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Caribbean Strives to Protect Coastal and Marine Ecosystems

Coral colony off the Rosario Islands, Colombia | Photo: EFE

Coral colony off the Rosario Islands, Colombia | Photo: EFE

The Caribbean Community (CARICOM) is partnering with a number of governments as it strives to help boost the resilience of member states to climate change. 

The CARICOM region, with its 15 islands, is considered one of the world’s most important areas of biodiversity. The region is now moving fast towards the sustainable management of both marine areas and coastal resources.

A new partnership between CARICOM and the German government involves the protection of these precious resources from the impacts of climate change.

“Our story is about how we were able to set the boundaries in terms of the fisheries reserve. You realise now as ecotourism, as the product developed, we have more users of the area. We need to protect the reef. We need to protect the fisheries industry,” says Anthony Charles, representative of the Soufriere Marine Management Agency. That body is responsible for protecting over 12 kilometres of rich biodiversity, including mountains, rivers, active volcanoes and coral reefs.

Charles says partnerships with friendly governments are crucial in continuing efforts to combat the challenges posed to these resources, particularly diminishing fish stocks.

“The generation of fisher(s) that we had 15 years ago is completely different to what we have today and clearly education, advocacy is very important because we realise it’s not just the matter of the fishing industry, it’s the protection and the sustainable use of our resources,” he said.

Representative of the German government Michael Freudenberg says the partnership with CARICOM is based on a commitment to develop renewable energy and energy efficiency.

“The Caribbean is particularly vulnerable to the observed and projected impacts of climate change because of its geographic location and reliance on natural resources for economic activities and livelihoods … Germany supports regional cooperation as a tool to combine our efforts for the countries affected by climate change and under-development. Saint Lucia can bear witness, I think, to climate-related disasters and the effects of national resilience and national solidarity,” he said.

The experts say climate change is negatively impacting on the sustainability and resilience of the marine ecosystem, diminishing erosion protection and natural barriers that protect against storm surges and rising sea levels. This is impacting sectors like tourism and fisheries, which directly depend upon the quality of the marine environment.

The coastal and marine ecosystems of the Caribbean are among the most threatened in the world. CARICOM is hoping that by strengthening relations with friendly governments, it can ensure the prudent management and use of those resources.

Credit: TeleSurTV

Caribbean Water Ministers Will Address Water and Climate Issues to Help Shape the Development Agenda

In September, the United Nations will finalise a Post-2015 Development Agenda known as the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The SDGs follow and expand on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) which expire at the end of the year and will be “the global community’s plan of action” for all dimensions of sustainable development (economic, social and environmental) for the next fifteen (15) years.

On the heels of establishing this new universal Agenda; Caribbean Ministers with responsibility for water resources management from more than ten (10) countries, will meet on August 27th and 28th, 2015 at the InterContinental Hotel in Miami, Florida to discuss critical regional water and climate issues. Both water and climate change are reflected as priorities in the soon to be confirmed SDGs, with Goal 6 being: “Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all” and Goal 13 being: “Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts.”

This Ministerial Meeting is the 11th Annual High Level Forum (HLF) which is being organised by the Caribbean Water and Wastewater Association (CWWA) and the Global Water Partnership-Caribbean (GWP-C) in collaboration with the Global Environment Facility – funded Caribbean Regional Fund for Wastewater Management (GEF CReW) Project. The 11th HLF which takes place under the theme “Connecting Water to Climate, Economic Growth and Development within the Post-2015 Development Agenda” forms part of the CWWA’s 24th Annual Conference and Exhibition which is being held in partnership with the Florida Section of the American Water Works Association (AWWA).

The 11th HLF takes place at an appropriate time to allow for discussion and collaboration on water and climate matters to help shape the sustainable development agenda of the region. This year’s Forum is forward-looking with a goal of producing concrete outcomes and harmonised recommendations to guide national and regional efforts in operationalising water, wastewater and climate goals and targets for sustainable development. Some outcomes of the Forum are likely to feed into the contribution to be made by Caribbean Small Island Developing States (SIDS) at the 21st Conference of the Parties (COP) of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in December to play a pivotal part of global processes for advancing sustainable development.

According to Dr. Douglas Slater, Assistant Secretary-General of Human and Social Development of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), who will be a keynote speaker at the 11th HLF “Climate change will continue to have serious implications for water resources in the region,” linking the two critical issues. He has also stated that partnership remains one of the means of implementation needed to achieve sustainable water development goals. In addition to CARICOM and the Caribbean Ministers with responsibility for water and their senior government officials, representatives from regional and international agencies such as the United Nations Environment Programme Caribbean Environment Programme (UNEP-CEP), the Caribbean Water and Sewerage Association Inc. (CAWASA), the Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA), the Caribbean Community Climate Change Centre (CCCCC), the Caribbean Institute for Meteorology and Hydrology (CIMH), the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency (CDEMA), the Pan America Health Organisation (PAHO), the Caribbean Development Bank (CDB), the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) and the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) are expected to attend. Professor John Agard who shared the Nobel Peace Prize with the United Nations’ International Panel on Climate Change, will moderate a Ministerial panel discussion at the Forum.

