International Biodiversity Day: United Nations Highlights Importance of Marine Protected Areas

Today (May 22) is International Day for Biological Diversity and the theme is, appropriately for this region, Biodiversity and Sustainable Tourism. What does much of our region’s tourism depend on? The Caribbean Sea. It’s a special place. Biodiversity – that wide range of species, plant and animal life in the sea and on land that helps to maintain a healthy and balanced environment – is essential to our “tourism product,” whether our visitors are relaxing on the coast or exploring our mountainous interior. The UN Environment Programme/Caribbean Environment Programme (UNEP-CEP), based here in Jamaica, is very much focused on our precious marine ecosystem. Without our Caribbean Sea, if you think about it, we Jamaicans could barely survive. This is why Marine Protected Areas are so important in safeguarding our health and livelihoods, now and into the future. 

The global Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) was opened for signature at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro on 5 June 1992 and entered into force on 29 December 1993. To date, there are 193 Parties – including Jamaica, which ratified the Convention on June 1, 1995. 

I am not sure why Jamaica has signed (on January 18, 1990, in Kingston) – but not yet ratified – the Specially Protected Areas and Wildlife Protocol (the SPAW Protocol) of the Convention for the Protection and Development of the Marine Environment in the Wider Caribbean Region (WCR) – or Cartagena Convention – which came into effect in 2000. This is the only legally binding convention for the protection of the Caribbean Sea. The SPAW headquarters is actually here in Kingston, where the Protocol was adopted. The SPAW Sub-Programme, administered by UNEP-CEP, supports countries in meeting the objectives of global conventions and initiatives such as the CBD, the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands, the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS), and the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna (CITES) Conventions, as well as the International Coral Reef Initiative (ICRI).

I believe Jamaica would greatly benefit (in terms of training and grant support) from ratification of the SPAW Protocol. Our delicate balance of marine biodiversity would undoubtedly benefit, too.


Here is UNEP-CEP’s press release for International Biodiversity Day:


UN Environment – Partnering to safeguard Marine Protected Areas (MPAs)

On the International Day for Biological Diversity celebrated on May 22nd, the UN Environment-Caribbean Environment Programme (CEP) and the Marine Biodiversity or Specially Protected Areas and Wildlife (SPAW) Protocol highlight the critical role of marine protected areas (MPAs) for our well-being and that of future generations.

May 19, 2017 –Kingston, Jamaica

The United Nations recognizes the Caribbean Sea as a “special area within the context of sustainable development.” The Wider Caribbean Region (WCR) includes Large Marine Ecosystems which provide goods and services that Caribbean people depend on for their livelihoods.

The Biodiversity or SPAW Protocol enables Strengthening of Protected Areas and the Developing Guidelines for improving their Management. The Protocol works alongside its Regional Activity Centre (SPAW-RAC) located in Guadeloupe and its Caribbean Marine Protected Areas Management (CaMPAM) to also support the designation of new protected areas. This is done through a Grants Programme and Training of Trainers Programmes.

The Caribbean Environment Programme works with countries and regional partners to establish and manage Marine Protected Areas (MPAs). Approximately 32 protected areas have been designated under the SPAW Protocol, with the most recent being the Cayos San Felipe National Park in Cuba in early 2017.

At the international level, the Caribbean Environment Programme supports countries in meeting their obligations under international environmental agreements such as the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), the RAMSAR Convention on Wetlands and the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

Map of countries in the Wider Caribbean that have signed and ratified the SPAW Protocol (Source: UNEP Caribbean Environment Programme)

As we celebrate International Biodiversity Day, countries of the Wider Caribbean also celebrate recent achievements under the SPAW Protocol:

  • A new sister sanctuary agreement between the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the Government of the Netherlands was signed in May 2017. This extends the network of MPAs from New England to the Caribbean Sea, and provides refuge for endangered migratory humpback whales.
  • The Government of Haiti declared two new MPAs – Jérémie-Abricot and Baradères-Cayemites, located in the Grand’Anse Department of Haiti (Grand Sud region). This now brings the total of MPAs officially declared by the Government of Haiti to eleven.
  • The Government of Grenada declared Grand Anse as a new MPA in April 2017. This MPA is home to a coral replanting project to help rehabilitate damaged reefs along the Grand Anse Bay.

