Environment and development
in coastal regions and in small islands
colbartn.gif (4535 octets)

Coastal region and small island papers 3

CARICOMP: A Caribbean Network of Marine Laboratories, Parks, and Reserves for Coastal Monitoring and Scientific Collaboration

Björn Kjerfve1, John C. Ogden2, Jaime Garzón-Ferreira3, Eric Jordán-Dahlgren4, Kalli De Meyer5, Pablo Penchaszadeh6, William J. Wiebe7, Jeremy D. Woodley8, and Joseph C. Zieman9

1 Marine Science Program, Department of Geological Sciences, and Belle W. Baruch Institute for Marine Biology and Coastal Research, University of South Carolina, Columbia, SC 29208, USA
2 Florida Institute of Oceanography, 830 First Street South, St. Petersburg, FL 33701, USA
3 Instituto de Investigaciones Marinas y Costeras, Apartado 1016, Santa Marta, Colombia
4 Instituto de Ciencias del Mar y Limnología, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, AP 1152, Cancún 77500, Quintana Roo, México
5 Bonaire Marine Park, PO Box 368, Bonaire, Netherlands Antilles
6 Instituto de Tecnología y Ciencias Marinas (INTECMAR) and Departamento de Estudios Ambientales, Universidad Simón Bolivar, PO Box 89000, Caracas, Venezuela
7 Department of Microbiology, University of Georgia, Athens, GA 30602, USA
8 Center for Marine Sciences, University of the West Indies-Mona, Kingston 7, Jamaica
9 Department of Environmental Sciences, University of Virginia, Charlottesville, VA 22901, USA
The authors of this chapter are members of the CARICOMP Steering Committee as of May 1998.

Caribbean Coastal Marine Productivity (CARICOMP) is a regional scientific program and a network of marine laboratories, parks, and reserves to study land-sea interaction processes in the wider Caribbean region. The program focuses on understanding and comparing the structure and function of mangroves, seagrasses, and coral reefs — the three main coastal ecosystems in the Caribbean. The CARICOMP program was established in 1985. The CARICOMP network, started in 1990, has to date negotiated with 27 institutions in 17 countries to make standardized synoptic ecosystem measurements in relatively undisturbed mangrove, seagrass, and coral reef systems, together with relevant oceanographic and meteorological measurements. Since 1993, twelve institutions have fully implemented the protocol, eight institutions have partially implemented the protocol, and eight institutions have not progressed beyond the planning phase. Detailed site characterizations for 21 of the 27 participating institutions have been completed and are included in this volume. The principal goals of the program are to determine the dominant influences on coastal productivity, to monitor for ecosystem change, and ultimately to discriminate human disturbance from long-term natural variation in coastal systems over the range of their distribution. The CARICOMP network is coordinated by the Data Management Centre at the University of the West Indies in Jamaica. There is an increasing number of examples of regional responses to large geographic scale perturbations. CARICOMP is capable of responding to events related to coral bleaching, mass mortality, disease, and storm and El Niño phenomena, and regularly organizes workshops and training sessions.

Coastal Tropical Ecosystems: A Caribbean Perspective                                    

Mangrove wetlands, seagrass beds, and coral reefs dominate the land-sea margin in the tropics. They harbor the highest biological diversity within the ocean. We exploit them for food, building materials, and firewood at the same time that they represent the natural infrastructure for tourism. Too often they are modified or destroyed to accommodate development. Within the wider Caribbean region, there is consensus that coastal marine systems are changing for the worse. The ultimate causes are exponential population growth and anthropogenically driven changes both in the coastal zone and in the upstream watershed. This, in turn, affects the coastal ecosystems, which are dynamic and changing in their natural state. Because the underlying causes of this decline are diverse, there is no agreement on how the ecosystems can be stabilized and restored to their former state, or what constitutes sustainable development.

In fact, all coastal ecosystems of the tropics are in decline from the direct and indirect disturbances as a result of population growth (Wells, 1988; Wilkinson, 1994; ICRI, 1995). The Caribbean Sea is entirely located in the tropics. It covers 1,943,000 km2 — or 0.38% of the global surface, whereas the wider Caribbean is significantly larger. The Caribbean coastal environment is a mosaic of interlinked marine ecosystems at the border between sea and land, in geographically diverse settings. As a whole, the coastal zone in the Caribbean supports approximately 100 million people in more than 25 countries and territories, with a predicted population doubling time of only 30 years at the current rate of growth (Population Reference Bureau, 1996). Under pressure of rapidly increasing human population, urbanization, and demands for resources, the coastal zone is the focus of intense housing, industrial, and tourism development.

