Caribbean islands launch region’s first coral reef report cards
AS the globe celebrated World Ocean's Day yesterday, six Caribbean countries marked their commitment to preserving the region's extraordinary marine ecosystems by launching the first Eastern Caribbean coral reef report cards.
Coral reefs are home to over 25 per cent of all marine species, protect the shore from waves and storms, and create tourism opportunities.
Despite their economic and environmental importance, it is difficult to understand their health and status without searching through complex data or becoming a regular diver.
It is for this reason that The Nature Conservancy combined existing data, collected by regional and international scientists, to create individual report cards for six countries.
The report cards not only provide information on coral reefs, but also assess mangrove and seagrass habitats, as well as management strategies to improve these ecosystems. They are a concise, visual and easy-to-understand tool designed to be accessible for audiences from students up to the policy level.
The six countries include Antigua and Barbuda, Dominica, Grenada, Saint Lucia, St Kitts and Nevis and
St Vincent and the Grenadines.
Each report card was created in collaboration with local government partners, including fisheries, forestry, marine resource and environmental departments, and non-governmental organisations.
All of the data and report card scores are also available at www.caribnode.org, an online mapping tool where users can surf through data and create maps based on their interests.
"Having reliable data that is accessible allows community and resource officers to take actions that preserve our reefs and marine resources," says Agnes Esprit, in-country project coordinator in Dominica, where the launch of the report cards coincided with the opening ceremony for the Cabrits National Park Marine Reserve office.
The report cards were funded by the German Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation, Building and Nuclear Safety as part of the Climate-Resilient Eastern Caribbean Marine Managed Areas Network (ECMMAN) project, which aims to build a regional network of protected coastal areas.
Data indicates that many reefs within protected areas recorded larger coral structures with higher numbers and varieties of fish species, which can help rejuvenate national fisheries resources.
The report cards also present an opportunity to use data to address issues like overfishing, pollution and climate change.
The Healthy Reef report cards from the Mesoamerican region, which the Eastern Caribbean series is modelled after, have been used as a tool to advocate for marine conservation for almost a decade.
Data-monitoring teams from each country will continue to fill gaps in the data and update information in future versions of the report card.
As data is collected, shared and used to make smart management decisions, the report cards offer a sense of hope that the region will gradually see small but significant improvements to the marine resources that make the region both unique and united.