What’s Next For Our Caribbean Marine and Coastal Environments?

As the Envoy of the Caribbean Challenge Initiative,  I recently attended the CCI-CBF week. Since 2016, the Caribbean Challenge Initiative (CCI) and the Caribbean Biodiversity Fund (CBF) have been holding joint annual meetings, called CCI-CBF Week. This year’s event had originally been scheduled for the Bahamas, but for obvious reasons had to be transformed to take place virtually.

Seeing the agenda for CCI-CBF week stretch over an entire week was daunting, with virtual morning and afternoon meetings from Monday through Thursday, July 13-16. I secretly wondered who, if anyone, would have the stamina and commitment to actually attend these meetings daily.

Amazingly though, the week went by very quickly and not only was the level of attendance great, but also the engagement was very high and inspiring throughout. There were over 900 attendees from all over the world, a new record for the CCI-CBF week. There could have been no better testimonial to the importance of the subject matter at the core of CCI-CBF week: How best to protect the Caribbean’s natural resources and ensuring healthy ecosystems for future generations to come. 

You can watch some of the presentations and discussions on the CCI CBF Facebook page here and they can also be found on You Tube. Here is the link to the opening session.

In the opening session, H.E. Peter Thomson  UNSG’s Special Envoy for the Ocean, United Nations re-affirmed what he calls his central message, “In humankind’s struggle for survival on this planet, we have one common enemy and that is our greenhouse gas emissions. In the face of the ever increasing ferocity of tropical storms and rising sea levels and accelerating atrophy of marine eco-systems such as the demise of our coral reefs, small island developing states and coastal communities need no convincing on that score. Between now and COP 26 in Glasgow next year, everyone must double their own efforts to defeat that enemy and only when the World is firmly on the path to net zero carbon by 2050 can we be confident that victory lies head.”

Sir Richard Branson

Later on in the week, there also was a message from Sir Richard Branson which can be viewed here.

No stranger to the CCI, having hosted the important 2013 CCI Summit on Necker Island,  Sir Richard commented that “we need more ocean action and practical yet ambitious goals and targets”.

With such a serious topic, most discussions and presentations were technical and scientific, but there were also some fun highlights such as the live “Field Trip” with the Bahamas Reef Environment Education Foundation.

In the afternoons, in place of Zoom, we used a platform called Remo for our networking events. This also allowed for a more relaxed chat between the attendees and forging new relationships.  Credit must be given to James Ellsmoor of Island Innovation, whose company not only oversaw the event planning but James also acted as our MC throughout and did a great job with it.

So, what is the CCI? The Caribbean Challenge Initiative (CCI) was created to be and still is an innovative platform uniting governments, international cooperation agencies and the private sector to voluntarily work on collective actions to conserve and sustainably manage the Caribbean’s marine and coastal environment.

infographic showing relationship between coral and climate
Click to view/download infographic

The CCI is aligned with international commitments such as the Convention on Biological Diversity, the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, the UN Climate Change Convention, and the Regional Cartagena Convention.

The CCI’s contribution to these processes is to support and incentivize Caribbean countries to meet their sustainable development commitments, to cultivate and develop new funding and accelerate action that will help ensure more prosperous and sustainable economies across the region.

In 2008, during the 9th Convention on Biological Diversity held in Germany, visionary leaders throughout the Caribbean joined together to ensure a brighter future for our region.  They were determined to protect the sea that unites us and protect the resources that support our Caribbean people and economies.

Five Caribbean countries including The Bahamas, the Dominican Republic, Grenada, Jamaica, and Saint Vincent & the Grenadines made the initial commitments to the CCI Goals. This commitment marked the official launch of the first phase of the CCI.

The CCI is based on two main goals:

Goal 1 is the 20-by-20 Goal, which aims to conserve and effectively manage at least 20% of the marine and coastal environment by 2020. This goal is double the amount called for in 2010 by the Convention of Biological Diversity.

Goal 2 is the Sustainable Finance Goal,  which is geared towards establishing fully functioning finance mechanisms that provide long-term, reliable funding to ensure marine and coastal areas are sustainably managed into the future.

During CCI’s Phase I, which ran from 2008 to 2013, over 50 new Marine Protected Areas or MPAs were established. The total protected marine area across all of the participating countries increased from 7% to about 10%.

The Summit of Caribbean Political and Business Leaders, which took place in May 2013 on Necker Island in the British Virgin Islands marked the launch of Phase II. During this meeting, the CCI Goals were re-affirmed, with 8 governments signing the CCI Leaders Declaration.

The Summit was co-hosted by the Prime Minister of Grenada Keith Mitchell, the Premier of the British Virgin Islands Orlando Smith, and Sir Richard Branson, Founder of the Virgin Group, who we just heard from. Key support was provided by The Nature Conservancy, Virgin Unite and Tiffany Foundation.

For the first time, government leaders from the Caribbean, business leaders of companies with operations in the region, and key partners got together to agree on a shared vision for the region’s marine and coastal environment and to chart a course on how to achieve this vision.

During the summit, a total of US $75 million of funding commitments were announced, covering existing and new projects, in support of the implementation of both goals.

In this landmark year of 2020 for the CCI, and seven years after the summit, we certainly must celebrate the strong efforts and commitment of the now 11 governments that voluntarily took on the 20-by-20 Goal – The Bahamas, The British Virgin Islands, the Dominican Republic, Grenada, Haiti, Jamaica, Puerto Rico, Saint Christopher and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, and the US Virgin Islands.

Five of them have achieved or surpassed the 20% declaration target. The Dominican Republic with approximately 75 percent of its near shore marine area under protection, followed by Saint Christopher and Nevis with 50 percent, the U.S. Virgin Islands with 44 percent, Puerto Rico with 27 percent, and Haiti with 23 percent.

Today we must also celebrate that, collectively, CCI countries have now under protection or management 47,232 square kilometers of their nearshore environment, 61% of the way towards the 20-by-20 goal.

And while the full 20-by-20 goal has not been met, under any standard or measurement used, the Caribbean has clearly demonstrated its ambition and has set a strong basis and stage for new targets to be agreed soon, whether the target year is 2030 or 2050.

There is no doubt that private and public sector leadership from across the region and across the globe have made some serious strides so far in reducing the threat to nature and people in the Caribbean. Has it been enough? Do we need to fine-tune the collaborative efforts to avoid duplication and allow for maximum effectiveness? If Caribbean island nations and global governmental leaders, the private sector, and NGOs from across the world can take their collaboration to yet another level, renew their commitment and their shared vision for the region, the outcome of such a collaboration will certainly be for the benefit of a more sustainable Caribbean, for now and future generations.


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