The Caribbean is interconnected by currents and tides and it shows great uniformity with respect to marine biota but, at the same time, exhibits high habitat diversity (Ogden, 1997; Roberts, 1997). A slow moving east-to-west flowing ocean current through the Caribbean, the Caribbean Current is part of the general North Atlantic circulation (Wüst, 1964; Brucks, 1970; Kinder, 1983). As it traverses the Caribbean, the flow is characterized by large cyclonic and anticyclonic gyres. The Guyana Current enters the Caribbean via the Windward Islands as the extension of the North Equatorial Current, and the flow exits the Caribbean through the Yucatan Channel into the Gulf of Mexico and to the northwest into the North Atlantic. Müller-Karger et al. (1989) have shown that the plume of the Orinoco River, as tracked by satellite imagery, seasonally penetrates across the Caribbean Basin, potentially exerting a region-wide influence. Tides likewise show a great degree of coherence. The Caribbean tides are of the mixed type with the exception of a band from Puerto Rico to Venezuela where diurnal tides predominate (Kjerfve, 1981). However, the astronomical tidal range is everywhere only 20-30 cm. As most marine organisms have a planktonic larval phase of from several weeks to over a year, propagules can be carried over long distances. For example, Shulman and Bermingham (1995) found a high degree of gene flow among widely separated populations of 8 species of reef fishes, regardless of spawning strategy or duration of planktonic larval cycle. Mitton et al. (1989) also found high gene flow among 17 widely distributed populations of the queen conch (Strombus gigas).

The extensive coral reefs, seagrass beds, and mangrove wetlands of the Caribbean are under acute threat. Mangroves are being cut down for lumber, agriculture, aquaculture, and coastal construction and mining; seagrasses are being dredged for harbors; deforestation is leading to increased runoff and sedimentation, increased nutrients from sewage; and coastal fish stocks are being depleted (Rogers, 1985; Ogden and Gladfelter, 1986; Ginsburg, 1994; ICRI, 1995). Pollution from agricultural, urban, and industrial centers adds to the cumulative impact. Governments acknowledge the need for conservation and restoration, but the development of rational management strategies is crippled by both politics and an insufficient understanding of how coastal ecosystems function, how they interact, and how disturbance in one system can impact adjacent systems.

Human disturbances are superimposed on patterns of ecosystem variation at different time scales due to naturally occurring variability, including storms, hurricanes, and El Niño events (Woodley et al., 1981; Kjerfve et al., 1986; Ogden, 1992), white- and black-band coral diseases (Gladfelter, 1982; Rützler and Santavy, 1983), coral bleaching, and other suspected manifestations of physical environmental stresses and global climate change (Brown, 1990; Smith and Buddemeier, 1992; Brown and Ogden, 1993). Distinguishing the effect of human impacts from natural events can be difficult, but it is critical to our understanding of ecosystem function and eventual management.

The decades-long die-back of corals in the genus Acropora in the Caribbean is a little understood, potentially pathogenic condition operating on a long time-scale (Gladfelter, 1982). There is also evidence of synergistic interactions between natural and anthropogenic causes. For example, when corals started bleaching throughout the Caribbean in 1987, there was speculation that corals under stress from terrestrial sediment input showed a greater tendency to bleach, although the primary factor appears to be abnormally high or prolonged summer seawater temperatures (Williams et al., 1987; Ogden and Wicklund, 1988; Brown and Ogden, 1993). Other sublethal stresses may be similarly magnified by natural impacts. For example, reef herbivore populations have declined in the Caribbean through over-fishing and a 90-99% die-off of the sea urchin Diadema antillarum during the past two decades, apparently caused by a pathogen which tracked the surface currents with remarkable fidelity (Hay, 1984; Lessios et al., 1984; Rogers, 1985). The resultant reduction in grazing, presumably exacerbated by increased nutrient availability and hurricane disturbance, has resulted in increased algal abundance and decreased coral cover and recruitment at some locations (Hughes, 1989, 1994).

