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Caribbean Islands

At one time the islands of the Caribbean were covered with tropical rainforest, but these have been diminished since the arrival of Columbus in 1492. Originally, hardwood was used to construct ships, homes, and furniture for the early colonists, and the rest of the forest was reaped of fuelwood and then burned for plantations. Today, very few of these islands have any forest cover, let alone primary forest. With forest loss, species have disappeared, including 35 mammals species. Some of the island nations recognize the importance of forest cover and have moved to protect the remaining forests or have begun reforestation programs.

In the Bahamas, the Bahamas National Trust has reseeded original hardwoods in Exuma National Park. In addition, the trust is restoring species that were near extinction or have gone extinct in the wild. Islanders have noticed that rain levels are returning to levels measured before original deforestation. The government of the Bahamas is working to promote eco-tourism that will bring in foreign currency and investment, yet protect the environment at the same time.

A small section (28,000 acres) of rainforest exists in Puerto Rico's El Yunque National Park which contains more than 200 species of plants and the endangered Puerto Rican parrot. The park was established in 1876 (the oldest reserve in the Western Hemisphere) by Spain, who controlled the island at the time. In the 1930s, with the island now a territory of the United States, the Civilian Conservation Corps built a road that divided the forest in half.

Cuba's natural forests are very rare. The island was more than 90 percent forested in 1492, but by 1900 forest cover had fallen to 5 percent. Since 1960, when the forest cover stood at 13.5 percent, forest area has been increasing due to reforestation. The dry conditions of 1998 resulted in forest fires. Rare species are threatened by collection for export.

In the late 1920s forest still covered three-quarters of the Dominican Republic, though by 1981 this had been reduced to roughly 14 percent from clearing for sugar cane, residential development, and logging for timber. The Dominican Republic is one of ten forested nations that proposed compensation from wealthy countries for rainforest conservation at the 2005 climate conference in Montreal.


Country / Area
Total Forest Area
(ha)
Percent Forest CoverPrimary Forest Cover
(ha)
Total Change 1990-2005
(ha)
Total Change 1990-2005
(%)
Anguilla6,00058.8%0 - 0.00%
Antigua and Barbuda9,00020.5%0 - 0.00%
Aruba00.0%0 - -
Bahamas515,00051.5%0 - 0.00%
Barbados2,0004.7%0 - 0.00%
Bermuda1,00020.0%0 - 0.00%
British Virgin Islands4,00026.7%0 - 0.00%
Cayman Islands12,00045.8%0 - 0.00%
Cuba2,713,00024.7%0655,00031.83%
Dominica46,00061.3%27,000-4,000-8.00%
Dominican Republic1,376,00028.4%0 - 0.00%
Grenada4,00011.8%1,000 - 0.00%
Guadeloupe80,00047.3%19,000-4,000-4.76%
Haiti105,0003.8%0-11,000-9.48%
Jamaica339,00031.3%0-6,000-1.74%
Martinique46,00043.4%0 - 0.00%
Montserrat4,00040.0%0 - 0.00%
Netherlands Antilles1,0001.3%0 - 0.00%
Puerto Rico408,00046.0%11,0004,0000.99%
Saint Kitts and Nevis5,00013.9%0 - 0.00%
Saint Lucia17,00027.9%0 - 0.00%
Saint Vincent and the Grenadines11,00028.2%02,00022.22%
Trinidad and Tobago226,00044.1%14,000-9,000-3.83%
Turks and Caicos Islands34,00079.1%0 - 0.00%
United States Virgin Islands10,00029.4%0-2,000-16.67%
Total Caribbean5,974,00026.1%624,00011.66%


Recent articles | Caribbean news updates | XML

Hitchhiking Caribbean lizard upends island biogeography theory
(09/26/2014) The biggest factor determining species diversity and distribution on islands is not size and isolation, as traditional island biogeography theory states, but economics. Simply put, the more trade an island is engaged in, the more boats visit it, and with more boats comes more hitchhikers.


