Tags: Environment Marine ecosystem

The Caribbean’s Marine & Coastal Environment

Paradise in Peril!

The Caribbean region with its 37 countries and overseas territories is renowned for its diverse marine life, rich mixing of cultures, turquoise waters and spectacular beaches. As one of the most biologically rich marine environments in the Atlantic, the Caribbean is home to 10% of the world's coral reefs, 1,400 species of fish and marine mammals, and extensive coastal mangroves. For many, the clean beaches, vibrant coral reef systems, exotic marine life, and abundant seafood represent paradise. 


The marine and coastal resources of this region,its coral reefs, beaches, fisheries and mangroves, serve as an economic engine, supporting jobs, income and economic prosperity. Perhaps more than any other region, the Caribbean is highly dependent on its marine and coastal resources. 70% of its population lives along the coast and tourism, the region's largest economic sector, is inextricably linked to a healthy and thriving marine and coastal environment.

  • Tourism in the Caribbean generates US $25B of revenue annually, supporting 6 million jobs and accounting for nearly 50 %of total income.
  • Marine life attracts 60% of the world's scuba divers, generating tens of millions of dollars and thousands of jobs annually.
  • Coral reefs and coastal mangroves coastal communities, hotels, roads, and other infrastructure along shorelines from storm damage.
  • Fisheries (fish, lobster, and conch) provide US $400M of revenues across the region, livelihoods and food security for millions.
  • Total annual value of Caribbean coral reefs is estimated at approximately US $2B (from tourism, fisheries and shoreline protection services).

Current Impacts:

In recent decades, the growing impacts of unsustainable coastal development, climate change, overfishing, and land-based sources of sediment and pollution threaten the viability of the region's marine and coastal ecosystems. A number of authoritative studies document a dramatic decline in the condition of the region's marine and coastal ecosystems. Many experts have concluded that we have reached a critical crossroads for action.

  • 75% of coral reefs across the Caribbean currently face medium or high levels of threat, (World Resources Institute, 2011).
  • Coral reefs across the region on the verge of collapse, with less than 10% of the reef area showing live coral cover (World Conservation Union, IUCN, 2012).
  • 70% of the beaches in the region are eroding at a significant rate, in part due to declining coral reefs.
  • Tourism developments can result in loss and degradation of critical marine / coastal ecosystems. Unsustainable tourism can strain natural ecosystem limits, sometimes to a point beyond recover (Caribbean Sea Ecosystem Assessment, 2007).
  • All major commercially important fishery species are "fully developed" or "over-exploited", and 70% of reefs across the region are threatened with overfishing (Caribbean Sea Ecosystem Assessment, 2007).

Marine Resources of the Caribbean (Photo Credit: The Nature Conservancy)

Caribbean Governments and companies endorsed conservation declarations at the highest level supporting collaborative action on marine and coastal conservation in the Caribbean



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