June 8 is World Oceans Day, intended to help us better understand and appreciate the big blue blanket which covers over 70 percent of our planet. While we in the Caribbean have many reasons to celebrate World Oceans Day this year, we also have many reasons to better understand our sea as it faces the challenges of climate change and rising sea levels.
Within the Greater Caribbean region, the Caribbean Sea holds special significance as a geographic, economic, historical, cultural and most importantly environmental connector. While the Indigenous peoples, English, Spanish, Dutch and French colonists had little In common, they all recognized the importance of the sea, coastal towns and cities for transportation and commerce – the only way to traverse a region of volcanic mountains and impregnable jungle.
The Caribbean Sea and its surrounding coasts are crucial to our trade, transportation, tourism, food and our very identity. What started as Amerindian coastal camps then became colonial ports for export remain today as capitals, ports, resorts, industrial and resource processing facilities, and other critical infrastructure.
The Caribbean Sea in Numbers:
* It is estimated that 53 percent of Caribbean Peoples live within 100 kilometres of the Caribbean Sea, while 43 percent live within 10 kilometres of the Caribbean Sea.
* Ninety percent of the Caribbean Sea is enclosed by continental or island landmasses. From The Yucatan of Mexico, down Central America and across Northern South America, up the Lesser and Greater Antilles, only narrow passages connect the Caribbean Sea to the Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico.
* The Caribbean Sea accounts for 14 to 27 percent of the Global Ocean Economy (valued at US$407 billion). This includes tourism, oil and gas, transportation, and environmental services.
* Research shows that 22 of 25 ACS Member States have more ocean area than land area. This means that some countries are not by definition small islands, but in fact ‘big ocean’ states.
* At 2.754 million square kilometers in Area, the Caribbean Sea accounts for less than one percent of the global ocean area, but it houses 10 percent of the world’s coral reefs.
These fascinating facts are but a few reasons the Association of Caribbean States (ACS) works through its Caribbean Sea Commission to preserve this unique and special area.
Why Do We Need A Caribbean Sea Commission?
The Caribbean Sea is a shared resource and therefore the actions and management decisions of one state can impact and influence outcomes in neighboring states. While initially this may seem like a challenge, it can in fact be an opportunity.
Our problems are not unique, but in fact shared. The Sargassum Seaweed which is clogging the beaches of Jamaica’s north coast is the same seaweed preventing tourists from bathing in the sea in Tobago. Coastal erosion and sea-level rise threatens all of our coastal capitals and port cities. A lionfish that starts its life in the middle of the Caribbean Sea poses equal a threat to Haiti as it does to Panama.
With shared problems, we can seek shared solutions.
Recognizing this opportunity and the Caribbean Sea as our invaluable common patrimony, the ACS created the Caribbean Sea Commission (CSC) in 2006. The CSC was created with the objective of promoting and contributing to the sustainable development of the Caribbean Sea for present and future generations.
How Does The CSC Work?
Through regional consultation at the ACS, the CSC works with member states to conduct multilateral and triangular cooperation. One of the CSC’s long-term initiatives has been its advocacy work for the recognition of the Caribbean Sea as a special area in the context of sustainable development at the United Nations. The CSC also implements marine-focused projects which seek to improve coordination and cooperation between the region’s scientists and governments.
Its current flagship Sandy Shorelines project is being coordinated with the Cuban Ministry of Science and Technology and the Republic of Korea, and acknowledges that climate change and its associated effects – such as sea-level rise and coastal erosion – are placing the Caribbean’s coastlines at risk. The Sandy Shorelines project focuses on examining how costal erosion dynamics change with the additional climate change effects, which are currently being faced by ACS member states and which will only worsen.
Over the next three years, the Sandy Shorelines project will equip, train and provide expert technical advice to ACS member states in cutting-edge erosion-monitoring and beach rehabilitation techniques.
In May of this year, the Korean Institute of Ocean Science and Technology (Kiost) invited a delegation of eight ACS scientists and officials to Busan, South Korea, for the 15th International Coastal Symposium. There, scientists were introduced to the latest advancements in coastal and ocean science, technology, monitoring and modeling techniques. A special study visit was also made to the Kiost East Sea Research Institute facility.
The Sandy Shorelines project is supported by a US$4 million grant agreement with the Korea International Cooperation Agency (Koica), with additional financial support from Turkey and the Netherlands. It is a step in the right direction toward preserving and protecting the Caribbean Sea.
On the celebration of another World Oceans Day, the ACS and its CSC echo international calls to find solutions for healthy oceans and, by extension, a healthy Caribbean Sea. Indeed, the Caribbean Sea has a special place among the many threads that connect the Caribbean’s peoples and environment: all the more reason to celebrate it this month and throughout the year in collaborative and coordinated action, small and large, for the benefit of our common patrimony.