The Caribbean Environment is Amazing but it’s in Deep Trouble

The Caribbean Environment is of Global Significance

The Caribbean is one of the most amazing locations in the world. The Caribbean environment is truly exceptional. The Caribbean is home to two of the largest reef systems in the world (in Belize and the Bahamas), boasting literally hundreds of islands (more that 700 in the Bahamas alone); teeming with ocean life including whales, dolphins, barracuda, and sharks, not to mention coral systems and creatures.

 

The Caribbean also has the second largest Boiling Lake in the World, at the Morne Troi Pitons National Park in Dominica, and a Buried City on the island of Montserrat.

 

The Caribbean is also home of the oldest rain forest reserve in the Western Hemisphere (in Tobago) and has more than 30 approved and tentative UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

 

In the Caribbean, there are hundreds of mountains, lakes, rivers (Dominica has one for every day of the year), and beaches (Antigua has one for every day of the year). All of these factors make the Caribbean region more significant to the world ecological system than its tiny size would suggest. 

The Caribbean Environment is A Significant Asset

Caribbean islands provide an important barrier/strainer for everything that crosses the Atlantic.  The Caribbean Sea and the Caribbean islands are an important environment and ecological space that needs to be protected and conserved for future world’s generations.

caribbean environment

A Moderate but Stormy Climate

Added to this, a comfortable, balmy, moderate temperature and home to indigenous peoples, the Caribbean environment and people, are worth protecting.  

 

At the same time, Hurricanes (as we have seen recently with Hurricane Maria affecting  Dominica and Hurricanes Irma and Dorian in the Bahamas), Storms, earthquakes and volcanoes (Montserrat, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Guadeloupe) are only some of the challenges that these island face.  Add the Sahara Dust that blows across the Atlantic, the Sargassum sea weed and the escaped Lion Fish (from Florida that eats up all the local fish and has no known predators), and you have a beautiful but challenged set of Caribbean islands. 

Fair Treatment Please

The Caribbean is far more significant to the world’s ecological system, than its small size would dictate.


We need environmental justice – we need to ensure that those who destroy the planet most, bear the consequences most.

 

While small Caribbean islands play a major role in the safety and security of the Global eco-system, it is totally unfair that the islands bear an unequal brunt of the burden of climate change and global C02 emissions. 

 

It is not fair that poor, tiny Caribbean islands are bearing the heavier burden of climate change. Menacing category 5 hurricanes are wreaking havoc on more islands than ever before. This cannot be fair!


Think about it. The environmental footprint of a poor Caribbean person, a Rasta, for example, could be hundreds of times LESS than someone living a rich country. So why should Caribbean people lose homes, roofs and families because someone else is playing dirty or just plain dirty.

 

Instead of the ‘benefits’ accruing to the Caribbean for its environment, the region bears the burden of the emissions delivered by first world countries.  This is unjust.  Let justice prevail!

Caribbean Environment Scarlet Ibis

The Caribbean is In Deep Trouble

Despite the global significance of tiny Caribbean islands, not enough is being done to protect and conserve that world heritage resource.  Challenges abound.  And it is not just about money and research, it is about the culture, the ethos, and the lack of understanding, appreciation, and ‘trickle down’ benefits from this resource.  What are the Challenges?

caribbean environment

A Missing Link

One of the key challenges is the lack of understanding, appreciation and appropriation of the benefits of conservation and clean environment.

 

Not to blame history, it needs to be recognised that Caribbean Islands (and its people) ‘grew up’ and developed in complete disassociation with its environment.  Consider the eating patterns under slavery where persons ate not what was grown locally, but fed on a diet of dried salted cod, while all of the fish in the Caribbean sea roamed free. 

 

The connection between the Caribbean people and the Sea continues to be foreign.  Imagine being surrounded by water and not being able to go into the water or even swim?  It is therefore important, first of all, to create a nexus between people and their environment – to learn to play, to love, and to preserve what is ours.

caribbean environment

Divorced from the Ocean

Similarly, Caribbean people so not see the link between the waste and rubbish we generate and  our beautiful/polluted oceans.  Some islands (Trinidad and Tobago) are even notorious for the amount of garbage per head that is generated. 

 

Many Caribbean people do not enjoy the ocean as swimmers, bathers, surfers, divers or boaters.   They are divorced from the Ocean.  So much so, that there are few areas of study in the Caribbean that involve the ocean environment. 

 

At the same time, those who aim to protect it are usually foreigners, NGOS and generally those who appreciate (and can realise) the value of the ocean.  As the saying goes, ‘they come to do good and they stay to do well’.  And it should be no surprise that almost every ocean sport offered to tourists in the Caribbean has traditionally been offered by foreigners.

Create the Link between People and Planet

The Caribbean has an amazing natural environment. But it is in deep trouble. We need to take ownership – to link people with planet.

