeting increased demands for visitor services. Financial planning for protected areas now focuses on both short and long-term prospects, and the potential for generating recurrent resources often influence decisions about whether to establish new areas and how to manage areas that are established.

This guide will attempt to show through examples and case studies how managers of protected area systems have incorporated different funding sources for the distinct phases of establishment and management. We will discuss "making the case" for the tangible and intangible benefits protected areas provide, as a means for building support for both national appropriations and external support. The examples and case studies will also show how protected areas that provide tangible benefits such as education, recreation, and tourism can recover costs and generate income from those activities. It is important to note in this regard, however, that not every protected area can or should become financially self-sustaining through fees and revenues. Often the issue of where costs can be recovered, where profits may be realized, and where subsidies will be needed on a recurring basis is best addressed at the level of the national system. This may mean adding areas specifically for their revenue generating potential as a means of assuring the sustainability of the entire system.

Surveys of the current financial situation of protected areas in the Wider Caribbean show great differences among countries in the percentage of costs covered by national budgets, the level of reliance on volunteer services, and the severity of crises resulting from financial shortfalls. In the early 1990s, many countries established park trust funds or directed debt swap proceeds toward protected area management. However, user fees, voluntary donations, and revenues from sales and concessions are still the exception rather than the rule. In most areas, there are many opportunities to improve revenues for protected areas, as well as opportunities to improve coordination among donors and revenue-generating sectors.

To address these challenges and take advantage of these opportunities, protected area systems need to build capacity in a variety of ways. Factors crucial to building a financially sustainable system include skilled personnel who can analyze financial needs and opportunities, and select approaches appropriate to each area; infrastructure sufficient to the needed management and visitor services, including accommodations, communications, and transportation; a policy environment in which necessary actions (such as dedicating revenues to the system) can be accomplished; and developing systems for community participation. This guide attempts to identify sources of capacity-building assistance that can help protected area managers meet these challenges. 

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