Sean Padmanabhan (Institute of Marine Affairs, Trinidad & Tobago)
Copyright: © 2011 |Pages: 21
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-61520-815-9.ch012
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The marine environment of the Caribbean Region currently faces several threats to its stability and sustainability. Mitigation of these threats requires an integrated management approach at a regional level using the best available data and information. Unfortunately, there are several shortcomings in the collection and management of marine data throughout the region. One solution is in the use and application of web atlases. In this light, the online Caribbean Marine Atlas (CMA) allows users to identify, locate, create and disseminate necessary marine and coastal information. As part of the International Coastal Atlas Network (ICAN), the CMA also promotes interoperability among atlases through practice and adherence to standards in web mapping, data and metadata generation and maintenance. This chapter deals with several of the steps in developing the CMA, as well as the challenges met and overcome throughout its growth and evolution.
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The Caribbean as a region (Figure 1) is made up of the Caribbean Sea and contains a number of coastal and water-locked states and territories each with its own distinct characteristics, concerns and cultures. Among an array of diverse geographical, environmental, social, economical and political threads, there is also a common factor that helps bind the fabric that is the Caribbean – the inalienable waters of the Caribbean Sea and the Western Atlantic Ocean upon which each coastal area in the region relies and by which they are all connected.

Figure 1.

Index map of the Caribbean region


Within the Caribbean, coastal and marine environments are under increasing pressures from a combination of threats. First off is the challenge of dealing with (extreme) environmental events to which much of the Caribbean is exposed. These include hurricanes, tsunamis, fish kills and red tides that have hazardous and sometime disastrous effects on human livelihood and life. Additionally, pollution, coastal erosion, biodiversity and habitat loss, over-exploitation, sea level rise and climate variability are just some of the other activities and factors affecting the coasts and waters of the region and their ecosystems. It is in managing and mitigating the effects of these events that the need to understand these environments, their resilience and how they relate to maintaining the necessary ecosystem-based goods and services provided to the region, becomes evident and unquestionable.

The management of coastal and marine areas is intrinsically difficult since it involves a complex, multi-faceted environment for which data from observation and monitoring is limited and expensive, especially in the Caribbean. Moreover, coastal and ocean management usually involves multiple users, various responsible state agencies at different levels (e.g., national, provincial or local) and, in the case of shared seas, like in the Caribbean, interactions and relations with other nations. Given the geographic distribution and proximity of landmasses in the region, a complex interplay of intersecting and sometimes undefined jurisdictions develops in an area of dynamic living resources. Furthermore, almost all of the major threats in the Caribbean have a regional or sub-regional area of effect where the events and activities occurring in local or national waters will eventually affect neighboring areas (e.g., algal bloom). The successful sustainable development of the region, its coasts and waters is therefore based both on the premise that management of these areas must be a collaborative effort among all stakeholders and on the principles of integrated management of all activities occurring in or affecting coasts and oceans.

To effectively manage the coastal and ocean environments of the Caribbean at a regional or national level, facts and understanding of the ecosystems, habitats and their components are needed to provide a foundation of information upon which good decision-making may be firmly established. In order to build such a knowledge base, appropriate data and information on living and non-living resources, an environment’s health, cycles, stresses and vulnerabilities must be collected, analyzed and distributed. It is here, in the gathering, administration, application and dissemination of useful coastal and marine information that a major challenge exists for the Caribbean region and its members. There is a limited range and amount of relevant and current data and information easily available to and proficiently used by the Caribbean region and/or its constituents. Also prevalent is an overall lack of appropriate tools, techniques and expertise needed to effect timely decision-making and adaptive management of coastal and marine areas. As a result, managers at both a regional or national level frequently have outdated or deficient information on the resources that they are charged with conserving and/or preserving and find it difficult to successfully perform their mandates and functions.

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