Caribbean Environment Programme

A. Overview

The Wider Caribbean Region (WCR) comprises the insular and coastal States and Territories with coasts on the Caribbean Sea and Gulf of Mexico, as well as waters of the Atlantic Ocean adjacent to these States and Territories and includes 28 island and continental countries. The combined area of the Caribbean Sea and the Gulf of Mexico is approximately 5.3 million square kilometres. Due to an abundance of endemic flora and fauna, the Caribbean is one of the world’s ‘biodiversity hotspots’ (Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund, 2010). The total population of the Wider Caribbean is projected to grow to 149 million by 2020 (State of the Cartagena Convention Area report, 2020).   

Countries in the WCR are heavily dependent on the Caribbean Sea for socioeconomic prosperity and human well-being. More than 100 million people who live on or near the coast are supported by the Caribbean Sea’s ocean economy. This includes the tourism, fisheries, shipping and petroleum sectors which generate vast revenues for these countries and provide livelihoods and employment (State of the Cartagena Convention Area report, 2020). The economy of the Wider Caribbean Region is highly dependent upon tourism, which accounts for approximately 18 percent of the GDPs of countries in the region.  For the period 2004-2013, the Caribbean Sea Large Marine Ecosystem generated annual revenues of US$90.5 billion.

In addition to the social and ecological value of these environmental resources, the continued health of the region’s coastal and marine ecosystems, including beaches, coral reefs, mangroves and sea grass beds, are essential to this economic driver. For instance, the estimated annual net benefits from regional coral reefs are approximately US$391 million from fisheries, US$720 million from coastal protection, US$663 million from tourism and recreation and US$79 million from biodiversity value (Schumann, 2011).

The economies of the Wider Caribbean Region are similarly dependent upon shipping, which represents about 76% of the Caribbean ocean economy, and the growing near-shore and offshore petroleum industry. Major shipping routes utilize the WCR and countless commercial vessels provide food, goods and fuel essential to the lives of the people of the region. In 2012, it was estimated that about 8% of the global container shipping volume passed through the Panama Canal and generated an estimated US$53 billion (Rodrigue and Ashar, 2015). Commercial shipping creates jobs and delivers goods, but also generates emissions, garbage, and sewage, and exposes the natural environment to the risks posed by a release of oil or other HNS carried as cargo, oil from bunker tanks, in addition to invasive species carried in ballast water, and toxins found in antifouling paint. Given the relative scarcity of resources and close proximity of many of the independent States and dependent Territories of the Wider Caribbean Region, regional cooperation is required to protect Caribbean ecosystems from the inherent risks of shipping and offshore oil and gas activities.

B. Introduction

In 1976, Governments of the Wider Caribbean Region (WCR) encouraged UNEP to launch the Caribbean Environment Programme (CEP) as one of its Regional Seas Programmes, an unparalleled joint endeavour, which embraces the region's diversity and outlines a vision to advance economic prosperity and environmental health. Laying the groundwork for the CEP, governments identified several pressing issues:

  1. Land-based sources of municipal, industrial and agricultural wastes and run-off;
  2. Over-exploitation of resources such as fish, molluscs and crustaceans;
  3. Increasing urbanization and coastal development as populations and economies expand;
  4. Unsustainable agricultural and forestry practices and a profound need to strengthen government and institutional capacity to address environmental problems.

The Wider Caribbean Region includes 28 UN Member States that border the Gulf of Mexico, the Straits of Florida, and the Caribbean Sea out to a distance of 200 nautical miles from shore.

  • The 26 Contracting Parties to the Cartagena Convention and the Oil Spills Protocol are Antigua and Barbuda, The Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Dominica, Dominican Republic, France, Grenada, Guatemala, Guyana, Honduras, Jamaica, Mexico, Netherlands, Nicaragua, Panama, St. Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Trinidad and Tobago, United Kingdom, the United States, and Venezuela.
  • The Contracting Parties of the SPAW Protocol are Antigua and Barbuda, The Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Colombia, Cuba, Dominican Republic, France, Guyana, Honduras, Netherlands, Panama, Saint Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Trinidad and Tobago, the United States, and Venezuela.
  • The Contracting Parties of the LBS Protocol are Antigua and Barbuda, The Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, France, Grenada, Guyana, Honduras, Jamaica, Panama, Saint Lucia, Trinidad and Tobago, and the United States.

