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Urgent Action Needed to Safeguard Saint Lucia’s Biodiversity

Climate change and a lack of care for the environment could have devastating consequences for Saint Lucia’s healthy ecosystems and rich biodiversity. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

Climate change and a lack of care for the environment could have devastating consequences for Saint Lucia’s healthy ecosystems and rich biodiversity. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

Wildlife conservationists consider it to be one of the most striking parrots of its kind. Saint Lucia’s best-known species, the endangered Amazon parrot, is recognised by its bright green plumage, purple forehead and dusty red-tipped feathers. But a major conservation organisation is warning that climate change and a lack of care for the environment could have devastating consequences for Saint Lucia’s healthy ecosystems and rich biodiversity, including the parrot.

Sean Southey chairs the Commission on Education and Communication (CEC) of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

He told IPS that urgent action is needed to safeguard the eastern Caribbean island nation’s biodiversity, which is under constant threat.

“With climate change, countries like St. Lucia [experience] significant weather events. The increase in hurricanes, the increase in bad weather and mudslides – these are incredible consequences of climate change,” Southey said.

“As you drive across the landscape of St. Lucia, you see a landscape strewn with old plastic bags,” Sean Southey, chair of the Commission on Education and Communication.

Though less than 616 square kilometres in area, St. Lucia is exceptionally rich in animals and plants. The island is home to more than 2,000 native species, of which nearly 200 species occur nowhere else.

Other species of conservation concern include the pencil cedar, staghorn coral and St. Lucia racer. The racer, confined to the nine-hectare island of Maria Major, is thought to be the world’s most threatened sake.

Also at risk are mangrove forests and low-lying freshwater wetlands, Southey said.

But he said it was not too late to take action, and he urged St. Lucia and its Caribbean neighbours to take advantage of their small size.

“The smallness of islands allows for real society to get involved. What it means is helping people connect to the environment,” Southey said.

“It means that they need to know and feel and appreciate that their individual behaviours make a difference. Especially the biodiversity decisions [like] land use planning. If you are going to sell your family farm, do you sell for another commercial tourist resort, do you sell it to make a golf course or do you sell it to [produce] organic bananas? These are the type of individual decisions that people have to make that protect an island or hurt an island,” he said.

Southey added that thoughtful management of mangroves and effective management of shorelines, “can create natural mechanisms that allow you to cushion and protect society from the effects of climate change.”

St. Lucia is exceptionally rich in animals and plants. The island is home to more than 2,000 native species, of which nearly 200 species occur nowhere else. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

St. Lucia is exceptionally rich in animals and plants. The island is home to more than 2,000 native species, of which nearly 200 species occur nowhere else. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

The CEC chair said recent extreme weather events have forced people in the Caribbean to understand climate change more than inhabitants from other countries in the world do.

“If you’re over the age of 30 in the Caribbean, you’ve seen a change in weather patterns. It’s not a story that you hear on the news, it’s a reality that you feel during hurricane season every year. So I believe there is an understanding,” he said.

In September 2017, Hurricane Irma tore through many of St. Lucia’s neighbouring islands, including Barbuda.

The category five hurricane wreaked havoc on Barbuda’s world-famous frigate bird colony. Most of the 10,000-frigate bird population disappeared in the immediate aftermath of the hurricane that destroyed the mangroves in which they nest and breed.

While many countries in the Caribbean are working on building natural barriers and nature-based solutions in response to climate change, Southey still believes there needs to be a greater strengthening of that sense that people can actually do something to contribute.

Reducing plastic waste

In June 2016, Antigua took the lead in the Caribbean with a ban on the commercial use of plastic bags.

The island’s environment and health minister Molwyn Joseph said the decision was made in a bid to reduce the volume of plastic bags that end up in the watercourses and wetlands.

“We are giving our mangroves a fighting chance to be a source of healthy marine life, that can only benefit us as a people,” he said.

Antigua also became the first country within the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States and the second within the Caribbean Community, to ratify the Nagoya Protocol to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD).

