A Softer Blue…the Caribbean Sea


My last blog post on the Caribbean environment – and in particular, its marine ecosystems – was, I confess, rather heavy going. So I decided to lighten it up. It’s not all gloom and despondency. Indeed, there are glimmers of light. Here are a few…

The Trinidad and Tobago government issued a statement deeply regretting the deaths of hundreds of Leatherback Turtle hatchlings and the crushing of their eggs by careless, clumsy bulldozers on Grand Rivere beach. And it seems that numerically things aren’t quite so bad after all, according to a comment by a World Wildlife Fund representative, who says that even if 2,000 eggs were lost during the period of destructive zeal that day, they would only represent one per cent of the beach’s total production. (See the Fund’s assessment of the highly endangered turtle’s global status in the link below – and it is good to know that South Africa is at the forefront of conservation efforts). But the fact remains, why did this orgy of destruction have to take place smack in the middle of the turtles’ nesting season, even if it was “crucial” work, as the Trinidad Government stated?

Leatherback sea turtle, Costa Rica
An endangered leatherback sea turtle crawls toward the sea at Playa Grande on the Northwest coast of Costa Rica. Leatherback hatchling survival is closely tied to temperatures within the nest and a new study indicates that rising average temperatures over the course of the century could reduce hatching success by as much as 60 percent.

Since we are talking turtle, the Bluefields Environmental Protection Association, on Jamaica’s beautiful south-west coast, is assisting with a Sea Turtle Monitoring Program. This is a tremendous community effort, supported by, among others, the U.S. Peace Corps (which does simply amazing work in Jamaica at the rural community level); the gorgeous, luxury and community-spirited Bluefields Bay Villas; the Bluefields Bay Fishermen’s Friendly Society; and the men and women of Bluefields – who are making it all happen.

The Caribbean Regional Fisheries Mechanism (CRFM) has developed a plan for the sustainable harvesting of flying fish (which the Barbadians love to eat) and is currently evaluating the health of the Queen Conch (which frequents Jamaican waters) and the sea bob (shrimp) fisheries of Guyana and Suriname. Good. The population of Queen Conch in the Caribbean is declining quite rapidly, due to over-fishing – and from time to time, Honduran fishing boats poach large quantities of them in Jamaican waters. The CRFM also discussed the thorny problem of the predatory lion fish, which is busy gobbling up reef fish in the Caribbean at a terrifying rate; and the sargassum seaweed, which has swamped the beaches of the eastern Caribbean since last year, and appears to be a symptom of climate change. I do hope that urgent action will be taken in these matters. Meanwhile the Virgin Island Daily News reports that a Senate Committee is working on a plan to manage the lion fish (I used to find this creature fascinating and beautiful when watching nature programs, but now I hate the sight of it).

Flying fish
Flying fish

And speaking of Suriname… I am delighted with its government for deciding that, in fact, having tourists do whale-watching trips to see their large population of melon-headed whales, dolphins and other marine mammals is a profitable and far more sensible pursuit than hunting said whales to extinction. The Surinamese government has decided not to support Japan – which also seems to be wavering just slightly and has announced that it will cease its whale-hunting activities in Antarctica. Yes, Caribbean people – ecotourism makes sense, doesn’t it? Maybe some of us are finally “getting” it – although late in the day, very late.

One more somewhat obscure piece of possible good news for our Caribbean Sea. Have you ever heard of Navassa Island?  Well, it is an uninhabited lump of coral and limestone between Jamaica and Haiti, only two square miles in size. Although administered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Haiti has claimed sovereignty over it for the past two hundred years or so. It is one of those little pieces of land which seem to serve no purpose, if it ever did (it once had a working lighthouse and hundreds of people digging up guano – strictly speaking, phosphate). Navassa was made a National Wildlife Refuge in 1999 and is closed to the public… But earlier this year, scientists from the Global Reef Expedition (funded by the Khaled bin Sultan Living Oceans Foundation, which also conducted research around Jamaica) made hundreds of dives around the island. The expedition found some surprisingly resilient growths of the highly endangered elk horn coral, which seems to have recovered somewhat from bleaching periods and even more remarkably, has adapted so that it clings to the almost vertical faces of the island’s rocks.

