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FEATURE STORYMarch 4, 2024

Preserving Paradise - Local Solutions for Caribbean Biodiversity


Shanna Challenger introduces a student from Sunnyside Tutorial School to the Antiguan Racer during a Floating Classroom field trip to Great Bird Island. 


Chaso Media

The Caribbean stands out as a globally renowned biodiversity hotspot, with its coral reefs, seagrass beds, mangroves, tropical rainforests and unique fauna. These ecosystems not only protect Caribbean coastlines from tropical storms and erosion but also serve as a critical source of food and jobs for local communities.  

Sadly, the Caribbean, much like many other parts of the world, faces an immediate and severe threat to these precious ecosystems. Interconnected crises, ranging from the unsustainable use of land to the impacts of climate change are rapidly accelerating the loss of biodiversity in the region.  

While Caribbean governments are working to address these issues, there is growing evidence demonstrating how local organizations are playing an increasingly important role in protecting biodiversity and promoting climate change adaptation efforts. Being on the frontlines of climate change, they often have a better understanding of the specific challenges local communities face and are able to foster a more responsive and tailored approach to addressing the complex issues at hand.  

Local organizations also have a longstanding and enduring presence in the region, with some having actively contributed to environmental causes for 30-40 years.  Their enduring commitment provides a stabilizing force, ensuring continuity in efforts even amid political changes and shifts in government priorities.  

Among such local leaders are the recipients of grants from the Caribbean Hotspot Project, a World Bank initiative aimed at supporting civil society organizations actively working in biodiversity conservation.  

This initiative stands out from other World Bank operations as one where support is provided directly to civil society organizations using the Critical Ecosystems Partnership Fund.  

"This program may not be the bread and butter of World Bank operations, but it holds unparalleled economies of scale. Through the Critical Ecosystems Partnership Fund, we extend our reach to dozens of civil society organizations, each making a substantial impact on the ground. This initiative not only positively affects local communities but also plays a crucial role in contributing to global biodiversity conservation," said Natalia Magradze, environmental specialist at the World Bank and a team leader for this project.  

These local organizations serve as an inspiration for their tireless efforts to do their part in protecting and restoring the natural world. 

Here's a closer look at some of their successes. 

Antigua and Barbuda: Protecting one of the world's rarest snakes 

In Antigua and Barbuda, the Environmental Awareness Group (EAG), one of the oldest environmental non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in the country, is helping to save the iconic and critically endangered Antiguan Racer, one of the rarest snakes in the world. Through EAG’s rewilding efforts, the snake population went from 50 individuals in 1995 on one tiny offshore island to over 1200 on four different islands.  

However, the last census carried out was in 2015, which is considered outdated, particularly for an endangered species like the Antiguan Racer. With increasing pressures including climate change, and habitat degradation on the offshore islands, an updated census was critical to obtaining current and accurate data on the population dynamics and status of the snake. 

With the funding the EAG received in 2023, they have been able to conduct a census of the Antiguan Racer across its entire range. The civil society organization mobilized its staff and volunteers to capture and process the snakes from dawn until dusk for over two months. The team built the capacity of over 30 volunteers in wildlife data collection, invasive species control, stakeholder engagement and camping in extreme weather conditions, such as summer heat. The data from the recent census is still being analyzed, but once that process is complete, the information will feed into a long-term conservation action plan, collaboratively developed with stakeholders to safeguard the future of the Antiguan Racer. 

“Saving the Antiguan Racer is not just about protecting a rare species - it’s a commitment to preserving the delicate balance of our ecosystems. This project demonstrates the power of locally-led conservation action as a symbol of resilience and national pride, as Antiguans of all ages have been involved in the Racers’ conservation” – says Shanna Challenger, Offshore Islands Conservation Programme Coordinator at the EAG.  

As the EAG looks ahead, it plans to develop conservation action plans for rare reptiles and strengthen its financial sustainability to allow for expansion of conservation programs. The Group also plans to grow its network of volunteers committed to environmental conservation through educational programs, outreach activities, and conservation capacity-building.  

Jamaica: Helping communities to navigate climate change challenges

The Jamaica Environment Trust (JET) is a civil society group with a mission to protect Jamaica’s natural environment. One of its recent initiatives, funded by the project, is helping to improve the management of the Cockpit Country Key Biodiversity Area in Jamaica.  

The Cockpit Country is home to Jamaica’s largest contiguous rainforest and is one of the most beautiful, biodiverse, and important natural centers of the island.  

