Areas highlighted in green have already reached the goal of establishing 20% marine protected areas. - Photo: Caribbean Challenge Initiative

Islands across the Caribbean are pushing towards a major environmental goal: to conserve and manage at least 20% of their marine and coastal areas by 2020.

While fewer than six months remain to meet the Caribbean Challenge Initiative timeline, several jurisdictions have already surpassed the goal and others are nearing the mark.

Five of 11 participating countries have now achieved the recommended coverage area: Dominican Republic (74.54%), St. Kitts and Nevis (49.93%), US Virgin Islands (43.56%), Puerto Rico (27.44%) and Haiti (22.84%).

Although no British Overseas Territories have joined the challenge, such jurisdictions have been encouraged to participate by contributing data and collaborating on common goals across the region, explained Karen McDonald Gayle of the initiative’s financing mechanism, the Caribbean Biodiversity Fund.

“With the overseas territories, the fact that they have parent countries, it does make it harder to get donor support,” McDonald Gayle said.

Financing, coordinated through the Caribbean Biodiversity Fund, has been a key component in making conservation goals a reality for lower-income islands. Once marine protected areas have been established, the initiative aims to ensure continued management through a donor-supported trust fund structure.

Overseas territories can face difficulties in accessing such donor funding, McDonald Gayle explained, due to their connections with larger nations.

Participation of British Overseas Territories islands, however, would help create standardised measures across the Caribbean, and facilitate collaboration on conservation efforts.

Based on Cayman’s own measurements, for example, the 20% goal has already been achieved. In late March, Cabinet approved extensive expansions of the islands’ marine parks system.

‘No take’ zones, areas where marine life cannot be removed for any reason, were expanded from approximately 14% to 48% of Cayman’s marine areas. Those zones include marine parks and reserves, environmental zones and wildlife interaction zones.

It’s not clear, however, if Cayman uses the same measurements as the Caribbean Challenge Initiative, and the jurisdiction has not shared its data with the programme.

Other islands, such as Grenada, use their own calculations as well. McDonald Gayle would now like to get Caribbean islands on the same page.

“Standardisation across the Caribbean is something we are working on,” she said. “We hope we’ll be able to grow and continue to serve the Caribbean region.”

A recent US$45 million pledge to the fund from France, Germany and The Nature Conservancy should encourage further participation from low-income islands.

“The additional funding will go to expanding CBF throughout the region. Further contributions will help the CBF establish a new facility to tackle the region’s circular economy, plastic waste management, and wastewater treatment,” a Caribbean Challenge Initiative press release noted on Tuesday.

Of that funding, US$13 million from the French Development Agency will support the programme’s Haitian trust fund. From The Nature Conservancy, US$3.5 million will support the Bahamas and US$500,000 will go to Jamaica.

Jamaica has already reached 11.94% conservation of its near-shore environments, followed by the Bahamas with 10.34%.