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Coral reefs in the Caribbean are amongst the most at risk globally. The loss of reefs is also a serious economic problem in the region, where large populations depend on fishing and tourism. Having lost 80% of its corals over the last half century, mainly due to a changing and variable climate, coastal development and pollution, the Caribbean is seeking to turn the tide through partnerships. A group of five coral reef managers from across the Caribbean recently participated in an intensive three week Coral Reef Management Fellowship programme at the Great Barrier Reef, Australia – the best managed reef in the world.
The Caribbean contingent was among a group of 12 fellows, including their peers from the Pacific and Indian Oceans. The Caribbean fellows are: Roland Baldeo (Grenada), Andrea Donaldson and Christine O’Sullivan (Jamaica), Michelle Kalamandeen (Guyana) and Andrew Lockhart (St. Vincent and the Grenadines).
The fellows visited government departments, research stations, farms, schools and other reef-associated operations. They experienced the Great Barrier Reef and many facets of catchment to reef management through direct interactions with a diversity of land and sea habitats, scientists, managers, farmers, educators, media, volunteers and industry leaders. The Fellowship also included home-stays with local marine scientists as part of a cultural exchange.
This was a rare and valuable experience as it brought together coral reef managers from diverse locations to gain and share expertise. Dr Kenrick Leslie, Executive Director of the Caribbean Community Climate Change Centre, welcomed the successful completion of the fellowship, noting:
“This is an excellent programme to boost understanding of marine protected areas and the role it can play in sustainable development. It gives our people an opportunity to see how effective coral reef management is done in another community. Importantly, they are gaining insights from the major work being done to rectify some of the issues with the world’s longest barrier reef. It’s a unique experience.”
Citing the fellows’ exposure to an intensive leadership course at Orpheus Island Research Station, which included theory and exercises to plan, problem solve and teamwork, Dr Leslie urged the fellows to be agents of change across the Caribbean.
“At this point in our development it is important that we ensure that whatever we do, we do not make the assumption that resources are unlimited and that all our actions are resilient and our environment is protected,” Dr Leslie added.
The Caribbean and Pacific fellows are part of an Australia Awards Fellowship programme funded by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, titled Improving coral reef management for sustainable development in the Caribbean and Pacific. Australia Awards are prestigious international Scholarships and Fellowships funded by the Australian Government to build capacity and strengthen partnerships. The programme supports short-term study, research and professional development opportunities in Australia for mid-career professionals and emerging leaders.
The fellowship programme was organised and hosted by Reef Ecologic, an environmental consulting company with expertise on coral reef management, which was founded by former Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority employees Dr Adam Smith and Dr Paul Marshall.
“We have observed the decline of coral reefs globally and we recognized that training of future leaders is essential for turning the tide towards a more sustainable future. Australia is the world leader in coral reef conservation and marine resource management. This Fellowship is a chance to share Australia’s expertise with the world,” said Dr Marshall.
The Caribbean Community Climate Change Centre coordinates the region’s response to climate change. Officially opened in August 2005, the Centre is the key node for information on climate change issues and the region’s response to managing and adapting to climate change. We maintain the Caribbean’s most extensive repository of information and data on climate change specific to the region, which in part enables us to provide climate change-related policy advice and guidelines to CARICOM member states through the CARICOM Secretariat. In this role, the Centre is recognized by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, the United Nations Environment Programme, and other international agencies as the focal point for climate change issues in the Caribbean. The Centre is also a United Nations Institute for Training and Research recognised Centre of Excellence, one of an elite few. Learn more about how we’re working to make the Caribbean more climate resilient by perusing The Implementation Plan.