New directory finds almost half Caribbean IBAs lack protection
Of the 770 bird species occurring in the Caribbean, 148 are endemic, with 105 confined to single islands. But only around 10% of the region’s original habitat remains, and 54 of the Caribbean’s bird species are globally threatened, of which 12 are Critically Endangered.
BirdLife's newly-published Important Bird Areas of the Caribbean: key sites for conservation  is a milestone for the BirdLife Caribbean Programme, which began in 2001. BirdLife International and its Partners, and a range of other organisations, have identified, documented and mapped 283 internationally significant Important Bird Areas (IBAs) in the Caribbean. IBAs are key sites for the conservation of birds and biodiversity, and the building blocks for conservation planning. They are identified nationally, using data gathered locally and applying internationally agreed criteria.
But this Caribbean network of key sites faces a large number of diverse threats, and among the book's most disturbing findings is that 43% are wholly outside formal protected areas.
"Not only do almost half the sites lack any kind of protection, but a number of areas described as parks have no proper infrastructure or staff, and many lack management plans", said David Wege, BirdLife's Caribbean Programme Manager.
The number of IBAs identified per territory varies from one each in Bermuda, Navassa and Saba, to 39 in the Bahamas. The IBAs range in size from Bayfield Pond and East Point Pond in Barbados – both one hectare – to the 530,695 ha Ciénaga de Zapata in Cuba.
"These IBAs are of critical importance for the long-term survival of these species and must be a priority for targeted conservation actions" —David Wege, BirdLife
Fifty one of the Caribbean's threatened species (11 Critically Endangered, 18 Endangered and 22 Vulnerable) are represented within the Caribbean IBA network. Ten threatened species (all national endemics) are each thought to occur in just one IBA. "These IBAs are clearly of critical importance for the long-term survival of these species and must be a priority for targeted conservation actions or surveys as appropriate", said Wege.
The IBA network can be (and is already being) used as a tool to review existing national protected areas systems, identify gaps in coverage, and identify candidate sites for expansion or designation of protected areas to address these gaps.
"Conservation of the Caribbean IBA network would assist national governments and donors to meet their commitments under international agreements like the Convention on Biological Diversity", David Wege continues. "But IBA conservation can also be important for socio-economic development. The ecosystem goods and services provided by IBAs often contribute significantly to human livelihoods."
This work was funded by John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, British Birdwatching Fair, Global Environment Facility, United Nations Environment Programme, US Fish and Wildlife Service, Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs/Development Cooperation, UNEP Caribbean Environment Program, SPAW Protocol Regional Activity Centre, Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, Aage V. Jensen Charity Foundation, The Olewine Family.
The Caribbean region as covered by this book includes Bermuda and all islands of the Bahamas, Greater Antilles (Cuba, Hispaniola, Jamaica and Puerto Rico), Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands, Lesser Antilles, Netherlands Antilles, and Trinidad and Tobago. This represents 13 independent nations, and six UK, six Dutch, and three US overseas territories, two French overseas départements and two French overseas collectivités. It does not cover the Central and South American islands on the fringes of the Caribbean Sea. The IBAs of Colombia and Venezuela (including their Caribbean islands) were covered in Important Bird Areas in the Tropical Andes (BirdLife International 2005), and those of the Central American countries will be treated in an IBA directory currently in preparation.
To download the Dutch translation of this story click here
To download the Papiemento translation of this story click here