More than just powdery sand and crystal-clear waters, the Caribbean offers entrancing geographical features such as mountains, volcanoes, rain forests and coral reefs. The Caribbean Islands are a biodiversity hotspot that comprise 30 countries and territories and stretch across a nearly 4 million km2 rich archipelago. Biodiversity hotspots hold at least 1,500 plant species found nowhere else and have lost at least 70 percent of their original natural habitat. The Caribbean Islands hotspot comprises more than 7,000 islands, islets, reefs and cays with a land area of 230,000 km2. This set of islands support populations of endemic plants and vertebrates, amounting to at least 2 percent of world’s total species complement. Species endemism is very high within the region, yet the land area of the insular Caribbean is a mere 230,000 km2 (90 percent of which is accounted for by Cuba, Hispaniola, Jamaica and Puerto Rico). Of the 39.3 million acres of mangrove forests in the warm coastlines of tropical oceans all over the world, the Caribbean region is said to host approximately 15.8%.
Like most places, the natural vegetation of the Caribbean has been changed by human interaction. According to a 2018 report from the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD), 30% of degraded land in Small Island Developing States (SIDS) worldwide can be found in the Caribbean region. This has negatively affected many species of flora and fauna as their ecosystems are diminished. In addition, where there were once lush forests, land has been cleared to make way for settlement and agriculture. This loss of forest ecosystems produces unintended consequences that often come at a cost to human welfare as well as to biodiversity. Without a long-term solution, desertification and land degradation will not only affect food supply but lead to increased migration and threaten the stability of the region.
Photocredit: Mr Adolfo Lopez)