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 October. 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 wider Caribbean offers a rich variety of complex ecosystems with a great abundance of plant and animal species and diverse and productive coastal and marine habitats," according to Klaus Toepfer, Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), which provides the secretariat in Kingston for the Convention and its Protocols. "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," said Toepfer. "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."
The SPAW Protocol stresses the importance of protecting habitats as an effective method of protecting endangered species. Protection is focused on fragile and vulnerable ecosystems as a whole, rather than on individually threatened species of which there are many in the region. For example, the Caribbean monk seal is most probably extinct, the West Indian manatee is rapidly disappearing with a few numbers left in most of the countries where it exists, and all species of Caribbean sea turtles are recognized as being endangered. Not to mention other species of flora and fauna (e.g. mangroves, corals, conch, fish species and other marine mammals) which are being over-exploited without proper assessment of their population status. To date, Colombia, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, the Netherlands, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Panama, Venezuela, Trinidad and Tobago, and Saint Lucia are Parties of the agreement. Other countries have signed the treaty (France, Guatemala, Jamaica, Mexico, the United Kingdom and the United States) 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.
UNEP has fostered regional cooperation on behalf of the marine and coastal environment for some three decades. Its strategy has been to stimulate the creation of "Action Plans"-prescriptions for sound environmental management-for each region. Many of these Plans include regional Conventions-such as the Cartagena Convention for the Wider Caribbean-that are unique legal instruments designed to protect shared environmental interests. More than 140 coastal States and Territories now participate in 12 active regional programmes.
For more information on the Cartagena Convention and the SPAW Protocol, please contact: Alessandra Vanzella-Khouri, UNEP Regional Coordinating Unit for the Caribbean Environment Programme, Kingston, Jamaica, tel: 1-876-922-9267, fax: 1-876-922-9292, e-mail: email@example.com, or see www.cep.unep.org. For more information on UNEP's Regional Seas Programme, visit www.unep.ch/seas.
UNEP News Release 2000/82
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