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Estuaries, bays and other coastal ecosystems provide many vital ecological and economic services, including shoreline protection, productive commercial and sport fisheries, and nutrient cycling. Key near-shore ecosystems such as seagrass beds, marshes, and mangrove estuaries are particularly valued for their extremely high productivity, which supports a great abundance and diversity of fish as well as shrimp, oysters, crabs, and other invertebrates. Marine conservation has always been a component of the Parks in Peril (PIP) program. Currently, two of the 12 active PIP sites, Grenadines and Amistad-Bocas del Toro, include marine conservation components. PIP has also supported development of a regional portfolio of conservation priorities for the greater Caribbean, no-take zones for fisheries around Parque del Este in Dominican Republic, and strengthened protected area management in the Sea of Cortez. In the Sea of Cortez and Baja California, PIP has worked on no-take zones, tourism planning, funding strategies, and private reserves.
Photo: Coastal area of La Amistad/Bocas del Toro, Costa Rica & Panama © Nicole Balloffet
Conservation in marine environments, as a field, has lagged behind conservation efforts in terrestrial environments, providing a great opportunity for advancing the field by sharing best practices among practitioners. Much of PIP’s marine work has been in Mesoamerica and the Caribbean, where a coherent, strategic approach for increasing learning in coastal and marine conservation practices is needed. A critical component of this strategy is recognizing that the Mesoamerica and Caribbean region is characterized by a high degree of connectivity with respect to marine biodiversity as well as cultural and political experiences. Marine biodiversity in the region shows little of the small-scale endemic patterns found in terrestrial island systems. Instead, larvae of marine species from hatcheries across the region disperse across great distances as a result of the strong and predictable Caribbean current, so that marine biodiversity in every corner of the Caribbean may depend strongly on fisheries elsewhere. Many large marine species in the region such as sea birds, sea turtles, sharks, and whales have also evolved highly migratory life strategies utilizing wide geographic ranges during their life cycles. Tagging studies have even shown that groupers and other large predatory fishes frequently migrate hundreds of kilometers and crossing political boundaries on a regular basis. Thus, for marine conservation purposes, it is essential to consider the entire wider Caribbean basin as one unit highly dependent on all 35 countries that share its waters.
These linkages also extend into the cultural and political arena, with many countries separated by thousands of kilometers sharing similar institutional, economic, and cultural experiences. Migration of people driven by social and economic inequalities continues, as it has for several hundred years, to create strong linkages across the region. The Caribbean Community and Common Market (CARICOM) and similar policy networks such as the Sub-Commission for the Caribbean and Adjacent Regions of the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOCARIBE) have developed in recognition of this connectivity and need to work together across political boundaries.
Therefore, to better manage PIP sites and leverage conservation success in the marine realm, a system-level effort is needed to incorporate marine biodiversity protection strategies into conservation practices. Increasing learning and forging new alliances among PIP managers and partners with an interest in marine conservation strategies will create the foundation for learning and improved marine conservation that will continue into future years.
Read about South American Marine Conservation