The Nagoya Protocol provides a transparent legal framework for the effective implementation of one of the three objectives of the CBD: the fair and equitable sharing of benefits arising out of the utilisation of genetic resources.

On Jul. 3 this year, one of the Caribbean’s largest supermarket chains launched a campaign to discourage the use of single use plastic bags for bagging groceries at its checkout counters, while actively encouraging customers to shop with reusable bags as a more eco-friendly option.

Managing director of Massy Stores St. Lucia Martin Dorville said the company is focused on finding more permanent solutions to reducing plastic waste and its own demand for plastic bags.

He said the decision to encourage customers to use less plastic was bold, courageous and will help manage the adverse impacts of single use plastic on the environment.

“I am very thrilled that one of the number one supermarkets has decided to ban all plastic bags. It’s a small behaviour but it helps everyone realise that their individual actions make a difference,” Southey told IPS.

“As you drive across the landscape of St. Lucia, you see a landscape strewn with old plastic bags, so I was very appreciative of that. But what I really liked is that when I spent over USD100, they gave me a recyclable bag as a bonus to encourage me to use that as an individual so that my behaviour can make a difference,” he said.

He added that if school children could understand the importance of mangroves and complex eco-systems and the need to protect forests, wildlife and endangered birds “then I think we can make a huge difference.”

Credit: Inter Press Service (IPS) News Agency

Parrotfish ban

Parrotfish

Parrotfish

JAMAICANS love parrotfish. Steamed, fried or roasted, the brightly coloured sea creature is a common feature on many a dinner plate. It’s also a favourite at the beach and at roadside eateries on the weekend.

But the enjoyment could soon come to an end as local and international groups are lobbying for a parrotfish ban. The arguments are that: 1) the fish clean coral reefs by eating the algae that grows on them, and 2) they excrete sand, which is one way of countering beach erosion.

Lenbert Williams, director of projects with the Negril Coral Reef Preservation Society, told the Jamaica Observer Monday that the parrotfish should be declared an endangered species in order to solve both problems or at least stem the tide of degradation.

“A mature parrotfish can weigh up to 40 lbs and in its lifetime it generates about 800 lbs of sand.So every time you eat a parrotfish you are denying the beach of 800 lbs of sand,” he said.

He explained that the parrotfish population is at risk from overfishing, as well as from the predatory lionfish. In addition to preserving them, he said, complementary measures such as replanting corals and sea grass beds were necessary.

Just last week, a study released by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the world’s oldest and largest global environmental organisation, recommended that parrotfish be listed as a specially protected species under the Protocol Concerning Specially Protected Areas and Wildlife (SPAW Protocol).

Its focus was coral reef preservation, rather than sand production, although the two are intrinsically related.

The study, titled ‘Status and Trends of Caribbean Coral Reefs: 1970-2012’, is the result of three years of work by 90 experts from the IUCN as well as the Global Coral Reef Monitoring Network and the United Nations Environment Programme.

It has found that Caribbean corals have declined by more than 50 per cent since the 1970s and may disappear in the next 20 years as a direct result of the loss of parrotfish and sea urchin — the area’s two main grazers — and not primarily as a result of climate change, as is widely believed.

“The loss of these species breaks the delicate balance of coral ecosystems and allows algae, on which they feed, to smother the reefs,” the report says.

Jeremy Jackson, lead author of the report and IUCN’s senior advisor on coral reefs, said: “Even if we could somehow make climate change disappear tomorrow, these reefs would continue their decline… We must immediately address the grazing problem for the reefs to stand any chance of surviving future climate shifts.”

The study also shows that some of the healthiest Caribbean coral reefs are those that “have restricted or banned fishing practices that harm parrotfish, such as fish traps and spearfishing”. These include the Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary in the northern Gulf of Mexico, Bermuda and Bonaire.

The proposal to ban or restrict the catching of parrotfish seems logical enough to scientists, but it’s a much harder sell for the people who earn a living catching and selling it. They argue that parrot and snapper are the most abundant fish at sea and that any sort of restriction would severely hurt their ability to earn.

