The Caribbean is considered to be one of the most vulnerable regions in the world to the impacts of climate change with coastal communities and low-lying areas being particularly exposed to the combined threats of sea level rise and extreme weather events. These threats are compounded by the degradation of ecosystems that, in many places, no longer provide the protection and provisioning services that people depend on.
The dramatic decline of coral reefs in the past four decades, caused by a combination of over-fishing, pollution, disease and coral bleaching, is a not only accelerating coastal erosion, but threatening the sustainability of the region’s tourism and fisheries sectors.
The economies of Caribbean islands are also challenged by their small size, remote location and over-dependence on tourism, which can amplify the vagaries of economic cycles. When unemployment increases, the result is often a vicious circle of poverty and overexploitation of natural resources, which further weakens the resilience of communities and ecosystems.
Despite the dominance of “bad news”, there are increasing examples of success stories at the local level where effective management, new technologies and partnerships are improving the livelihoods of communities whilst allowing their surrounding ecosystems to recover. Progress in the fields of environmental science, protected area management and community-based governance, as well as advances in information technology, renewable energy and financing mechanisms have the potential to change the outlook for vulnerable communities.
Improvements in our understanding of the genetics and cost-effectiveness of ecosystem restoration methods are also providing new opportunities for long-term rehabilitation of coral reefs and mangrove forests. Driven by a new level awareness and a sense of urgency, new partnerships are emerging between governments, scientists, communities, private sector and donors to develop and implement sustainable solutions at the community level.