Scientists uncover new marine mammal genus, represented by single endangered species
(05/14/2014) This is the story of three seals: the Caribbean, the Hawaiian, and the Mediterranean monk seals. Once numbering in the hundreds of thousands, the Caribbean monk seal was a hugely abundant marine mammal found across the Caribbean, and even recorded by Christopher Columbus during his second voyage, whose men killed several for food.


A series of oil spills sully Caribbean paradise, coating mangroves and wildlife (photos)
(01/29/2014) On December 17th, officials first discovered a massive oil spill in the Caribbean-island nation of Trinidad and Tobago. Since then, a series of oil spills have been discovered, coating beaches, sullying mangrove forests, and very likely decimating wildlife in Trinidad's Gulf of Paria. The oil spills have been linked to the state-owned oil company, Petrotrin, which has claimed that sabotage is behind at least two of the spills. However Trinidad and Tobago's Environmental Management Authority has recently slapped the company with a $3.1 million fine by for the damage, while some politicians have called for an independent investigation into the slew of spills.


Meeting the mammal that survived the dinosaurs
(10/14/2013) So, here I am, running in a forest at night over 2,000 miles from home. This forest—dry, stout, and thorny enough to draw blood—lies just a few miles north of a rural town in the western edge of the Dominican Republic on the border with Haiti. I'm following—or trying to keep pace with—a local hunter and guide as we search for one of the world's most bizarre mammals. It's an animal few people have heard of, let alone actually seen; even most Dominicans don't readily recognize its name or picture. But I've been obsessed with it for six years: it's called a "solenodon," more accurately the Hispaniolan solenodon or its (quite appropriate) scientific name, Solenodon paradoxus.


Mesoamerican Reef needs more local support, says report
(09/13/2013) From massive hotel development through the agriculture industry, humans are destroying the second largest barrier reef in the world: the Mesoamerican Reef. Although global climate change and its effects on reefs via warming and acidification of coastal waters have made recent headlines, local human activities may destroy certain ecosystems before climate change has a chance to do it. The harmful effects of mining, agriculture, commercial development, and fishing in coastal regions have already damaged more than two-thirds of reefs across the Caribbean, in addition to worsening the negative effects of climate change.


Scientists outline how to save nearly 70 percent of the world's plant species
(09/05/2013) In 2010 the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) pledged to set aside 17 percent of the world's land as protected areas in addition to protecting 60 percent of the world's plant species—through the Global Strategy for Plant Conservation (GSPC)—by 2020. Now a new study in Science finds that the world can achieve both ambitious goals at the same time—if only we protect the right places. Looking at data on over 100,000 flower plants, scientists determined that protecting 17 percent of the world's land (focusing on priority plant areas) would conserve 67 percent of the world's plants.


Trinidad and Tobago: a biodiversity hotspot overlooked
(08/26/2013) The two-island nation of Trinidad and Tobago in the Caribbean (just off the coast of Venezuela) may be smaller than Delaware, but it has had an outsized role in the history of rainforest conservation as well as our understanding of tropical ecology. Home to an astounding number of tropical ecosystems and over 3,000 species and counting (including 470 bird species in just 2,000 square miles), Trinidad and Tobago is an often overlooked gem in the world's biodiversity.


Are 'novel' tropical forests nature’s response to global change?
(08/22/2013) We now live in a world dominated by humans (the Anthropocene), whose activities on Earth are resulting in new habitats and new environmental conditions including climate change. To many, the Anthropocene is an era of environmental doom that unless reversed, will result in catastrophic reductions in biodiversity. An alternate view is that the biota will adjust to the new environmental conditions and through processes of species mixing and self-organization will form sustainable novel communities of organisms.


Google Earth presents fish-eye view of coral reefs
(08/20/2013) You can now visit up-close and personal some of the world's most imperiled ecosystems on Google Earth: coral reefs. The Google team is working with scientists to provide 360 degree panoramas, similar to Google street-view, to give armchair ecologists a chance to experience the most biodiverse ecosystems under the waves.


