The Wider Caribbean Region (WCR)  includes areas of diverse ecological and biological significance to the region and contains at least 50% of the world’s biodiversity, including an abundance of endemic flora and fauna. The Specially Protected Areas and Wildlife (SPAW) Protocol highlights the importance of the conservation of these areas and was established to sustain this unique biodiversity. The mentioned areas are designated under several different global frameworks, which include:
- 15 Ecologically or Biologically Significant Marine Areas declared under the Convention on Biological Diversity
- 2 Particularly Sensitive Sea Areas designated under the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships, 1973 as modified by the Protocol of 1978 (MARPOL 73/78)
- Nearly 100 sites under the Convention on Wetlands of International Importance, especially as Waterfowl Habitat (the Ramsar Convention)
- 35 protected areas under the SPAW Protocol of the Cartagena Convention
- 6 World Heritage Natural Sites under the Convention concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage
- Approximately 330 Key Biodiversity Areas and Important Bird and Biodiversity Areas in coastal areas. (UNEP, 2020)
Despite being designated as protected areas, they still experience negative biophysical and socio-economic impacts, such as degradation and habitat and species loss due to destructive practices. These affect public health, fisheries and tourism. Caribbean coral-reef associated tourism alone is valued at US$ 7.9 billion and fisheries at US$ 5 billion.
Emerging threats such as Stony Coral Tissue Loss Disease (SCTLD) and sargassum influx are major contributors to the issues mentioned. SCTLD was first identified in 2014 off the coast of Florida with devastating impacts such as up to 100% mortality of coral species. The influx of sargassum has had negative impacts on coastal communities in the WCR since 2011, specifically where there are mass strandings such as in 2018. Twenty million tonnes washed up along the region’s coastlines in June alone, resulting in emergency conditions in several Caribbean countries (UNEP-CEP, 2018). These massive mats entangle, strand and smother marine animals, diminish air quality as they decay, hinder coastal recreational and economic activities and cost countries millions to remove.
 The Wider Caribbean Region (WCR) comprises the insular and coastal States and Territories with coasts on the Caribbean Sea and Gulf of Mexico, as well as waters of the Atlantic Ocean adjacent to these States and Territories and includes 28 island and continental countries.
Photocredit: Greg McFall