Many of the smaller islands in the Caribbean are better placed to establish and effectively manage MPAs, following the conclusion of the Eastern Caribbean Marine Managed Areas Network (ECMMAN) Project. UN Environment continues to support these and other Governments and stakeholders to manage their MPAs more effectively.

Management of MPAs will require greater monitoring and enforcement. The Nassau Grouper, Queen Conch and Spiny Lobster are just a few of the endangered, commercially important species found within MPAs.

UNEP-CEP continues to implement and executes projects such as the Biodiversity for Sustainable Development in the Caribbean through Ecosystem Based Management (EBM) and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the Global Environment Facility (GEF) Caribbean and North Brazil Shelf Large Marine Ecosystems (CLME+). These projects promote local community engagement and the use of ecosystem based management approaches.

Our Pledge

With commitment and collaboration, there is a bright future for the coastal and marine biodiversity of the Wider Caribbean. The UNEP-CEP will continue to assist countries to sign on to the Cartagena Convention and its SPAW Protocol, and for establishing and managing new Marine Protected Areas. This will ensure continued job opportunities today and in the future.

Fairy Hill, Portland, Jamaica. (My photo)
 About UN Environment’s Caribbean Environment Programme (CEP)

The United Nations Environment established the Caribbean Environment Programme (CEP) in 1981 under the framework of its Regional Seas Programme. It was developed taking into consideration the importance and value of the Wider Caribbean Region’s fragile and vulnerable coastal and marine ecosystems, including an abundance of mainly endemic flora and fauna. A Caribbean Action Plan was adopted by the Countries of the Wider Caribbean Region (WCR) and that led to the development and adoption of the Cartagena Convention on 24 March 1983. This Convention is the first regionally binding treaty of its kind that seeks to protect and develop the marine environment of the WCR. Since its entry into force on 11 October 1986, 25 of the 28 Wider Caribbean Region countries have become Contracting Parties.

The Convention is supported by three Protocols:

  •   Protocol concerning Cooperation in combating Oil Spills, which entered into force on October 11, 1986;
  •   Protocol concerning Specially Protected Areas and Wildlife (SPAW), which entered into force on June 18, 2000;
  •   Protocol concerning Pollution from Land-based sources and activities (LBS), which entered into force on August 13, 2010.In addition, each Protocol is served by a Regional Activity Centre (RAC). These centres are based in Curacao (Regional Marine Pollution Emergency Information and Training Centre for the Wider Caribbean, RAC/REMPEITC) for the Oil Spills Protocol; in Guadeloupe (RAC/SPAW RAC) for the SPAW Protocol and in Cuba, Centre of Engineering and Environmental Management of Coasts and Bays and in Trinidad & Tobago, the Institute of Marine Affairs, both for the LBS Protocol. As they endeavour to protect the Caribbean Sea and sustain our future, we look forward to their continued effort to preserve our Caribbean Sea by facilitating the implementation of the Cartagena Convention and its Protocols in the Wider Caribbean Region. The Regional Coordinating Unit, established in 1986, serves as the Secretariat to the Cartagena Convention and is based in Kingston, Jamaica.To find out more about the UN Environment-Caribbean Environment Programme, the Cartagena Convention and its Oil Spills, SPAW and LBS Protocols, please visit You may also contact Mr. Christopher Corbin, Programme Officer for AMEP/CETA sub-programmes, at UNEP CEP by telephone: 1(876) 922-9267-9  Fax:1 (876)922-9292  Email: can also be found on Facebook at: Programmeand Twitter at:  as well as on Youtube at:

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