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SPAW-ning marine life

Wednesday, November 28, 2012


PUNTA Cana, Dominican Republic — The United Nations Caribbean Environment Programme (UNCEP) has once more received endorsement for the continuation of the work of the protocol concerning Specially Protected Areas and Wildlife (SPAW), which, among other things, work to strengthen the management of parks and protected areas in the wider Caribbean.

At a critical biannual meeting, held by UNCEP in late October, key stakeholders examined the work of SPAW and signed off on a budget and programme of work over the next two years.

"The SPAW Programme has, since the protocol came into force in 2000, provided regional governments with support in the establishment, monitoring and management of protected areas," said UNCEP in a post-meeting release.

The Caribbean possesses 10 per cent of the world's coral reefs, of which 75 per cent have a threatened status, while attracting the tourists that are so important to island economies. Along with mangroves and seagrass beds they make up complex and fragile land-ocean systems that support as many as 14,000 of the world's fish species and marine mammals, as well as coastal and marine environments which sustain the tourism sectors of most islands.

The designation of marine protected areas (MPAs) throughout the Caribbean is an effort to protect such valuable ecosystems, and the species they support, from further damage. However, many MPAs exist only as "paper parks", where legislation is not enforced and resources for protecting and managing them properly are lacking.

The SPAW Protocol, through a dedicated network known as CaMPAM (Caribbean Marine Protected Areas Management Network and Forum), aims to:

* improve communication, information flow and exchanges between parks and protected areas within the region;

* assist governments and non-governmental organisations with the development of human capacity to increase the effectiveness of marine protected areas;

* sensitise governments about the need and importance of financing protected areas, and promote the development of funding mechanisms and strategies for successful park and protected area management with the participation of the local communities and other stakeholders, and;

* promote protected areas in the context of conservation of important natural resources necessary for the sustainable development of the region.

In October, SPAW held two important meetings in Punta Cana, the Dominican Republic — the Fifth Meeting of its Scientific, Technical and Advisory Committee, and, the Seventh Meeting of the SPAW Contracting Parties, ie countries which have signed on to the agreement. Programme activities over the last two years were reviewed and work plans and budgets for the next two years discussed.

The Caribbean Challenge involves eight island nations — The Bahamas, Dominican Republic, Jamaica, Saint Vincent & the Grenadines, Saint Lucia, Grenada, Antigua & Barbuda, and Saint Kitts & Nevis. Of these, five countries have made formal commitments to protect at least 20 per cent of the near-shore marine and coastal habitats by 2020. It supports the development of a biologically-representative, functional network of marine protected areas, capable of adapting to climate change.

Through a series of grants to MPAs in the countries, CaMPAM promoted responsible marine resource management practices including economic alternatives for fishers and better practices for effective marine managed areas.

In addition to the strengthened capacity of MPA staff, these activities resulted in more than 50,000 square kilometres of protected areas with marine and coastal components being designated, and 15 protected area management plans prepared, enhanced or completed.

It is expected that for the upcoming years, donors, governments, and their partners will continue to focus on five closely linked priorities:

* The completion of protected area master plans

* The establishment and capitalisation of national protected area trust funds

* The creation of new sustainable finance mechanisms such as tourism-based fees and debt-for-resilience swaps

* The advancement of needed legal and policy actions

* The development and implementation of ecosystem based adaptation to climate change projects.

* The creation of a cadre of MPA managers that can assist as mentors the staff of other sites and countries.

* The adaptation of emergent, high-tech tools and methods to the Caribbean scenario to improve priority issues such as enforcement, more diversified livelihoods and the creation of environmentally-sound businesses for coastal communities.

— Panos Caribbean



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