Millennium Ecosystem Assessment
Strengthening Capacity to Manage Ecosystems Sustainably for Human Well-Being

Assessment of the Caribbean Sea (CARSEA)


The Caribbean Sea is the second largest sea in the world covering an area of approximately 2,515,900 km2. The sea is bounded by Central America, the northern coast of South America and the islands of the Caribbean archipelago. It can be categorized as a marine desert surrounded by coastal oases of high production associated with coral reefs, mangrove swamps, estuaries and coastal lagoons.

Lead institutions

The lead institutions involved in this assessment are the University of the West Indies (UWI), the Cropper Foundation, Institute of Marine Affairs (IMA), Island Resources Foundation, University of Florida, Association of Caribbean States (ACS) Secretariat, CARICOM Secretariat, ECLAC P.O.S. Office, Caribbean Conservation Association (CCA), UNEP ROLAC, and Caribbean Agricultural Research and Development Institute.

Contact information:

  • John Agard
    Department of Life Sciences
    University of the West Indies
    St. Augustine
    Trinidad and Tobago
    Tel.: 868-645-3232 to 6 ext. 3095 or 2047 (W)
    868-627-1823 (H)

Focal issues

This project seeks to determine the policies and governance structures that will be most resilient under various economic and environmental scenarios in protecting the ecosystem functions of the Caribbean Sea so that it can supply in a sustainable manner services that support human wellbeing.

Key questions:

  • What will be the consequences to human wellbeing of the collapse of Caribbean Sea fisheries due to over-fishing?
  • What are the consequences of the continuous destruction of coral reefs, mangrove swamps and sea-grass beds? Will ecosystem services such as fisheries recruitment, water purification and erosion control suddenly collapse?
  • Will steadily increasing reliance on tourism lead to economic vulnerability (cf. September 11th) as well as environmental, moral, spiritual and cultural decay?
  • What are the policy options that will provide a framework for the many actors who exploit the Caribbean Sea to manage it in a sustainable manner.

Ecosystem services being assessed

Fisheries, Biodiversity regulation of ecosystem services by keystone species, recreational and aesthetic, atmospheric and climate regulation, nutrient recycling, sediment trapping, and pollutant detoxification.

Key features of the assessment

The marine environment and well being of the peoples of the Caribbean are closely interdependent since most countries economies are heavily dependent on tourism and fisheries, and the majority of the people live in coastal settlements. Core ecosystem services critical to human wellbeing in the Caribbean are the attractive seascape/landscape aesthetics and diverse cultural mix, which give the region a high recreational value. This is especially so among most of the islands in the region and is reflected in their export structure where tourism revenue comprises 15-99% of exports of goods and services. Ecosystem goods from Agriculture and Fisheries are also important comprising 4-44% of GDP. These ecosystem goods and services provided by the Caribbean Sea are under threat from many sources such as international marine shipping (including nuclear waste trans-shipment), wastes from yachts and cruise liners and large commercial fishing vessels from nations not indigenous to the sub-region. Over-harvesting of fish and land-based sources of pollution are a direct threat to sustainable livelihoods. The resources of the coastal zone are also under threat from several sources such as removal and filling in of mangrove swamps for hotel and resort construction, beach sand mining, blasting channels through coral reefs to facilitate marina development. Deforestation and land clearing also promote soil loss and fertilizer runoff, which may cause algal blooms and increased turbidity in the coastal zone.

Project outputs

  • Adequate inter-disciplinary scientific and analytical basis for protection of the ecosystem function of the Caribbean Sea.
  • A body of policies, management undertakings and actions to address the basic threats to ecosystem states and/or services
  • Capacity development in the region for undertaking integrated ecosystem analyses
  • Deepened understanding of environment and development linkages by decision-makers
  • Increased public awareness of people to the value of the Caribbean Sea
  • A regional framework for collective policy-making and effective management.

Timeframe, budget

The project will contribute a summary of the assessment to the MA by December 2003. The full assessment is expected to be completed by October 2004. The tentative 3-year budget is US$187,000.