Caribbean Mangroves, Seagrasses, and Coral Reefs                                  

Caribbean mangroves, seagrasses, and coral reefs are closely associated (Fig. 1); they exist in a dynamic equilibrium influenced by contact with land (Ogden, 1988) and constitute approximately one third of the tropical coastline globally. Sediments and nutrients, carried by freshwater runoff, are first filtered out by coastal forests, then by mangrove wetlands, and finally by seagrass beds. The existence of coral reefs is directly dependent upon the buffering capacity of the shoreward coastal ecosystems. Coral reefs, in turn, buffer the influence of the open ocean on the land. Coral reefs, seagrass beds, and mangroves are among the most productive ecosystems in the world, ranking with intensively cultivated agriculture such as sugar cane (Lewis, 1977).

The high productivity of mangrove forests and seagrass beds depends upon external sources of nutrients. Productive mangrove forests are found in river basins and on coastal floodplains, along the shores of estuaries and lagoons, and in other protected areas with abundant discharges of nutrients. Mangroves are also found on offshore sandbars, low islands, and desert coasts with minimal runoff, where they grow in a scrub form, the productivity of which is an order of magnitude lower than in areas with abundant nutrient input (Lugo et al., 1973; Snedaker and Snedaker, 1984). Similarly, the most productive stands of seagrasses occur where a balance exists between nutrient enhancement by runoff from river or coastal mangrove forests and high water clarity.

Coral reefs have a tight internal cycling of nutrients because of a symbiotic association between zooxanthellae and corals. They depend less on external sources of nutrients. Their vigorous development, however, requires clear water. They are strongly affected by sediments and pollutants from terrestrial runoff. Unchecked runoff, or riverine discharge containing a heavy sediment load, can destroy or severely restrict coral reef community development. Careless clearing of land within watersheds, whether for agriculture, industry, or tourism purposes, combined with destruction of coastal mangrove forests for construction of aquaculture ponds or to provide ocean access, is the most damaging influence on coral reefs in the Caribbean.

Fig. 1. Schematic representation of interactions between the principal
marine ecosystems of the Caribbean

Because of their different environmental requirements, coral reefs and mangroves rarely adjoin one another. When these communities are directly adjacent, one or both are usually highly stressed. However, some of the most productive areas along tropical and subtropical coasts are found where broad seagrass meadows are interposed between the mangrove and coral reef communities (Ogden and Gladfelter, 1986).

Coral reefs, seagrasses, and mangroves may interact through nutrient transfer by organisms migrating daily or seasonally from one ecosystem to another (Ogden and Zieman, 1977; Zieman et al., 1979; Meyer et al., 1983), but the significance of this interaction is largely unknown. In one instance, the utilization of mangrove trees as resting and nesting areas for birds increased the development and food quality of both seagrasses and mangrove communities. Seagrass beds and mangroves are important nursery areas for many species of reef fishes and invertebrates that are the basis for commercial fisheries (Ogden and Gladfelter, 1983). The planktonic larvae of the French grunt (Haemulon flavolineatum, Haemulidae), for example, selectively settle in seagrass-covered lagoons where they spend the first few months of their life, moving gradually to reef habitats as small juveniles. Because of the presence of juvenile fish, mangrove and seagrass nurseries are excellent fishing areas for predatory fishes (McFarland et al., 1985). In another study, 70% of recreational fishery species and 90% of commercial fishery species depend on mangrove-lined estuaries and coastal embayments at some stage in their lives (Yokel et al., 1969; Hooks et al., 1976; Fry and Parker, 1979).

While terrestrial ecosystems contribute to the coastal zone with nutrients and sediments, ecosystems at the land-sea boundary buffer these influences. Estuaries and coastal areas trap significant quantities of riverborne material, acting as filters between continents and ocean. To quantify the capacity of coastal sedimentation basins as filters for different constituents and elements is an important undertaking. The trapping is not solely a physical process but also due to biogeochemical processes, which play an important role in trapping and mobilization of sediment discharge.

Mangrove forests and seagrass beds buffer the effect of the land, reducing sediment load in the water column and interrupting freshwater discharge, stabilizing the salinity of the coastal zone, and promoting the growth of coral reefs offshore. Conversely, coral reefs dissipate the impact of waves on the coastal zone (Jordán and Martín, 1987), creating lagoons and protected waters that favor the growth of seagrasses and mangroves. Thus, the principal and perhaps most important interaction between tropical coastal ecosystems is that of buffering the effect of the sea on the one hand and the land on the other.