Well, that’s it for now. I hope that you have found these updates interesting, and do take a look at the links I have listed below – they will tell you so much more. I actually feel a whole lot better, having written this, than I did after my recent rant on our precious Caribbean Sea. Work is being done, and I like to think – and hope – that awareness is growing. But let us inform ourselves more; know that our actions on land as well as at sea impact the ocean directly; teach others; and take action, wherever and whenever we can. Ending with a beautiful quote from Christopher Paolini (author of “Eragon”) – which is how I think I feel:

“The sea is emotion incarnate. It loves, hates, and weeps. It defies all attempts to capture it with words and rejects all shackles. No matter what you say about it, there is always that which you can’t.”

Scientists study elk horn coral in the Bahamas
Scientists study elkhorn coral in the Bahamas (Photo: NASA Ames Research Center)
Navassa Island shoreline
Navassa Island’s rugged shoreline.
Melon-headed whale breaching
Melon-headed whales are also called “blackfish” and are often found in large groups.
Bluefields, Jamaica
Bluefields, Jamaica…So blue…
Hawksbill turtle, Bluefields, Jamaica
Hawksbill turtle which had just laid its eggs in Bluefields recently.





http://wwf.panda.org/what_we_do/endangered_species/marine_turtles/leatherback_turtle/ (Endangered Species: Leatherback Turtle from the World Wildlife Fund)

http://www.ticotimes.net/Current-Edition/Top-Story/Losing-the-leatherback_Friday-June-29-2012 (Losing the Leatherback: from the Tico Times of Costa Rica)

http://communities.washingtontimes.com/neighborhood/world-view/2012/jun/11/tourism-peace-corp-working-together-make-differenc/ (Tourism and U.S. Peace Corps working together to make a difference in Bluefields Bay, Jamaica: from Washington Times)

http://www.bluefieldsvillas.com/ (Bluefields Bay Jamaican Seaside Villas)


http://www.devsur.com/suriname-no-longer-backs-whaling/2012/07/12/  (Suriname no longer backs whaling)

http://www.caribbean360.com/index.php/news/596471.html?utm_source=Caribbean360+Newsletters&utm_campaign=fee95c98f0-Vol_7_Issue_77_News7_16_2012&utm_medium=email#axzz20oN5qgsB  (Tourism trumps whaling in Suriname)

http://repeatingislands.com/2012/06/26/caribbean-regional-fisheries-mechanism-discusses-action-on-lionfish-and-sargassum-seaweed/ (Caribbean Regional Fisheries Mechanism discusses action on Lionfish and Sargassum Seaweed)

http://www.globalreefexpedition.org/ (Global Reef Expedition, funded by the Khaled bin Sultan Living Oceans Foundation)

http://www.ipsnews.net/2012/02/caribbean-hit-hard-by-sargassum-seaweed-invasion-2/ (Caribbean hit hard by Sargassum Seaweed invasion)

http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/species/invertebrates/queenconch.htm (Queen Conch: NOAA Fisheries Office of Protected Resources)

http://www.caricom-fisheries.com/ (Caribbean Regional Fisheries Mechanism website)


http://repeatingislands.com/2012/07/13/navassa-strangest-island-in-the-caribbean-may-be-a-sanctuary-for-critically-endangered-elkhorn-coral/ (Navassa Island may be a sanctuary for critically endangered elk horn coral)

http://www.nasa.gov/vision/earth/livingthings/AGU_coral_reef_health.html (NASA to measure coral reef health with airplane sensors)


6 thoughts on “A Softer Blue…the Caribbean Sea

  1. CARICOM should give this matter a high priority. They are not doing enough to solve the environmental problems. They need to invest more in ecotourism and promote it.


    1. Dear Melanie: Thanks so much for your comments. I just wrote this post after an earlier one that focused on several events and situations. These seemed to prove to me that we are just being very careless with our precious marine environment that we all depend on so much in the Caribbean. I am not sure whether CARICOM has an environmental committee that looks at these issues. I know that efforts are being made in some areas, so I wanted to highlight those in this post. But as you say – ecotourism is so important. Guyana, Belize and one or two others are trying to develop it. But it needs full governmental/regional backing… Thanks again for your contribution.


    1. No – it never really is – there are some dedicated people and groups out there who do great work. Sometimes, though, the negatives are overwhelming. A lot of the environmental problems are simply due to ignorance and carelessness…


  2. I must say I think we need to find a way to accelerate the programme to encourage fishing of the lionfish. I’m lucky enough to have someone who goes spear fishing from time to time (the government allows spearfishing of lionfish) and they are really delicious!


    1. I agree. I am actually not quite sure where that program is going, or what success it has had. Perhaps you could enquire on your program one day. Ingrid Parchment and C-CAM did start getting the word out, but I think we need to be much more aggressive in our approach and just get rid of the things! I’ve never tasted it yet!


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