 Credit: WINN FM 98.9

Saint Lucian fishermen peg hopes on common fisheries policy

Fisherman John Francis, 60, prepares to head to sea in his boat. THOMSON REUTERS FOUNDATION/Alison Kentish

John Francis was just 17 when he began fishing more than four decades ago. But these days, the 60-year-old fisherman from Praslin, on the east coast of the Caribbean island of Saint Lucia, finds it hard to make a living.

“There used to be money in fishing. In the 70s, 80s and 90s I used to catch 500-600 pounds (230-270 kg) of fish a day,” he said. Now, “things have changed. These days I am lucky if I catch 500 pounds of fish in two weeks.”

Just as worrying, “the sea is different. I cannot explain it, but it looks like there are less and less fish, warmer temperatures and really bad storms,” he said.

He and other fishermen hit by over-fishing and climate change may soon win some relief, however, as a result of a common fisheries policy negotiated by ministers from 15 Caribbean countries to better conserve and manage the remaining fish.

The hard-won policy, announced last month, follows 10 years of negotiations by the Belize-based Caribbean Community (CARICOM) Regional Fisheries Mechanism (CRFM).

Milton Houghton, the CRFM’s executive director, says the policy should aid sustainable management of the region’s over-exploited fisheries, improve food security and reduce poverty.

The policy “heralds a new era in cooperation in the conservation, management and use of marine resources,” he said.

The policy will establish a common fishing zone while allowing member states to retain management of their territorial seas. It also improves arrangements for the management of fish stocks in the Caribbean, which are presently not subject to any management regime.

For the fishermen of Saint Lucia, this could mean they will have access to greater fish reserves and a wider fishing area, albeit one with strict conservation and management measures.

Climate Change Impacts

Albert George, a 56-year-old fisherman, says he is happy that governments in the Caribbean are finally paying attention to the fishing, which he considers a crucial business, behind only agriculture in importance.

George hopes the new policy will protect fish stocks and help fishermen across the island cope with the effects of climate change, which he says have made it hard for him to make ends meet.

“The changes are everywhere,” George said. “I see the difference in the sea level and wind currents. Every year we fear the hurricane season because the storms are getting worse.

“We live on the coast and feed our families from the sea, and these days we can barely afford to send our children to school. We do not catch the amount of fish that we used to five years ago,” he said.

According to George, each fishing trip requires 1,000 East Caribbean dollars ($370) worth of fuel, but he often returns with a catch worth less than 10 percent of the fuel cost.

Changing Fish Ranges

Marine biologist Susan Singh-Renton, who served as the scientific advisor to the 15-nation CARICOM for over two decades and is now deputy executive director of the CRFM, said Caribbean fisheries face a range of pressures, including changes in the range of some fish.

“There are many challenges. Large fish such as dolphin, kingfish and tuna are being affected,” she said. “With the warming of sea water, the natural range of the fish becomes extended and they are able to move away; they are moving northward.”

For the past two years, the fishers’ problems have been exacerbated by the proliferation of an invasive species, lion fish, in Caribbean waters. Saint Lucia, Barbados and the Bahamas have eradication programmes in place.

“Sometimes we realise that our fish pots are filled, only to raise them and discover that out of 100 pounds of fish, the lion fish makes up 70-80 pounds. People are afraid of that fish and it is taking over our waters. Soon, we will not have any other fish left,” said Jeannette Francis, a fisherman unrelated to John Francis.

Despite regional efforts to encourage Caribbean people to view lion fish as a food, fishermen say it is a hard sell to those who have preferred tuna, dolphin and shellfish for decades.

According to data provided by the CRFM, the fisheries sector provides direct employment for 338,000 people in the region, generating $251 million in revenue annually.

Those involved in fishing in Saint Lucia are cautiously optimistic that the new policy will produce results – but some say they need to wait and see.

“We have had it with the talk. We just want action. We want to see people who can make things better actually do that for us,” said Margaret Jn Baptiste, 56, who has been fishing since she was 16.

“I believe it is always good when countries in the Caribbean come together to deal with a situation, but there is too much talk. We want to see the difference. They do not understand that our lives depend on this.”

Credit: Reuters News
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