Although these and other interactions have been recognized, we lack the quantitative data necessary to measure their importance and to compare different locations. Moreover, although the productivity of mangroves, seagrasses, and coral reefs drives the production of coastal fisheries, we have not measured these processes and cannot compare their relative importance between diverse geographical locations. How do the relative roles of the four ecosystems (three coastal, one oceanic) differ between continents and islands? Between high and low islands, windward and leeward shores, high and low latitudes, or upstream or downstream locations with respect to the Caribbean Current? It was to address these questions that CARICOMP was formed: to collect information on factors affecting coastal marine productivity by the use of identical methods at diverse sites across the wider Caribbean.

Unfortunately, we lack long-term information about even the most basic physical parameters — e.g., seawater temperature. Although elevated water temperature is the parameter most suspected as the cause for coral bleaching (Williams et al., 1987), continuous temperature data sets are sparse in the Caribbean, with the exception of sea surface temperature measurements from the thermal AVHRR channel onboard NOAA satellites. However, because of the 1.1 km pixel size, these data are of only limited use in coastal waters. With increased concern for global warming and sea level rise (Buddemeier and Smith, 1988), the need for basic environmental monitoring has become acute (Stewart et al., 1990). This need can also be met by CARICOMP. Over the next decades, the Caribbean will undergo significant changes. The CARICOMP Program is designed to address such problems by providing much needed data along with employment of local scientists and technicians, thus providing local governments and private enterprises with in-house expertise for environmental management and problem solving.

The CARICOMP Network                                                                       

The CARICOMP Program is a unified, long-term, Caribbean-wide initiative to identify the factors responsible for sustaining mangrove wetland, seagrass meadow, and coral reef productivity, to examine the interaction between these systems, and to determine the role of terrestrial and oceanic influences on them. This information is needed for management, for setting priorities, and for defining optimum solutions where competing human activities impact the coastal zone, thereby providing feedback from science to management.

The CARICOMP network grew out of the 35-year old Association of Marine Laboratories of the Caribbean (AMLC). The initial objectives of CARICOMP were to foster research, education and training, information and data exchange, and research applications. With support from UNESCO’s Coastal Marine (COMAR) Program, the first workshop was held at Discovery Bay Marine Laboratory in Jamaica in 1985. The rationale for a regional monitoring and research network of Caribbean marine laboratories, parks, and reserves was established and an international Steering Committee was selected (Ogden and Gladfelter 1986; Ogden, 1987). Over the next 10 years, the Steering Committee negotiated Memoranda of Understanding (MoUs) with 27 institutions in 17 countries (Fig. 2; Table 1) within the greater Caribbean region. While each institution had considerable local background information and reference material, very few of the institutions had ecosystem monitoring programs in place prior to the start of the CARICOMP Program (Smith and Ogden, 1994). The sites represent a variety of environmental settings, including low and high islands, continental margins, windward and leeward exposures, high and low rainfall rates, and areas of frequent and infrequent hurricane activity.

1. Discovery Bay, Jamaica
2. Grand Cayman, British West Indies
3. Puerto Morelos, Quintana Roo, México
4. Laguna de Celestún, Yucatán, México
5. EPOMEX, Campeche, México
6. Hol Chan, Belize
7. Calabash Caye, Turneffe Islands Atoll, Belize
8. Carrie Bow Cay, Belize
9. Cayo Cochinas, Honduras
10. Great Corn Island, Nicaragua
11. Cahuita and Laguna Gandoca, Costa Rica
12. Panamá
13. Bahía de Chengue, Parque Natural Tayrona, Colombia
14. Curaçao, Netherlands Antilles
15. Bonaire, Netherlands Antilles
16. Parque Nacional Morrocoy, Venezuela
17. Punta de Mangle, Isla de Margarita, Venezuela
18. Buccoo Reef and Bon Accord Lagoon, Tobago, Republic of Trinidad & Tobago
19. Barbados
20. Santa Lucia
21. Saba, Netherlands Antilles
22. La Parguera, Puerto Rico
23. Parque Nacional del Este, Dominican Republic
24. Port au Prince, Haiti
25. Cayo Coco, Sabana-Camagüey Archipelago, Cuba
26. San Salvador, Bahamas
27. Bermuda
Fig. 2. The CARICOMP network. Filled circles indicate the institutions
which are participating in the network and which have chapters in
this volume. Stars indicate institutions which have yet to implement
the CARICOMP protocol and which are not included in this volume
(numbers 5, 6, 9, 12, 20, and 24).

