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Keywords: Caribbean, eutrophication, LTER (long-term ecological research), coastal settings, human ... - page 3 / 14





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form of bilge water and garbage dumped into the ocean (Atwood et al. 1987). In addition, there is a significant amount of pollution from nonpoint sources within the region, including contaminants such as sewage, solid-waste leachates from landfills, industrial and agricultural runoff, and pe- troleum products (Atwood et al. 1987). Table 1. Locations of selected Ramsar sites and biosphere reserves around the wider Caribbean Sea. Biosphere reserve Ramsar sitea b Country or territory Guatemala Ecosystem Maya Sierra de las Minas Rio Plátano Honduras Nicaragua Cayos Miskitos and coastal zone Wetlands, Bluefield Bay San Juan River These impacts threaten the biodiversity and environmental quality of coastal ecosystems in the region. The extent of the loss of biological diversity is still poorly known (Loreau et al. 2001), particularly in the Caribbean, where species extinction occurs at an accelerated rate. However, we know that of the 197 endemic mammals and birds across the Lesser and Greater Antilles, at least 43 have become extinct over the last 500 years (Myers et al. 2000). It is estimated that in the last 150 years eight species of vertebrates have become ex- tinct in Jamaica alone, and more than 100 plant species indigenous to Trinidad and Tobago may be threatened by extinction. Despite much more widely publicized sup- port for biodiversity conservation, the lack of regional governmental and institutional support for research suggests that trends of declining biological diversity in the Caribbean will continue over the next several decades (Myers et al. 2000, Brooks and Smith 2001). This trend is ongoing despite the presence of 22 Ramsar Con- vention sites and 20 coastal biosphere re- serves located throughout the Caribbean region (table 1). Costa Rica Northeast wetlands Gandoca-Manzanillo Cordillera Volcánica Central La Amistad Darién La Amistad Panama Ciénaga Grande de Santa Marta lagoon San Andres Seaflower Colombia Los Olivitos lagoon Cuare Los Roques Restinga lagoon Tacarigua Lagoon Venezuela Aruba and Netherlands Antilles Saint Lucia Guadeloupe British Virgin Islands Puerto Rico Guánica Commonwealth Forest Luquillo Experimental Forest North, Middle, and East Caico Islands Cayman Islands Jamaica Cuba Black River Zapata lagoon Baconao Buenavista Cuchillas del Toa Península de Guanahacabibes Sierra del Rosario Mexico Ria Lagartos Dzilam Sian Ka’an Calakmul There are few comprehensive, long-term research programs aimed at understanding the ecosystem services of coastal settings in the Caribbean, despite the strong ecolog- ical and economic importance of coastal ecosystems to the region. Regional research projects initiated in the 1970s and 1980s, such as CARICOMP (Caribbean Coastal Marine Productiv- ity) and CARIPOL (Caribbean Petroleum Pollution Moni- toring Project), have provided useful information about changes in the distribution,structure,and productivity of coral reef, sea grass, and mangrove ecosystems as influenced by petroleum pollution. Similarly, the Association of Island Marine Laboratories of the Caribbean, or AIMLC, has played an important role in assisting and initiating collaborative research among its members (Ogden 1987). More recently, the TEAM (Tropical Ecology, Assessment, and Monitoring) Ini- tiative at Conservation International (www.conservation. org/xp/CIWEB/home) has developed the first early-warning system for global biodiversity, which will provide much- Florida (United States) Everglades and Dry Tortugas a. See www.wetlands.org/RDB/neotropics/Caribbean.html. b. See www.unesco.org/mab. needed knowledge about tropical ecosystems. This program is designed to supply information necessary for assessing the overall effectiveness of conservation efforts. We have developed a conceptual framework to analyze the diverse ecological properties of coastal settings in the Caribbean region and evaluate the ecological vulnerability of these ecosystems to a variety of human and natural distur- bances. In creating this framework, we emphasized the biogeochemical properties and primary productivity of the ecosystems that form the reef–sea-grass–wetland seascape. Our approach follows the strategy developed by the Long Term Ecological Research (LTER) program of the National Science Foundation to establish research questions that are

September 2004 / Vol. 54 No. 9 BioScience 845

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