This article was originally published on Mongabay


Story highlights:

  • Coral reefs of the northern Caribbean have undergone widespread change over the past century, driven by coastal development, pollution, over-fishing, the introduction of invasive species, and increasing ocean temperatures.
  • A new and unique marine protected area, the Southeast Marine Sanctuary, has recently been declared, covering 786,300 hectares of reef environment, thus making it one of the largest protected areas in the Caribbean.
  • The marine sanctuary will be divided into two zones, each to be co-managed by a diverse group of stakeholders organized into a nonprofit. The structure of its oversight – a collaboration among numerous stakeholders, from the federal government to local fishermen and from environmental groups to hotel associations – makes this new marine sanctuary remarkable.

“…The islands and atolls of the northern Caribbean are home to a vast constellation of coral reefs. The region harbors 59 species of hard corals, representing about 7 percent of the world’s reef-building species. Very few of these species are found outside of the Caribbean, thus making the region an important hotspot for coral biodiversity. Numerous species of soft corals and sponges, including the well-known giant barrel sponges, are also found here. The fish and invertebrate communities are highly diverse, with the snapper, parrotfish, and conch among the best-known species.

The island nation of the Dominican Republic is an important case-in-point. Located on the eastern five-eighths of the massive island of Hispaniola, the “DR” is the second largest Caribbean country (Cuba is the largest) with more than 10 million residents and a coastline of nearly 1,300 kilometers (800 miles). The DR coastline has also become a global tourism hotspot. For example, Puntacana International Airport serves about 7 million travelers each year, and there are several other international airports in the region. Most of these visitors set their sights on white sand beaches, turquoise waters, and outdoor sports ranging from golf to scuba diving. The DR coast is ringed with coral reefs in highly variable condition, some of which are rumored to be degraded from rapid coastal development and overfishing…”

Read on at: Mongabay.