The Eastern Caribbean region is endowed with a rich biodiversity, which, partly due to its isolation within the Caribbean Sea, has resulted in relatively high rates of national and regional endemism.
The rates of endemism in the region vary with island topography. In the Leeward Islands for example where species are particularly vulnerable to natural disasters, land-use changes and invasive species, there is less diversity relative to the larger, less vulnerable islands of the Windwards. This is clearly demonstrated in Dominica which has the most diverse wildlife remaining in the Eastern Caribbean and characterized by the relatively high levels of endemism due to its tremendous terrestrial and marine biodiversity, high level of forest cover, and unique ecosystems which include 8 active volcanoes and the only boiling lake in the Western Hemisphere.
One recent survey of the world’s biodiversity hotspots identified the Caribbean as the fifth ranking “hotspot” and one of the highest priorities in any global strategy for biodiversity conservation and sustainable management.
In a second study based on faunal distributions, the Eastern Caribbean region was classified as a unique marine ecoregion of the tropical northwestern Atlantic province and as the most threatened given the highest priority ranking for conservation purposes.
Despite the significance of the region’s biodiversity endowment, there have been reductions in both its quantity and quality over time. Much of the terrestrial landscape in the Lesser Antilles has been heavily modified particularly in the “low” islands (e.g., Antigua and Barbuda). As a result, much of the rural area is dominated by grasslands and savanna sub-types derived from anthropomorphic influences; mainly clearing for sugar cane production and the direct harvesting of forests for production of wood and charcoal. In contrast, secondary forests predominate at mid-elevations in the “high” islands and the only remaining primary forest ecosystems that are undisturbed are confined to the relative higher and inaccessible elevations (e.g, in Dominica).
Similarly, many of the region’s highly productive offshore ecosystems have come under increasing pressure in recent times from a variety of anthropogenic and natural sources. Efforts aimed at protecting the critical ecosystems in the islands of the Eastern Caribbean have not been very successful, even when the legislative foundation for the establishment of management programmes for such areas has long been in place. In fact the lack of congruence between nation building and the sustainable use of natural resources remains the biggest hurdle to attaining the goals of sustainable development.
The nexus between poverty and the loss of natural capital through over or indiscriminate resource extraction is still not clearly understood, far less the determination of what needs to be done to address the situation. For now the establishment of protected areas (PAs) remains the primary tool for resource conservation in the Eastern Caribbean but that itself is characterized by a checkered history of implementation.
(Extract from OPAAL Project Brief, please download full document here)