The MoUs specify the responsibilities of each institution to the network, including the nomination of a Site Director and the obligations of the network in terms of equipment and logistical support. In the autumn of 1990 and 1992, workshops were held at the University of the West Indies (UWI) in Jamaica to draft the CARICOMP Methods Manual–Level I (CARICOMP, 1994a), consisting of a number of standardized observations and simple measurements, permitting an institution to participate in network activities. An equipment package was sent to all participating institutions in 1992, and the Data Management Centre was established at UWI in Kingston, Jamaica.

Some institutions in the CARICOMP network began collecting data in the autumn of 1992. The data are sent to the Data Management Centre and distributed to all participating institutions on a quarterly basis. In addition to providing centralized data processing and data storage, the Data Management Centre coordinates regional investigations of transient oceanographic, biological, and meteorological phenomena and serves as a clearinghouse for new ideas and methods (Nagelkerken et al., 1997). Under a 1991 grant from the U.S. National Science Foundation, five institutions received support for the purchase of automated environmental monitoring equipment as part of a long-term plan to upgrade the manual to CARICOMP Methods Manual Level II.

To date, twelve institutions have regularly implemented most of the CARICOMP protocol, while eight have implemented portions of the protocol. Seven institutions have not progressed beyond the planning phase, and some of them might never do so. However, two new institutions are likely to join in 1998. Participation in CARICOMP is open to laboratories, parks, and reserves willing to sign the MoU and to provide data on a regular basis to the Data Management Centre. Since 1993, an annual meeting of the CARICOMP Site Directors and the Steering Committee has been held at a participating site to report on network progress and problems, to discuss funding and logistics, to refine data collection and analysis, and to report on measurement protocols. The members of the Steering Committee are the authors of this introductory paper.

The data for the first three years, 1993-1995, are presented in tabular form in the last chapter. To our knowledge, no such synoptic regional coastal marine data exist elsewhere. In addition, the network and data monitoring have already resulted in the publication of several scientific papers dealing with the status of the coastal marine ecosystems in the wider Caribbean, including CARICOMP (1994a; 1997a-g), Ledgister et al. (1997), and Nagelkerken et al. (1997). The plans are to publish a summary of future CARICOMP data annually in a regional scientific journal.

Table 1. CARICOMP participating institutions and site locations.
Country Institution Site Lat °N Long °W Included in this volume
Bahamas Bahamian Field Station (BFS)
c/o Twin Air
1100 Lee Wagener Blvd Ste 113
Ft Lauderdale, FL 33315 USA
San Salvador




Barbados Bellairs Research Institute
St James, Barbados




Belize University College of Belize
Marine Research Centre
PO Box 990
Belize City, Belize
Calabash Caye




Belize Caribbean Coral Reef Ecosystem Program, Smithsonian Institution, MRC 163
Washington, DC 20560 USA
Carrie Bow Cay




Belize Hol Chan Marine Reserve
San Pedro
Ambergris Cay, Belize
Hol Chan




Bermuda Bermuda Biological Station
17 Biological Lane
Ferry Reach
GEO1 Bermuda




British West Indies Dept. of Environmental Protection and Conservation
PO Box 486
George Town
Grand Cayman BWI
Grand Cayman




Colombia Instituto de Investigaciones Marinas y Costeras (INVEMAR)
AA 1016
Santa Marta, Colombia
Bahía de Chengue, Parque Natural Tayrona




Costa Rica CIMAR
Universidad de Costa Rica
San Pedro, Costa Rica
Cahuita and Laguna Gandoca




Cuba Instituto de Oceanología
Calle Ira 18406, Playa
Ciudad de Habana, Cuba
Coco Cay, Sabana-Camagüey Archipelago




Dominican Republic Centro de Investigaciones de Biologia Marina
Univ Auto de Santo Domingo
PO Box 748, Santo Domingo,
Dominican Republic
Parque Nacional del Este




Haiti Fondation pour la Protection de la Biodiversité Marine (FoProBIM)
PO Box 642
Port-au-Prince, Haiti




Honduras Honduras Project, Smithsonian
Tropical Research Institute
PO Box 2072
Balboa, Panam‡
Cayo Cochina




Jamaica Discovery Bay Marine Lab
PO Box 35
Discovery Bay, St Ann, Jamaica
Discovery Bay




México Programa EPOMEX-UAC
Estación El Carmen-UNAM
Univ Auto de Campeche
CP 24030, AP 520
Campeche, México