It is really important not only to educate and teach citizens about the importance of conserving the environment but to actively encourage them to enjoy it; to benefit from it; to make a living from it; to sight-see underwater; to learn; to teach; to do research; and to swim, surf and kite as well.

It is important that the benefits of conservation reach those that are most likely to destroy it. This way, they can see and feel the benefits of conservation in their pockets, on their tables and in their bellies.

Only then will we will create true environmental protectors, conservationists and activists. And, of course, a better Caribbean and a better planet for us all.

Author:

Dr. Auliana Poon

aulianapoonleveimage

Dr. Auliana Poon is the founder and Managing Director of Leve Global and Exceptional Caribbean.

 

Auliana loves the Caribbean and believes in its people. Her personal mission is to change the world; to transform our societies. And this is precisely why she has spearheaded Exceptional Caribbean – a continuing mission to elevate tourism, trade and lives.

17 thoughts on “The Caribbean Environment is Amazing but it’s in Deep Trouble”

  1. Josephine Dublin Prince

    This is an exceptional piece. So very timely and profound. We are blessed with these natural resources but not much of us appreciate the important link with our environment. We should at all times try as much as possible to preserve, conserve and protect our environment. This is our planet; where we live and about which we are proud. Let us all see the important link between a healthy environment and a strong, healthy nation. Thanks my dear friend on reminding us that our Caribbean is exceptional!

    1. Thank you Josephine. I agree that we have to work hard to protect and conserve our environment. It is not easy. But in doing this work, we need to bring all of our communities along. And not just teaching and lecturing, but demonstrating how we can all benefit from conservation.

  2. We have a crisis where sewage and garbage is entering our Caribbean sea which is damaging our reefs and seriously affecting our fishing industry! We need to educate our population of the effects of their poor environmental practices affecting their overall natural environment. Our programme Countrystyle Villages as Businesses focuses on this with our Community Tourism Entrepreneurship training.

    1. This is brilliant Diana! Your Community Tourism Entrepreneurship training can go a long way to achieve important sustainable development goals. We have to begin to see the environment as an industry; as a resource that generates wealth and creates livelihoods. It will be great your training programmes are available online so that many more communities, stakeholders and entrepreneurs could benefit. We look forward to working with you to continue to make a difference both to lives and livelihoods as well as the Caribbean’s amazing environment.

    1. You are most welcome. Please do not hesitate to share. And if there are other topics that you would like us to explore, do let us know.

  3. Christopher Anton

    I fully agree and support all that Dr. Poon has written in this document. This Caribbean is OURS and we all need to show more appreciation for the beauty and wealth that we are so lucky to have and call home.

  4. Sorry to say, but two of your photos contain fauna not indigenous, or even introduced, in the region. That kind of bothers me. So, for what it’s worth, your picture of Discus fish – Discus are found in the deep Amazon basin. Next to the Scarlet Ibis, indeed indigenous to Trinidad, is a blue Victoria Crowned Pigeon indigenous to The region of Papua New Guinea; I haven’t heard of any wild populations of this in the Caribbean.

    1. Thanks Cedric for engaging with us. We have taken your observation on board and now have the Parrot Fish, one of my personal favourites that are so common when snorkelling. But the message is the same. We have an amazing environment, but it is deep trouble. best regards, Auliana.

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  7. Very well researched and written article. The various education authorities led by CARICOM ought to take the lead on this subject. Only then will the nations have an understanding of the seriousness of this threat…

    1. Agreed Andrew. We certainly need to work together as a region. It is One Caribbean and One Caribbean Sea. best regards, auliana.

  8. I concur fully with the sentiments expressed re the polluter pays principle. It really is grossly unfair to us tiny SIDS who are bearing the brunt of the fallout in terms of the natural disasters. Climate change is indeed affecting us significantly and so we in the Caribbean should be compensated in that regard. Wonderful piece.

  9. Thank you for this very important information. Didn’t know about the sunken city in Montserrat. Quite a number of people in communities have heard of the pollutions of sea and land, but we need to see follow-up actions in communities. By getting the business owners interested and involved in community promotions to save the environment. The Government never has money, but it’s those who have become rich off of the communities, need to give back. Will stop here. Thank you.

  10. It is good to see Dr. Poon doing what she has always done best, calling us out on the serious problems facing us. We can add one other challenge which those islands that allow cruise ships to anchor in their waters are not dealing with: that is the destruction of our precious coral reefs by huge cruise ship anchors and dragging chains. All during 2020 when Barbados was almost the only island to allow huge cruise ships to anchor and sit in our Bays, sometimes for months at a time, often pulling up anchor and moving to another location, nothing was done to control this reef destruction . Watching it broke my heart. Now a recent study shows that hundreds of yards of reef has been destroyed….and may take about 100 years to recover. The Blue Economy? Ha!

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