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News / Comment

NEWS / Caribbean biodiversity under threat from climate extremes
Category: Latest News, Tourism

Image: Staghorn coral by Albert Kok (public domain). This coral species is typically found throughout the Caribbean.
By Elisa Jiménez Alonso

The Caribbean is comprised of about 7,000 individual islands, of which only a handful are populated. Despite this over 40 million people call the islands home. Embedded in the warm waters between North and South America, the region has been classified as a biodiversity hotspot as it is home to thousands endemic plant and animal species. However the local flora and fauna is increasingly threatened by climate change and its impacts.

The Caribbean provides habitats for many threatened species according to the International Union for Conservative of Nature. The great North Atlantic humpback whale and other North Atlantic migratory species use the region as wintering and nursery grounds. Thousands of migratory birds stop in the Caribbean when they fly between North and South America. Many of the fragile natural areas in the region are invaluable to the local population because they provide different benefits like disaster risk prevention, fresh water availability and economic benefits thanks to tourism.

Among the many pressures on the region, climate change is one of the most pressing issues when it comes to preserving the flora and fauna of the Caribbean. The Caribbean tends to be a very warm region all year round and climate change is expected to increase local temperatures modifying growing and blooming seasons, migration patterns and species distribution. Studies have also illustrated the biodiversity damages caused by extreme events like Hurricane Sandy (eastern Cuba, 2012) and the severe drought that hit the whole region in 2015.

The Caribbean Biological Corridor (CBC), a project created in 2007 with the support of UNEP and the European Union, is being implemented by the governments of Cuba, Haiti and the Dominican Republic with the goal to protect the region’s biodiversity. Other countries such as the Bahamas, Dominica, Jamaica and Martinique are currently observers and have expressed their interest in joining the project. Implementing governments have also included their biodiversity conservation efforts into the countries’ National Adaptation Plans. Climate change adaptation and biodiversity management are essential to maintain the many ecosystem services the vast and diverse flora and fauna of the Caribbean provide.