The iguana man: saving the reptilian kings of the Bahamas
(08/01/2013) Before the arrival of humans—with their dogs, cats, and wild pigs—the northern Bahamian rock iguana ruled its home range, being pound-for-pound among the biggest land animals on the islands. In these ecosystems, the iguana's were the mega-grazers, the bison and elk of the Caribbean one might say. But hunting by humans, invasive species, and habitat loss knocked the king from its throne: pushing it into smaller habitats and decimating its population. Today the three subspecies of the northern Bahamian rock iguana (Cyclura cychlura) hang by a thread. And now a new threat is rising: poorly-regulated tourism, including iguana feeding.


Dominican Republic sends bulldozers to destroy wildlife reserve, home to endangered species
(07/23/2013) Last Wednesday, bulldozers entered the Loma Charco Azul Biological Reserve (LCABR) in the Dominican Republic and began clearing vegetation for agricultural development. The move stunned local conservationists who had not been notified ahead of time of the project. Although Charco Azul Biological Reserve is home to a wealth of threatened species—including the world's largest population of the Critically Endangered Ricordi's iguana (Cyclura ricordi)—the destruction of the reserve was signed off by the Dominican Republic's Minister of the Environment, Bautista Rojas Gómez.


The hidden Caribbean: sustainable tourism arrives in the Dominican Republic
(07/18/2013) Finding true ecotourism companies isn't easy. While the tourism industry worldwide has latched onto the term 'ecotourism,' in many cases it's more propaganda than reality. Especially in heavily-touristed areas—like the Caribbean Islands—it's difficult to find efforts that are actually low impact, sustainable as possible, and educational. However, some companies are beginning to make headway in a region known for all-inclusive resorts and big cruises. One such company is the relatively young Explora! Ecotour in the Dominican Republic, run by passionate naturalists, Manny Jimenes and Olyenka Sang.


Local economy ruined by pesticide pollution in the Caribbean
(05/29/2013) On 15 April more than 100 fishermen demonstrated in the streets of Fort de France, the main town on Martinique, in the French West Indies. In January they barricaded the port until the government in Paris allocated €2m ($2.6m) in aid, which they are still waiting for. The contamination caused by chlordecone, a persistent organochlorine pesticide, means their spiny lobsters are no longer fit for human consumption. The people of neighboring Guadeloupe are increasingly angry for the same reason. After polluting the soil, the chemical is wreaking havoc out at sea, an environmental disaster that now threatens the whole economy.


Beyond the resorts: traveling the real and wild Dominican Republic (photos)
(01/29/2013) For its stunning variety of ecosystems, the Dominican Republic is like a continent squished into half an island. Lowland rainforests, cloud forests, pine forests, dry forests, mangroves, savannah, coastal lagoons, salt lakes, a rift valley, karst land formations, four mountain ranges—including the highest mountain in the Caribbean—and not to mention some of the best beaches, snorkeling, and scuba diving in the hemisphere can all be reached within just a few hours drive of the capital, Santo Domingo. Yet, bizarrely, most tourists who visit the Dominican Republic never venture out of their all-inclusive resort, missing out on some of the most stunning landscapes—and accessible wildlife viewing—in the Caribbean.


Measuring nutrient pollution in pristine waters: Puerto Rico's Vieques Island
(12/10/2012) Life in the ocean require nutrient, but too much of a good thing can be hugely detrimental. Nutrient pollution from agricultural and industrial runoff causes serious ecological harm in the world's marine waters, at times producing massive "dead zones" where much of the dissolved oxygen has been stripped making it difficult for most marine animals to live there. A new study by scientists with the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) attempts to establish a baseline of nutrient levels in the largely pristine waters around the island of Vieques off of Puerto Rico.


Hurricane Sandy pushes Haiti toward full-blown food crisis
(11/12/2012) Although Haiti avoided a direct hit by Hurricane Sandy, the tropical storm caused severe flooding across the southern part of the country decimating agricultural fields. The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs now warns that 1.5 million Haitians are at risk of severe food insecurity, while 450,000 people face severe acute malnutrition, which can kill.


