The Caribbean—Sand, Sea and Saving Animals

This year, the Caribbean is not just a popular destination for vacationers and pre-World Cup cricket enthusiasts, as the 2006 International Whaling Commission (IWC) meeting will be held in St. Kitts and Nevis in June. Once again, rumors are rife that pro-whalers will hold the simple majority of votes. The same was true last year in Ulsan, South Korea, but in the end, the pro-whaling bloc was unable to assemble a majority.

There is an ironic twist this time around because the beautiful island nation of St. Kitts and Nevis has received over $14 million in fisheries aid from Japan over several years, and when it comes to matters of whaling, it consistently votes alongside Japan. Yet even if the pro-whaling nations do obtain a simple majority at the upcoming meeting, the IWC will still face deadlock, as the pro-whalers are unlikely to have the three-quarters majority needed to overturn the moratorium on commercial whaling that has been in effect since 1986. The two sides seem poles apart, with the pro-whaling countries recruiting new members year after year to vote in favor of a return to whaling and the anti-whaling countries pushing for more conservation-minded initiatives.

Animal Welfare Institute (AWI) Research Associate Susan Millward recently observed this division at an intercessional meeting; an impasse was declared over the completion of the Revised Management Scheme, the rules that would govern whaling if the ban were lifted. With the immense and synergistic threats facing the world's oceans and their inhabitants from climate change, bycatch, depletion of prey species, illegal and overfishing, toxic pollution and anthropogenic noise, a return to whaling would be disastrous for the world's remaining whales—the focus should be directed toward an integrated solution to oceanic habitat and inhabitant preservation.

Integrated Solutions
AWI has been promoting an integrated approach to species preservation in the Caribbean with Monitor Caribbean, which founded the Wider Caribbean Sea Turtle Conservation Network (WIDECAST) in 1981. WIDECAST, a coalition of governmental and non-governmental stakeholders, has grown to include volunteer coordinators across more than 40 Caribbean States and Territories working to preserve the region's six species of sea turtles. Attempting to replicate this hugely successful approach with other species, we co-authored and presented a paper on integrated conservation at a fall 2005 meeting of the United Nations Specially Protected Areas and Wildlife (SPAW) Protocol. The paper proposes the establishment of a structured network of experts drawn from various scientific governmental and non-governmental organizations to operate under SPAW. It was well received, and we have been given the go-ahead to begin researching, contacting and connecting various sources of expertise in the Wider Caribbean Region.

Harmful Practices
A month before the 2006 IWC meeting, animal welfare advocates will gather in Antigua to discuss animal issues such as disaster planning, humane education, animal cruelty investigations and responsible welfare practices. The environmental and economic impacts of various tourism activities related to dolphins, whales and other marine mammals will also be addressed. AWI will provide information in opposition to dolphin swim-with programs and the proliferation of ocean noise through participation in an evening workshop with representatives of local non-governmental organizations.

The issue of captive dolphin swim-with programs persists in the Caribbean, though we hope the progressive move taken by Mexico to ban imports and exports of cetaceans will resonate across Central America and be heeded in other countries. Caribbean nations also have much to be concerned about regarding ocean noise. There have been many marine mammal stranding incidents associated with acoustic activity in this region, and it is known to have a negative impact on commercial and recreational fishing. The reason for the high number of incidents may be the unique habitat offered by the steeply sloped seabed, which offers a concentration of prey species, especially for deep-sea diving beaked whales.

Recently, commercial fishermen in Trinidad and Tobago were awarded financial compensation from a Canadian oil company for their loss of income due to the company's seismic air gun use. Susan Millward and the Ocean Mammal Institute President Marsha Green will be discussing the issue with local government and fishery bodies while in the Caribbean. They will also participate in a town hall meeting and a radio show to discuss human-caused threats to marine mammals in the Bahamas.

History of the SPAW Protocol
The landmark Protocol Concerning Specially Protected Areas and Wildlife in the Wider Caribbean Region was co-authored in 1990 by AWI's Tom Garrett and Monitor Caribbean's Col. Milt Kaufman.

  • As a product of the United Nations Environment Program, the treaty entered into force in 2000 and has been hailed as the first international environmental agreement to utilize an ecosystem approach to conservation.
  • Its objective is to protect rare and fragile ecosystems and habitats in the Wider Caribbean Region, thereby protecting the area's endangered and threatened species.
  • The Region extends throughout the marine environment of the Gulf of Mexico, the Caribbean Sea and locations off the Atlantic coast of Florida.
  • The Protocol has been signed by 15 nations and ratified by 12, including the United States in 2003.

US Protects Caribbean Forest Habitat
On Dec. 1, 2005, the US government signed into law the Caribbean National Forest Act of 2005, designating nearly 4,047 hectares of the Caribbean National Forest and another site in Puerto Rico's Luquillo Experimental Forest as wilderness areas.

This designation prohibits road construction or other development, as well as motor vehicles, bicycles and timber harvesting. The protected land is 25 miles east of the capital city of San Juan, on the western side of the Luquillo mountain range. It is the United States' first tropical wilderness area and the home of the endangered Puerto Rican parrot, one of the world's 10 most endangered birds. Other endangered wildlife species found here include sharp-shinned and broad-winged hawks and the Puerto Rican boa snake.

The Caribbean National Forest is also home to 240 native tree species and several endangered plants, including the capá rosa evergreen tree and the miniature orchid.

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