At the fishing beach on Port Henderson Road, Portmore, fisherman of 30 years Floyd Brown told the Observer that the species fetches up to $500 per pound.

“The most fish in the sea is parrot, so if we can’t catch it what we going to do? All the fish in the sea feed on coral so they would have to ban everything and that makes no sense!” he said.

“When unnuh tek parrotfish from people, how dem a go send dem pickney go school?” fisherwoman Olga Watt asked.

“Ah pure head an belly dem waan see?” added a fish vendor who was seated nearby but who declined giving her name. She was referring to the stereotypical image of severely malnourished children with swollen tummies and heads too large for their bodies.

She added: “Ah waan dem waan parrotfish fi mek more beach fi di tourist dem an we cyaan go deh,” making reference to the growing concern that locals are being barred from beaches meant for the public. The views were similar at the Forum fishing beach, also in Portmore.

“Parrot is the fish that we catch the most out of the sea. There is a wider variety of them than any other fish. Banning it will very seriously affect our livelihood,” Helen Blair-Brown told the Observer.

“If dem ban parrotfish, ah mash wi mash up,” a man passing by said loudly.

By contrast, fishers in Barbuda, which is about to ban all catches of parrotfish and grazing sea urchins and set aside one-third of its coastal waters as marine reserves, are reportedly in support of the restrictions.

According to a blog post on National Geographic titled ‘To save coral reefs, start with Parrotfish’, one of the report’s 90 contributing scientists, Ayana Johnson of Waitt Institute’s Blue Halo Initiative which is collaborating with Barbuda in the development of its new management plan, quoted fishers Larkin Webber and Josiah Deazle.

“I am worried about the taking of parrotfish because they clean the reef. Now people are specialising in catching parrotfish and that’s a problem. Parrotfish should be protected,” Webber is reported to have said.

“Parrotfish is my favourite fish to eat because I have no teeth anymore. How I’m going to eat boney fish? … But catch of parrotfish should be banned. People are taking so much of them the reef is gonna die,” Deazle is reported to have said.

For it’s part, the Caribbean Community Climate Change Centre (5Cs) is in support of a parrotfish ban and uses the success stories of Special Fisheries Conservation Areas in Jamaica to illustrate the point.

“This important report clearly supports the decision by the Government of Jamaica taken to establish and support a network of fish sanctuaries (now officially called Special Fisheries Conservation Areas). There are currently 14 fish sanctuaries in Jamaica, and many of them have been very successful at restoring populations of fish and lobsters, with one sanctuary achieving an amazing 540 per cent increase in fish biomass in just two years,” the centre said in a statement released to the media Monday.

Fish sanctuaries, the 5Cs said, provide an opportunity not only to safeguard the future of the island’s coral reefs, but also ensure the survival of the region’s beaches, tourism industry and food security.

“There is absolutely no reason why the early successes in the fish sanctuaries at Bluefield’s Bay, Galleon in St Elizabeth and Oracabessa cannot be replicated and expanded around Jamaica, and for that matter in the wider Caribbean,” the centre said.

“This is not an ocean-hugging environmental issue,” Johnson said in her post.

“Caribbean reefs generate more than US$3 billion annually from tourism and fisheries. This is a problem we can solve, to great benefit of ecosystems and economies. Here’s to hoping 2014 continues to be a year of strong action for ocean conservation, not just for establishing marine reserves, but also for saving parrotfish and therefore, Caribbean reefs.”

Credit: Jamaica Observer
Also see: St. Lucia News Online

Coral Reefs Report and Climate Change News

With only about one-sixth of the original coral cover left, most Caribbean coral reefs may disappear in the next 20 years, primarily due to the loss of grazers in the region, according to the latest report by the Global Coral Reef Monitoring Network (GCRMN), the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).

The report, Status and Trends of Caribbean Coral Reefs: 1970-2012, is the most detailed and comprehensive study of its kind published to date – the result of the work of 90 experts over the course of three years. It contains the analysis of more than 35,000 surveys conducted at 90 Caribbean locations since 1970, including studies of corals, seaweeds, grazing sea urchins and fish.