Remarkable comeback: blue iguana downgraded to Endangered after determined conservation efforts
(10/23/2012) The wild blue iguana population has increased by at least 15 times in the last ten years, prompting the IUCN Red List to move the species from Critically Endangered to just Endangered. A targeted, ambitious conservation program, headed by the Blue Iguana Recovery Team, is behind this rare success for a species that in 2002 only numbered between 10 and 25 individuals.


Parrots of the Caribbean: extinction looms in the Bahamas
(10/08/2012) I think about extinction a lot. It’s only natural for someone in my line of work. On my way to work I drive past the Colorado National Monument. Even from a distance it’s impressive: piles of dark schist 1,500 million years old; Wingate sandstone from the age of dinosaurs, all of it formed into cliffs, carved into spires. I can see Independence monument from the highway; a tall tower of tan sandstone that John Otto climbed near the beginning of the 20th century without rope. The monument is a display of the massive changes in the world. I often think about the rainforests and the oceans that once covered the land. Ecosystems have come and gone, the planet destroyed and rebuilt over and over.


Coral reefs in Caribbean on life support
(09/11/2012) Only 8 percent of the Caribbean's reefs today retain coral, according to a new report by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). With input and data from 36 scientists, the report paints a bleak picture of coral decline across the region, threatening fisheries, tourism, and marine life in general.


Bird uses hurricane winds to accelerate flight speed to 100 MPH
(08/24/2012) Migrating Whimbrels — a type of shorebird — may struggle for hours against winds when trying to cross the Caribbean during hurricane season but get a huge boost as they fly out of storms, report researchers from the Center for Conservation Biology in Williamsburg, Virginia.


Chart: Forest loss in Latin America
(08/20/2012) Latin America lost nearly 260,000 square kilometers (100,000 square miles) of forest — an area larger than the state of Oregon — between 2001 and 2010, finds a new study that is the first to assess both net forest loss and regrowth across the Caribbean, Central and South America. The study, published in the journal Biotropica by researchers from the University of Puerto Rico and other institutions, analyzes change in vegetation cover across several biomes, including forests, grasslands, and wetlands. It finds that the bulk of vegetation change occurred in forest areas, mostly tropical rainforests and lesser-known dry forests. The largest gains in biome area occurred in desert vegetation and shrublands.


Animal picture of the day: flamingos take flight in the Bahamas
(07/17/2012) Scientists have banded nearly 200 American flamingos (Phoenicopterus ruber) in the Inagua National Park in the Bahamas in order to monitor the long-term population.


Strangest island in the Caribbean may be a sanctuary for critically endangered coral
(07/16/2012) Don't feel bad if you‘ve never heard of Navassa Island, even though it's actually part of the U.S. according to the Guano Islands Act of 1856. This uninhabited speck between Haiti and Jamaica, barely bigger than New York City’s Central Park, has a bizarre and bloody history—and may be a crucial refuge for endangered coral in the Caribbean.


Meet the world's rarest snake: only 18 left
(07/10/2012) It's slithery, brown, and doesn't mind being picked up: meet the Saint Lucia racer (Liophis ornatus), which holds the dubious honor of being the world's most endangered snake. A five month extensive survey found just 18 animals on a small islet off of the Caribbean Island of Saint Lucia. The snake had once been abundant on Saint Lucia, as well, but was decimated by invasive mongooses. For nearly 40 years the snake was thought to be extinct until in 1973 a single snake was found on the Maria Major Island, a 12-hectare (30 acre) protected islet, a mile off the coast of Saint Lucia (see map below).


Less than 100 pygmy sloths survive
(05/24/2012) The pygmy three-toed sloth (Bradypus pygmaeus) is one of the world's most endangered mammals, according to a detailed survey of the population, which found less than 100 sloths hanging on in their island home. Only described by researchers in 2001, the pygmy sloth lives on a single uninhabited island off the coast of Panama. But human impacts, such as deforestation of the island's mangroves, may be pushing the species to extinction.


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Unless otherwise specified, this article was written by Rhett A. Butler [Bibliographic citation for this page]

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Last updated: 7 Feb 2006






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