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Ecosystem Services – The Marine Environment

July 20 2015 - by Dr. David Lee, CLP's Environment Specialist

Nature supplies the raw materials that we use to pursue economic development.  However, she never sends us a bill and so often these raw materials are not valued and are generally taken for granted.  In the next few environment blogs we will explore some of these services that are provided by the environment and which support our development efforts in the Caribbean. Today, let’s look at the marine environment.

Tourism is the region’s number two foreign exchange earner, after remittances, and is therefore an important component of the Caribbean’s economic development.  Tourism relies upon our environmental assets - blue waters, white sand beaches, forests, culture and music, etc.

There are limited nutrients in the Caribbean Sea, mainly as a consequence of small land mass of most of its countries in relation to the marine areas.  Low nutrient levels mean that there are few marine plants and photosynthesis productivity in the water and the result is the clear blue waters of the Caribbean.  The region’s classification as the number-one destination for the cruise industry is inspired by the warm predictable climate, proximity to North America, and pristine tropical waters.  Industrial developments on land, shipping traffic, improper agricultural practices and soil erosion all threaten the clear blue waters of the Caribbean.

These assets have also attracted other water-based activities such as charter yachts, private sailing, power boating and jet skis.  Commercial vessels also find it advantageous to traverse our seas. This spaghetti-like movement of recreational and commercial vessels within and non-stop passage through the region has increased the likelihood of incidents and accidents that threatens monumental damage to our marine environment and to our development efforts. 

The white sand beaches of the Caribbean are composed of coralline sand.  Coralline sand is made up of particles from the coral reef ecosystem (bits of coral, calcareous algae, etc.).  The coral reefs also protect our beaches by physically breaking wave action along the coast where they exist.  Corals, the organisms that form the reef, are sensitive to fresh water, suspended material, nutrients and light levels.  In nature, coastal wetlands protect the corals by filtering land based run-off such that suspended materials are filtered, nutrients absorbed, and fresh water discharge is slowed.  Sustainable tourism development in most of the Caribbean is not possible without an understanding of the reef – beach – wetland dynamics. The sea, reefs and wetlands are also home to species of fish that we use for our sustenance and those of our visitors.  Tourism developments in the past have often altered reefs or beaches or wetlands which undermines the value of the tourism development and can compromise our food security.

Nature doesn’t send a bill, but we are charged with the responsibility of managing these resources – if we want to keep them.  

Do you value our clear blue waters, white sand beaches, fish and marine life?

Do you value our wetlands? Do you value them enough to understand that they are our treasures?

Do you understand that our economic development is tied to the health of our environmental assets and the ecosystem services they provide?

What are YOU doing to manage our resources?

If this blog has served as an eye-opener for you, what is one concrete action that you commit to taking starting today?