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SPAW-listed MPAs in the Wider Caribbean receiving support through UNEP-CEP

Every year, millions of people enjoy the Caribbean. The sea is a tourist destination, food source, and transportation mode for people from all over the world. The rich biodiversity and critical habitat make the Caribbean a location of great ecological importance. Marine protected areas (MPAs) have been established in the region to protect those same species and habitats that make the sea such an incredible location.

Map of the 18 protected areas currently listed under the SPAW Protocol

In 2012, eighteen Caribbean Protected Areas were listed under the Specially Protected Areas and Wildlife (SPAW) Protocol of the Cartagena Convention within the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP). The SPAW Protocol lists protected areas with a view to develop a regional network and cooperation programme. The purpose of this list is to identify those areas that are of particular importance to the Wider Caribbean region that are to be accorded priority for scientific and technical research and mutual assistance, as well as to protect the listed areas from activities that would undermine the purposes for which they were listed.

As of today, the current list of SPAW Protected Areas is:

  • Hol Chan Marine Reserve and Glover’s Reef Marine Reserve in Belize; 
  • Guanahacabibes National Park in Pinar del Río in Cuba; 
  • Sanctuary Cienaga Grande de Santa Marta and Regional Seaflower Marine Protected Area in San Andrés and Providencia Archipelago in Colombia; 
  • Grand Connétable Island Natural Reserve (French Guyana), National Park of Guadeloupe, St Martin National Reserve and Lagoon Ponds, Petite-Terre National Reserve (Guadeloupe), and Agoa Sanctuary (FWI) in France; 
  • Bonaire National Marine Park, St Eustatius National Park the Quill and Boven and Saba Bank National Park in the Caribbean Netherlands; 
  • Florida Key National Marine Sanctuary, Dry Tortugas National Park and Everglades National Park in Florida, and Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary in Texas in the United States of America.
All 18 Protected Areas significantly contribute to the conservation of marine and coastal biodiversity in the Caribbean, while targeting various and complimentary features, habitats and species. For example, the Everglades National Park is the most significant breeding ground for tropical wading birds in North America containing the largest mangrove ecosystem in the western hemisphere. The Bonaire National Marine Park encompasses 2,700 hectares of coral reef, seagrass and mangrove ecosystems with 50 species of stony coral and more than 350 species of reef fish. The National Park of Guanahacabibes in Cuba counts flora treasures (125 timber, 146 medicinal and 132 melliferous species) and numerous species included in the IUCN Red List or in the Annexes of the SPAW Protocol.  The Agoa Sanctuary in the French West Indies covers 59,000 square miles of ocean with the aim of ensuring the conservation of marine mammals  (twenty-four species have been identified) within the framework of a harmonious co-existence with human activities. 

The U.S. delegation receives their award for the US Protected Areas listed under the SPAW Protocol.

A specific database (http://www.spaw-palisting.org) has been developed and is managed by the Regional Activity Center for the SPAW Protocol (SPAW-RAC), hosted by the Government of France in Guadeloupe, to compile data on the protected areas listed and allow for specific statistics and analyses, such as site description, ecological data, cultural and socio-economic data, management, monitoring and evaluation, stakeholders, and staffing and infrastructure.

A dedicated cooperation programme is currently being developed by UNEP’s SPAW Secretariat, in consultation with Parties and interested partners, in order to support the 18 protected areas and to promote the listing of additional protected areass under SPAW which would benefit from such a cooperation programme. To this end,  representatives of the SPAW sites met in November 2013 to discuss strengths and needs of their MPAs and agree on the elements of such cooperation programme. Currently the 18 sites are already receiving support from UNEP-CEP through Small Grants awarded in late 2013 to support, inter alia, specific exchanges and meetings between them or with other Caribbean protected areas. Managers of the 18 protected areas will also be part of the network of mentors within the mentoring programme recently launched under CaMPAM, the Caribbean MPA Management Network and Forum of SPAW and UNEP-CEP, which aims to build capacity for managers and staff of MPAs in the region through peer-to-peer exchanges and training.