México Centro de Investigaciones y de Estudios Avanzados del IPN Unidad Mérida
Carr Antigua a Progreso km 6
AP 73, Cordemex
97310 Mérida, Yucatán, México
Laguna de Celestún, Yucatán




México Estación Puerto Morelos, ICMyL Univ Nac Auto de México
AP 1152
Cancun, 77500 QR, México
Puerto Morelos,
Quintana Roo




Bonaire Marine Park
PO Box 368
Bonaire, Netherlands Antilles




Carmabi Foundation
Ecological Institute
PO Box 2090
Biscadera Baai
Curaçao, Netherlands Antilles




Saba Marine Park
PO Box 18
Fort Bay
Saba, Netherlands Antilles




Nicaragua Ministerio del Ambiente y Recursos Naturales y del Medio Ambiente (MARENA)
Aptdo 5123
Carr Norte km 12.5
Managua, Nicaragua
Great Corn Island




Panamá Fac Cien Naturales y Exactas
Cent Cie del Mar y Limnologia
Universidad de Panamá
Republica de Panamá




St Lucia Caribbean Environmental Health Institute, The Morne
PO Box 1111
Castries, St Lucia
St Lucia




Trinidad & Tobago Institute of Marine Affairs
Hilltop Lane, Chaguaramas
Carenage PO Box 3160
Republic of Trinidad & Tobago
Buccoo Reef and Bon Accord Lagoon, Tobago




Venezuela Inst Technol y Cien Marinas
(INTECMAR), Univ Simon Bolívar, PO Box 89
Caracas, Venezuela
Parque Nacional Morrocoy




Venezuela EDIMAR/Fundación La Salle de Ciencias Naturales
Final Calle Colón, Aptdo 144
Punta de Piedras
Estado Nueva Esparta
Porlamar 6301-A, Venezuela
Punta de Mangle, Isla de Margarita




United States of America Department of Marine Sciences
University of Puerto Rico
Isla Magüeyes Lab
PO Box 906
Lajas, PR 00667 USA
La Parguera,
Puerto Rico




Other Regional Coastal Programs                                                             

Recent discussions and workshops (Pernetta and Hughes, 1990; D’Elia et al., 1991; Smith and Buddemeier, 1992; Wilkinson and Buddemeier, 1994; Committee on Biological Diversity in Marine Systems, 1995; ICRI, 1995) have emphasized the need for regional coastal data sets. While monitoring is often distinguished from research, our ability to pose significant research hypotheses and understand ecosystem functioning, biodiversity, and global change responses in the coastal zone of the tropics improves immensely with the availability of long time-series of relevant data at multiple sites. Question-driven monitoring is long-term ecological research.

As far as we know, the CARICOMP network is currently the only functioning international coastal marine monitoring program. The Caribbean Pollution (CARIPOL) Program of UNEP and the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC/IOCARIBE) of UNESCO was the first program to collect regionally, standardized data on oil pollution, with centralized data analysis for 6 years, beginning in 1979 (CARIPOL, 1980; Atwood et al.,1987). The ASEAN (Association of South East Asian Nations)/Australia Marine Science Project: Living Coastal Resources operated from 1984 through 1989 and developed a methods manual and a system of data reporting and analysis (English et al., 1994). The International Coral Reef Initiative (ICRI, 1995) has recently proposed linking tropical regions into a global network through the Global Coral Reef Monitoring Network (GCRMN), as a part of the IOC’s Global Ocean Observing System (GOOS). The GCRMN intends to promote development of a series of regional nodes and to work towards globally standardized methods of assessing coral reefs. CARICOMP will participate in the system.

Data from the multiple sites of the CARICOMP network provide the backdrop against which observations at single sites may be better understood. For example, Hughes (1994) interpreted the results of 17 years of monitoring and research on the north shore of Jamaica and suggested that control of over-fishing was the key to recovery of the degraded reefs. By comparing this conclusion with qualitative data from 14 sites, the five sites showing no change in coral cover over the past 10 years were in parks, reserves, or other areas where control of fishing was the major management tactic (CARICOMP, 1994b; Smith and Ogden, 1994). While this is a preliminary conclusion, it grew out of the comparison of regional observations, and could not have been reached with confidence without the network.

