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Environment and development
in coastal regions and in small islands
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Coastal Ecosystem Productivity Network in the Caribbean


A coastal ecosystem productivity network (CARICOMP) was developed in the Caribbean during the 1980s in response to the need for long-term, region-wide comparative studies of the biodiversity and productivity of coastal ecosystems. Based on a co-operative network of marine laboratories, parks and reserves, the activities focus upon improving our understanding of structure, function and productivity of the three main coastal ecosystems in the Caribbean: mangroves, seagrasses and coral reefs.

Within the wider Caribbean region there is a consensus that in many localities these coastal systems are changing for the worse. The ultimate causes are rapid population growth and anthropogenically-driven changes, including heavy tourism development. As the underlying causes of these declines are diverse, there is little agreement as to how the ecosystems can be stabilized and restored, let alone how to further pursue sustainable development.

Conceived as a Caribbean-wide initiative to identify factors responsible for sustaining mangroves, seagrass meadows and coral reef productivity, the network is now broadening its focus to examine interaction between these ecosystems and human social systems. This information is a prerequisite for selecting an optimal compromise between competing human activities in the coastal region.


The network consists of 23 research institutions/laboratories in 19 Caribbean countries and territories committed to common protocols for the regular monitoring and study of a series of field parameters. Data are collected in accordance with a Methods Manual specially designed and regularly updated for this purpose. The institutions/laboratories have selected in their respective areas a number of sites with the required characteristics.

The CARICOMP Data Management Centre (DMC) is located at the University of the West Indies in Jamaica. Equipped with adequate computing facilities, the Centre organizes the software and standardized sheets for the recording, processing and redistribution of the data which are regularly provided to it from all sites. The DMC acts as a communicating link between the sites.

The network is co-ordinated by a Steering Committee composed of eight members including two co-chairpersons, Dr John Ogden (USA) and Dr Eric Jordan (Mexico), as well as by an annual meeting of the CARICOMP Site Directors from each of the participating institutions/laboratories.

A researcher measuring tree
height in the CARICOMP
mangrove forest.
Photo: M. Wiltjer
A researcher laying out a
chain transect in the
CARICOMP reef monitoring
area. Photo: M. Wiltjer

The list of participating institutions is at present (early 1997) as follows:

Bahamian Field Station, San Salvador, Bahamas
Bellairs Research Institute, Barbados
The University College of Belize Marine Research Center, Belize
Hol Chan Marine Reserve, Belize
Smithsonian Institution, Carrie Bow Cay, Belize
Bermuda Biological Station, Bermuda
Bonaire Marine Park, Bonaire, Netherlands Antilles
Dept. of Natural Resources, Grand Cayman, Cayman Islands
INVEMAR, Santa Marta, Colombia
CIMAR, Universidad de Costa Rica, Costa Rica
Instituto de Oceanologia, Cuba
Curaçao Underwater Park, Curaçao, Netherlands Antilles
Universidad Autonoma de Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic
Smithsonian Tropical Research Institution, Cayos Cochinos, Honduras
Discovery Bay Marine Laboratory, Jamaica
Estacion Puerto Morelos, Mexico
CINVESTAD, Unidad Merida, Mexico
MARENA, Nicaragua
Universidad de Puerto Rico, Puerto Rico
Saba Marine Park, Saba, Netherlands Antilles
Institute of Marine Affairs, Trinidad & Tobago
INTECMAR, Universidad Simon Bolivar, Venezuela
EDIMAR, Fundacion Las Salle de Ciencias, Venezuela

The field network is particularly well-suited for implementing UNCED-related Conventions and Agenda 21 objectives, particularly the Conventions on Biological Diversity and on Climate Change. Its long-term monitoring capability provides base-line data on Caribbean coastal biodiversity and also documents threshold responses of ecosystems to global change including human impact and climate change.

Since the numerous sites cover a large spectrum from little to heavily-degraded environments, the network also offers the opportunity to evaluate human-induced changes to the environment. At a select number of sites, emphasis is now being placed upon advancing our understanding of how human activities influence these three key coastal habitats. In cooperation with social scientists, quantitative and qualitative data are to be collected on local resource use and the interaction between human communities and the natural environment. These network activities constitute a pilot project under UNESCO's cross-sectoral undertaking on "Environment and development in coastal regions and in small islands" (CSI).

Source: "Science & Technology in Latin America and the Caribbean". 1996. pp.117-122. UNESCO-Montevideo.

Updated for the CSI homepage in February 1997

For more information, please contact:

Mr Jeremy Woodley
University of the West Indies
Centre for Marine Sciences
Kingston 7
Jamaica West Indies

Fax: (1) 809 977 1033
e-mail: woodley@uwimona.edu.jm


UNESCO - Coastal Regions and Small Islands Unit
1, rue Miollis - 75732 Paris Cedex 15 - France

Fax : 33-(0)1-45-68-58-08
e-mail: csi@unesco.org

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