A manatee and her calf

A manatee and her calf

Biodiversity is defined as the variability of living organisms (flora and fauna), whether terrestrial or aquatic ecosystems, and the ecological systems of which they are part. It also consists of the diversity within each species, between different species and that of the ecosystems. The Greater Caribbean region is very rich in biodiversity and ecosystems of great value. Among the most important biological resources in the region are the coral reefs, underwater prairies, the mangrove systems, and coastal forests. The wealth of biodiversity in the region remains despite the continual environmental degradation and destruction it faces. A portion of the territories of two of the twelve mega-diverse countries in the world (Colombia and Venezuela) is part of the region. During recent decades, the region has experienced a serious decline in biodiversity, even though the number of protected areas or zones has increased. The main causes of this situation are human activities such as water pollution and deforestation of coastal areas. Among the most significant human activities are the conversion of land use, mainly coastal; the discharge of untreated water; the use of pesticides; and spills and industrial discharges of hydrocarbons in the region’s waters.

One result of this situation is the fragmentation or destruction of ecosystems, which contributes to the increase in the number of species that are threatened or in danger of extinction, such as the manatee, black coral, and various species of sea turtles and migratory birds. It also contributes to loss and disappearance of the genetic bank.

At the same time, various researchers assert that one of the future threats to biodiversity in the region is the use of modified organisms resulting from the development and dissemination of transgenic technologies. On top of this is the presence of accelerated climate change, which threatens to impact negatively the region’s biodiversity and the ecosystems. Finally, it must be noted that the tourism industry, reflected in the construction of hotels and visits by cruise ships, in many cases does not take into account the impact of its activities on biodiversity and the ecosystems.

The preservation and maintenance of biodiversity is essential as many species produce benefits such as food, recreation, filtration and purification of water and air, and serve as protective barriers against hurricanes and other natural phenomena. It is estimated that the total value of the marine biodiversity in the world reaches a figure in the trillions of dollars.

The solution to the problem that faces biodiversity and the natural ecosystems of the Caribbean requires careful planning and management of current resources. Among the measures that can be developed to address this goal are the following:

1. Identify, demarcate and increase the number of protected areas for unique ecosystems and habitats that are threatened in the region and create the necessary mechanisms for the appropriate management of them.

2. Prevent and control activities that damage biodiversity such as the discharge of untreated water, the inappropriate use of soils, the excessive use of shipping and the introduction of exotic species.

3. Create research centers, assign funds and develop education and public orientation programs to benefit biodiversity.

4. Evaluate the potential revenues and economic contribution of biodiversity to the region within a framework of conservation of resources and sustainable development.

Author: Carlos Maysonet
Published: December 23, 2011.

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