Although climate change has been considered a threat to Cockpit Country's biological diversity, no studies have been done to assess and properly understand the localized impact of climate change and human activity on this area. This knowledge has hindered the development of an adaptation plan essential for empowering communities to adapt to climate change and to ensure the preservation of the rich biodiversity of the Cockpit Country. 

The JET stepped in to bridge the gap. It partnered with the Climate Studies Group Mona, University of West Indies to conduct a localized assessment of climate change impacts on biodiversity and agriculture within the Cockpit Country, specifically tackling challenges of prolonged drought cycles and intensified rainfall events. 

The JET then translated the scientific and technical information into easily digestible material for community meetings in the form of presentations, videos, and brochures on what climate change is and how local people can adapt. 

Together with members of the Southeast Cockpit Country Local Forest Management Committee and Benevolent Society, the JET prepared a vulnerability assessment and local adaptation plan which outlined actions that communities could adopt to improve livelihoods and maintain biodiversity. This collaborative effort ensured that the local adaptation plan was not only scientifically informed but also locally sensitive and practical in addressing community needs.  

“We got the chance to suggest our own solutions to the problem," says Arlette Dunkley-Fullerton, a farmer in Jamaica's Cockpit Country. Leading by example, she is establishing a rainwater harvesting system, one of the methods suggested in the adaptation plan that Arlette and her fellow community members helped to design. 

Community and JET members at the final workshop to create an adaptation plan for the Cockpit Country Photo credit: Jamaica Environment Trust

Dominican Republic: Bird-friendly coffee and conserving the rich ecosystem

Sierra de Bahoruco and Bahoruco Oriental are the two Key Biodiversity Areas located in the Dominican Republic. They support most of Hispaniola's restricted range species and offer vital wintering habitat for migratory birds from North America. Situated in one of the poorest regions of the Dominican Republic, they also serve as a source of food, water and other services to local communities.  

Growing environmental pressures such as deforestation, unsustainable agriculture, and illegal logging pose significant threats to these vital ecosystems and the well-being of people dependent on them. 

The Sociedad Ornitológica de la Hispaniola (SOH Conservación) is on a mission to safeguard these unique ecosystems and help local communities.  

With the funding SOH received, it is supporting local farmers in the sustainable production of shade-grown coffee. Shade-grown coffee beans are considered of higher quality in the market and can provide farmers with a higher income.  

Over 56 coffee growers were trained in organic agriculture production, agroforestry, and the Smithsonian Bird Friendly® program, a certification program developed by scientists to conserve habitat and protect migratory songbirds. With the new knowledge, local coffee growers have planted 34,725 tree seedlings on more than 30 hectares, applying several bird-friendly practices on their coffee groves. 

The SOH is training coffee producers to catalogue bird species in and around their coffee plantations, which will help to certify their coffee as organic, bird-friendly, specialty “Bahoruco” coffee designation. Once certified, local coffee producers will be able to fetch a premium price in international markets, such as US, Japan and other countries.  

SOH is also working with the Agricultural Bank of the Dominican Republic to facilitate access to credit for at least 100 small coffee farming families by negotiating favorable loan terms to support their sustainable practices.  

DR Biodiversity
Caption: Julio Mercedes, SOH Conservation field technician, next to the sign announcing the launch of the Ecotourism Circuit to the key biodiversity areas of the region. Photo credit: SOH Conservación

Another important area of work that SOH is leading is promoting ecotourism in the two biodiversity areas. The organization has developed an ecotourism business and promotion plan, upgraded hiking trails and campgrounds, repaired an observation post for bird tourism and trained 12 young adults from local communities to be certified as official tour guides.  The work is already bearing results: since the launch of the program in July 2022, SOH has registered a 10 percent increase in visitors to the two areas.  

Jorge Brocca, an accomplished conservation biologist and Executive Director at SOH, is committed to supporting local communities through conservation efforts, “We aim to demonstrate that shade-grown coffee and ecotourism offer viable paths to generate a good living while protecting the Dominican Republic’s rich environmental heritage for generations to come. We want to show that conservation is part of the solution -- it’s not the problem.” 

The Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund - Caribbean Hotspot Project is the recipient executed trust-funded intervention for US$ 13.9 million. It aims to support civil society organizations active in biodiversity conservation through grants and capacity building. Grants are issued based on a call for proposals from CSOs working in 32 key biodiversity areas covering 7 Caribbean countries - Dominican Republic, Jamaica, Haiti, Saint Lucia, The Bahamas, Antigua and Barbuda, and Sant Vincent and Grenadines. The project is implemented through the Critical Ecosystems Partnership Fund Secretariat, housed in Conservation International, with strong support from Caribbean Natural Resources Institute which acts as Regional Implementing Entity.


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