Caribbean Conservation Programs: Some
||Conservation efforts gaining steam on most islands.|
If much of the tropical wilderness was lost by default during colonial times, parks and reserves h have been added at a rapid pace over the past 2 decades. Today there are more than 640 protected areas in the Caribbean, well over 100 of them oceanic.
St. John, smallest of the USVIs, is the most protected island, with almost two-thirds of it controlled by the Virgin Islands National Park Service. Close behind St. John is Martinique, where 62% of the territory is a declared nature park.
However, this is like comparing apples and oranges since St. John does not permit development within its park boundaries but Martinique does if the development will help the local economy and relates to the island's cultural heritage.
The most heavily forested of all the islands is Dominica, which retains 66% of its forest cover thanks to its rugged landscape, too tough even for timbering. Dominica realized decades ago it has something special and aggressively established parks and reserves that now encompass 39% of the landfall.
Costa Rica may not conserve the most land but it is head and shoulders above other islands in preserving biodiversity. Its 124 national parks, biological reserves and wildlife sanctuaries encompass only 27% of the country, yet they house 4% of the world's total flora and fauna, a tremendous variety.
Costa Rica has rejected oil drilling off its Caribbean coast, judging such a project “not environmentally viable.” And not worth the economic risk since coastal communities rely on ecotourism and local fishing.
Although many conservationists point to Costa Rica and Bonaire as the models to follow, the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and the globally linked Small Island Developing States Unit (SIDS) acknowledge that some lesser-known Caribbean parks also do outstanding jobs at caring for their resources.
The World Wildlife Fund applauds the “no-take” zones in the 11-km long St. Lucia Soufriere Marine Management Area, Belize's Hoi Chan Marine Reserveand the Saba Marine Park. Under no-take restrictions, nothing can be removed from such zones, including fish.
In the Soufriere management area, fishing is prohibited in about 35% of the reserve to protect ecotourism and re-establish depleted fish stocks.
On Saba, fishing is restricted to locals in confined areas. Since fishing doesn't have a long tradition there, pressure is minimal.
Belize's no-take Hoi Chan reserve covers a channel that connects a lagoon to an outer reef. Fish populations have rebounded so well that dense schools in some areas literally obscure the reef.
The Hoi Chan reserve is part of the thousand-mile long Great Mayan Reef, a conservation zone created when the leaders of Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras and Belize signed the Tulum Declaration and promised to guard the reef that all four countries share. The Great Mayan is the world's second largest after Australia's Great Barrier Reef.
For their success in promoting sustainable tourism, SIDS cites not only Bonaire and Saba but also Aruba's Arikok National Park. Established in the 1980s, Arikok is huge, encompassing about 18% of Aruba. The park includes a good variety of flora and fauna, many pre-Columbian settlement sites and notable geology.
Visitors can access diverse sites like Dos Playa, a beach cove; and Guadiriki and Huliba, part of a series of underground caves.