A groundbreaking international agreement which paves the way for greater
protection of marine biodiversity in the Wider Caribbean region came into
force last month. The treaty, formally called the Protocol concerning Specially
Protected Areas and Wildlife (SPAW), highlights the region’s growing recognition
of the need to conserve threatened, endangered and depleted fauna and flora,
and encourages the sustainable management of the region’s coastal and ocean
resources. The Government of St. Lucia deposited the ninth instrument of
ratification to the SPAW Protocol of the Cartagena Convention in late April,
making possible its entry into force. The SPAW Protocol took nearly a decade
to become international law, after its adoption in 1990 by the 28 countries
that are party to the Cartagena Convention for the Protection and Development
of the Marine Environment in the Wider Caribbean Region. It is one of three
Protocols to the Convention — the other two deal with cooperation to combat
oil spills, adopted in 1983, and land-based marine pollution, adopted last
The Convention and its Protocols constitute a legal commitment by the countries of the region to protect, develop and manage their common coastal and marine resources individually and jointly.
Many of the region’s economies are highly dependent on their coastlines
for tourism and fishing. However, these very same resources are disappearing
or are seriously threatened, with wildlife being depleted through over-exploitation
and destruction of habitats. The Protocol responds to this problem through
detailed provisions addressing the establishment of protected areas and
buffer zones for the conservation of wildlife, both national and regional
cooperative measures for the protection of wild flora and fauna, the introduction
of non-native or genetically altered species, environmental impact assessment,
research, education and other topics.
“The health and the beauty of this natural world is crucial to the region’s
efforts to generate income, whether through the production of primary goods
or, increasingly, through the tourism sector,” says Klaus Toepfer, Executive
Director of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). “I am convinced
that the entry into force of the Protocol will lead to enhanced conservation
and sustainable management of this region’s precious resources, but clearly
all countries in the region must come on board for it to be truly effective.”
To date, Colombia, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, the Netherlands Antilles, Saint Vincent & the Grenadines, Panama, Venezuela, Trinidad & Tobago, and Saint Lucia are Parties to the agreement. The Protocol is now legally binding on all of those nations which have ratified it. Other countries (France, Guatemala, Jamaica, Mexico, the United Kingdom and the United States) have signed the treaty but have not yet ratified.
The area covered by these international agreements includes the Gulf
of Mexico, the Caribbean Sea and the adjacent areas of the Atlantic Ocean.
It stretches from Florida and the Bahamas west to Mexico, south to Colombia,
Venezuela and Suriname, and through the Eastern Caribbean.
Arguably the most comprehensive wildlife protection treaty in the world,
the SPAW Protocol stresses the importance of protecting habitats as an
effective method of protecting the listed species, and protection is focused
on fragile and vulnerable ecosystems as a whole, rather than on individual
The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), which has fostered
regional cooperation on behalf of the marine and coastal environment for
some three decades, provides the secretariat in Kingston, Jamaica for the
Convention and its Protocols. UNEP and the International Fund for Animal
Welfare (IFAW) continue to work together to highlight the importance of
the agreement for the region and to motivate governments to become Parties
and actively participate in its implementation. The Eastern Caribbean Cetacean
Network (ECCN) has also been working to promote SPAW since 1989.
According to Alessandra Vanzella-Khouri of UNEP’s Caribbean Environment
program, “The UNEP Secretariat is extremely pleased to have achieved this
goal. However, we all recognize the real work lies ahead. We are confident
that the SPAW framework will lead to enhanced conservation and sustainable
management of this region’s precious coastal and marine resources.”
For more information on the SPAW Protocol contact: Alessandra Vanzella-Khouri,
UNEP Regional Coordinating Unit for the Caribbean Environment Programme,
Kingston, Jamaica, tel (876) 922-9267, fax (876) 922-9292, E-mail: email@example.com,
or see www.cep.unep.org.
Thanks to UNEP, IFAW and ECCN for information used in this report. Thanks to IFAW, John Dohmen and Wieslaw Kalinowski, for use of their photos.
What is SPAW?
• The SPAW Protocol is the ONLY regional environmental legal agreement
addressing biodiversity conservation issues of the Wider Caribbean.
• The objectives of SPAW are to protect, preserve and manage in a sustainable way: 1) areas and ecosystems that require protection to safeguard their special value, 2) threatened or endangered species of flora and fauna and their habitats, and 3) other species with the objective of preventing them from becoming endangered or threatened.
• SPAW was developed BY the governments of the region and FOR the region. It is therefore more appropriate and specific to the Wider Caribbean than other global treaties.
• The SPAW Protocol is made up of three different Annexes, the first of which provides protection to species of regional flora, and the second of which provides protection to endangered and threatened species of regional fauna. (As currently constituted, manatees, all species of cetaceans, sea turtles, various parrot species, and certain crocodiles are listed in Annex II.) Annex III lists species of flora and fauna to be maintained at a sustainable levels.
According to Article 11 of SPAW, an Annex II listing means that each party to the Protocol shall ensure total protection and recovery to the species of fauna by prohibiting:
A. the taking, possession or killing (including, to the extent possible, the incidental taking, possession or killing) or commercial trade in such species, their eggs, parts or products;
B. to the extent possible, the disturbance of such species, particularly during periods of breeding, incubation or migration, as well as other periods of biological stress.
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