There is a growing awareness of the benefits and value of Caribbean coastal environments and marine biodiversity (coastal capital). For example, coral reefs alone provide an annual net economic value between US$3.1-4.6 billion from fisheries, dive tourism and shoreline protection. Nonetheless the region faces challenges related to the sustainable use of its natural resources, including trends such as record breaking coral bleaching and a decline of marine animals. Recent research indicates that sea level rise is a bigger threat than previously thought. As a result, coastal systems and low-lying areas will increasingly experience adverse impacts such as submergence, flooding, and erosion. The projected population and assets exposed to coastal risks, as well as human pressures on coastal ecosystems, will increase in the coming decades due to population growth, economic development, and urbanization. The UN climate report confirmed that the ocean is bearing the brunt of human-induced changes to our planet. These trends impact the millions of people whose survival depends on coastal capital.
The relative cost of coastal adaptation varies strongly among and within regions and countries. Low-lying developing countries and small-island developing states are expected to face very high impacts that, in some cases, could equal several percentage points of GDP. As we watch many of our neighboring nations attempt recovery from yet another devastating hurricane season, there is an urgent need to consider the most effective mechanisms to steer Caribbean economic, social and ecosystem structures towards resilience and sustainability.
Facing the Challenge
These findings give us more cause for alarm – but also a roadmap for action: development of a more relevant regional infrastructure for ocean, marine and coastal governance is necessary and urgent. We all recognize that the ocean is changing, but we can’t just stop there — we need to come up with solutions for how to use the ocean responsibly in the face of those changes, and that requires partnerships:
- with academics to understand the complexity of ocean change;
- with governments mandated to deal with the ocean in a safe and sustainable way;
- and with industry to take economic advantage of the opportunities that are out there.
A Center of Excellence
The IDB recently embarked on a mission to develop the concept of a Caribbean Coastal Capital Centre of Excellence (CCCCE). An analysis of the region’s capacity to monitor, assess, valuate and restore its coastal capital brought together a diverse cross-section of high level stakeholders with experience in developing and delivering regional strategies to address sustainable development related to coastal environments. The discussions, during a two day workshop, recognized the vast landscape of roles and services that the Centre could offer and that its overarching functions could be towards promoting development and integration of coastal strategies and synergies at a regional level. Overall it was recognized that the solutions required to address the challenges of a rapidly changing coastal environment need to be more collaborative, more interdisciplinary than ever.
So what exactly is the CCCCE?
The CCCCE may very well be an unprecedented investment in Caribbean coastal capital and marine biodiversity. As a collaborative, the CCCCE can be transformative in its scope. At its heart will be a new partnership among member states, statutory bodies, NGO’s and Academic institutions towards developing innovative solutions. It can effectively link institutional marine and coastal expertise with national and even international partners. The CCCCE will not just help to increase capacity, and better understand the changes happening around us, but just as importantly, it can connect that knowledge with policy experts, governments, and industry – the partners needed to ensure safe and sustainable regional coastal development.
Like a rising tide, the CCCCE can be a key milestone in IDB’s long and effective history towards Integrated Coastal Zone Management. During the past decade a number of new initiatives have served to strengthen capacity and enhance member states through international expertise and connections. But the CCCCE would also need to leverage the Caribbean expertise. As the project takes shape, it must now build a framework for new institutional collaborations within the Caribbean, which all bring something important to the table. There is great research being conducted though institutional collaboration, but there are many national projects that could better draw on each other’s work through a mechanism such as the CCCCE. It can provide an opportunity to wrap these pieces together in a more effective way, so the sum is more effective than the individual parts.
The CCCCE can meet the global challenge through this broad network of connections — between universities, international institutes, government labs and industry. It quite likely has the capacity to exponentially explode the coastal research capacity of the Caribbean, and with such strong national and international partnerships, it can even be one of the most significant international institutional efforts ever put forward for the Region. And we are willing to take the challenge.
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