The results show that the Caribbean corals have declined by more than 50% since the 1970s. But according to the authors, restoring parrotfish populations and improving other management strategies, such as protection from overfishing and excessive coastal pollution, could help the reefs recover and make them more resilient to future climate change impacts.

“The rate at which the Caribbean corals have been declining is truly alarming,” says Carl Gustaf Lundin, Director of IUCN’s Global Marine and Polar Programme. “But this study brings some very encouraging news: the fate of Caribbean corals is not beyond our control and there are some very concrete steps that we can take to help them recover.”

Climate change has long been thought to be the main culprit in coral degradation. While it does pose a serious threat by making oceans more acidic and causing coral bleaching, the report shows that the loss of parrotfish and sea urchin – the area’s two main grazers – has, in fact, been the key driver of coral decline in the region. An unidentified disease led to a mass mortality of the sea urchin in 1983 and extreme fishing throughout the 20th century has brought the parrotfish population to the brink of extinction in some regions. The loss of these species breaks the delicate balance of coral ecosystems and allows algae, on which they feed, to smother the reefs.

Reefs protected from overfishing, as well as other threats such as excessive coastal pollution, tourism and coastal development, are more resilient to pressures from climate change, according to the authors.

“Even if we could somehow make climate change disappear tomorrow, these reefs would continue their decline,” says Jeremy Jackson, lead author of the report and IUCN’s senior advisor on coral reefs. “We must immediately address the grazing problem for the reefs to stand any chance of surviving future climate shifts.”

The report also shows that some of the healthiest Caribbean coral reefs are those that harbour vigorous populations of grazing parrotfish. These include the Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary in the northern Gulf of Mexico, Bermuda and Bonaire, all of which have restricted or banned fishing practices that harm parrotfish, such as fish traps and spearfishing. Other countries are following suit.

“Barbuda is about to ban all catches of parrotfish and grazing sea urchins, and set aside one-third of its coastal waters as marine reserves,” says Ayana Johnson of the Waitt Institute’s Blue Halo Initiative which is collaborating with Barbuda in the development of its new management plan. “This is the kind of aggressive management that needs to be replicated regionally if we are going to increase the resilience of Caribbean reefs.”

Reefs where parrotfish are not protected have suffered tragic declines, including Jamaica, the entire Florida Reef Tract from Miami to Key West, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

The Caribbean is home to 9% of the world’s coral reefs, which are one of the most diverse ecosystems on the planet. Caribbean reefs, spanning a total of 38 countries, are vital to the region’s economy. They generate more than US$ 3 billion annually from tourism and fisheries and over a hundred times more in other goods and services, on which more than 43 million people depend.

This video, featuring the report’s lead author Jeremy Jackson, explains the significance of the report:

Peruse the full report.

Credit: The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN)

Caribbean MPA Network Workshop Resources

The role of Marine Protected Areas (MPA) networks in improving marine ecosystem resilience in the Caribbean region was at the core of discussions at the recently concluded workshop on “MPA and resilience to climate change” in St Martin.

The workshop, which sought to build MPA local and national capacities to increase the resilience of the coastal marine environments to climate change and strengthen regional cooperation and action, attracted many MPA managers and relevant stakeholders of the EU overseas territories across the Caribbean.

Resources from the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the Caribbean Marine Protected Areas Managers (CaMPAM) and the Regional Activity Centre for specially protected areas and wildlife in the Caribbean region (SPAW-RAC) supported event are now available, including a keynote presentation by Dr Owen Day, Director of Ecosystem Based Adaptation, CARIBSAVE and Director of the Caribbean Fish Sanctuary Partnership (C-FISH). Dr Day’s presentation is titled “Impacts and Costs of Sea Level Rise in the Caribbean and Role of Ecosystem-Based Adaptation”.

C-FISH is a project being implemented as part of the the Caribbean Community Climate Change Centre’s regional Implementation Plan for climate resilience.

Peruse the resources here.

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