Aerial and satellite remote sensing and the application of geographical information system (GIS) databases are likely to become even more critical tools in future studies of coastal ecosystems. The network provides the infrastructure to integrate satellite and in situ observations into GIS databases. However, the challenge and frustration in analyzing coral bleaching in the Caribbean has been the inability to make the 1.2 km2 pixel size of AVHRR satellite-derived sea surface temperature (SST) measurements ecologically meaningful at the l m2 scale at which observations of coral bleaching are made. As a component of future coastal marine studies, satellite ocean color measurements will certainly become increasingly more important tools, providing data on chlorophyll, dissolved organic material, and sediments, using SeaWIFS and other newer generation higher resolution satellite and aerial sensors.

Recently, much attention has been directed towards increases in atmospheric greenhouse gases and the accelerated rate of global warming and rising sea level. Increased water temperature is, on one hand, likely to cause bleaching and stress on shallow water corals. Also, Buddemeier and Smith (1988) suggested that even with a conservative rate of sea level rise, the vertical accretion rates of protected coral reef flats will be insufficient to keep up, and the buffering capacity will be threatened. The most likely rate of global sea level rise is 6 ± 3 cm per decade (Stewart et al., 1990). Reefs may indeed become inundated and subjected to increasing wave erosion.

It is interesting to note that the network grew out of a regional association of scientists and institutions in response to regional concerns. It was not imposed by governments or international agencies. Rather, the network is based at marine laboratories, parks, and reserves with the capability to contribute financially and logistically to the program and to serve as local repositories of long-term data from the local coastal region. By scientific collaboration across the region, such as the Caribbean, regional issues are more likely to be resolved rationally in a timely fashion.

Participation in the network is voluntary and open, requiring only an institutional pledge that the protocols will be implemented and the data reported. The CARICOMP Methods Manual: Level I (CARICOMP, 1994a) is deliberately simple and requires only basic equipment for full participation. Future versions of the manual will permit the inclusion of more sophisticated observations as part of the network protocol. The annual meeting reinforces collaboration and affords an opportunity for discussing and sharing scientific and logistic issues, and for participating in training workshops. While the network is concerned with natural sciences, there exists an urgent need to extend the data collection to include social and economic considerations appropriate for resources management. However, this will require an infusion of significant new capital into the network and the participation of social scientists and resource economists; a first step was taken with an interdisciplinary CARICOMP/ UNESCO-IOC workshop held in Kingston, Jamaica, in May 1998.

The Regional Seas Programme, established by UNEP after the 1972 United Nations Conference on the Human Environment, demonstrated that regional marine ecosystems have scientific, social, and political dimensions. The political basis for cooperation in research and management of marine resources in the Caribbean was established by the 1983 UNEP Cartagena Convention on the conservation of marine resources and the control of pollution. This grew out of the United Nations Conference on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), to which many Caribbean countries are signatories. The success of the CARICOMP network depends on the recognition by the countries bordering the Caribbean of the region’s interconnection and the need for regional cooperation in resource management. It will be a challenge for the network to participate in this development and to collaborate by making available the appropriate scientific data.

Ecosystem research has traditionally been constrained to single sites or small spatial scales; it seldom encompassed the regional range of ecosystem structure and variability. Long-term monitoring and comparative research conducted at multiple sites is required to understand the dynamics of regional variability and local and regional perturbations. Such understanding is the key to ecosystem management. The results of well designed regional studies will aid in the process of discriminating between anthropogenic disturbances and natural variation for the purpose of resources management (Jackson, 1991; Committee on Biological Diversity in Marine Systems, 1995). CARICOMP will participate in achieving this goal by providing scientific information and helping develop predictive capabilities across the Caribbean for improved management of coastal resources.


We are particularly grateful to Dr. Marc Steyaert, who headed the former UNESCO Coastal Marine (COMAR) program, for his persistent support of regional studies in general and CARICOMP in particular during the early years of the program. CARICOMP has received support from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation for Phase I (1991-1994); the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and the Coral Reef Initiative of the U.S. Department of State for Phase II (1995-1999); UNESCO’s Environment and Development in Coastal Regions and in Small Islands (CSI); and the U.S. National Science Foundation, Division of International Programs and Division of Ocean Sciences, for workshops and automated monitoring equipment. The directors and administrators of each participating institution and national agencies from each CARICOMP country have provided financial and logistical support, without which the field work could not have been accomplished. Finally, the home institutions of the Steering Committee have made substantial financial commitments to the CARICOMP program.


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