C. The Convention and its legal instruments

  1. Countries of the region established an Action Plan for the Caribbean Environment Programme (CEP) in 1981. The Plan was adopted by twenty-two States and led to the development of the Convention for the Protection and Development of the Marine Environment of the Wider Caribbean Region (“Cartagena Convention”) as its legal framework. In March 1983, a Conference of Plenipotentiaries met in Cartagena de Indias, Colombia, and adopted the Cartagena Convention which later entered into force on 11 October 1986. The Convention is the only legal instrument of its kind in the Wider Caribbean and it further recognizes the importance and value of the region’s fragile and vulnerable coastal and marine ecosystems, including endemic plants and animals.
  2. The Cartagena Convention is supplemented by three Protocols: 

D. Organisational structure

  1. Secretariat: UNEP is designated to carry out the secretariat functions of the Convention. The Caribbean Regional Co-ordinating Unit (CAR/RCU) was established in 1986 in Kingston, Jamaica and is the Secretariat for the Cartagena Convention and the Caribbean Environment Programme.
  2. Regional Activity Centres (RACs) and Regional Activity Networks (“RANs”) :  coordinate and implement activities related to the Cartagena Convention and its Protocols. There are currently four (4) RACs:

(i) Oil Spills ProtocolThe Regional Marine Pollution Emergency Information and Training Center for the Wider Caribbean (RAC REMPEITC-Caribe) in Curacao which works in close collaboration with the International Maritime Organization.

(ii) LBS Protocol: - The Centre of Research and Environmental Management of Transport in Cuba (RAC CIMAB);  -  The Institute of Marine Affairs in Trinidad and Tobago (RAC IMA);

(iii) SPAW Protocol: The Regional Activity Centre for Specially Protected Areas and Wildlife       (SPAW RAC) which is hosted in Guadeloupe.

RAC CIMAB, RAC REMPEITC-Caribe and the Institute of Marine Affairs work closely with the AMEP Sub-Programme while the SPAW RAC supports the SPAW Sub-Programme. 

The Secretariat also recognises the following institutions as part of the RAN: Gulf and Caribbean Fisheries Institute (GCFI), Centro del Agua del Trópico Húmedo para América Latina y el Caribe (CATHALAC), Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA), and the Instituto de Investigaciones Marinas y Costeras (INVEMAR).

  1. Scientific and Technical Advisory Committee of the SPAW Protocol – established in accordance with Article 20 of the SPAW Protocol to advise Contracting Parties on matters related to the listing of protected areas and species, the management and protection of protected areas and species and their habitats, as well as other matters related to the implementation of the Protocol. Each Contracting Party is entitled to appoint an appropriately qualified scientific expert, who may be accompanied by other appointed experts and advisors, to serve as its representative on the Committee.
  2. Scientific and Technical Advisory Committee of the LBS Protocol – established in accordance with Article XIV of the LBS Protocol to report to and advise Contracting Parties regarding the implementation of the Protocol. This includes, inter alia, providing guidance on actions and methodologies to address pollution loads in the Convention area and proposing priority measures for scientific and technical research and the management of pollution from land-based sources and activities. Each Contracting Party may appoint an expert as its representative, who may be accompanied by other designated advisors.
  3. Oil Spills Steering Committee - established in accordance with Article 9 of the Oil Spills Protocol which stipulates the institutional arrangements and functions of the Secretariat to provide assistance to Contracting Parties through RAC REMPEITC-Caribe and in close collaboration with the International Maritime Organization.  These meetings serve as a forum to discuss, inter alia, the biennial work plan of RAC REMPEITIC, agree on priorities for the region, as well as to adopt other important decisions related to the Protocol.

E. Areas of work

The CEP has three main Sub-Programmes:

  1. Assessment and Management of Environment Pollution (AMEP) - supports countries in the Wider Caribbean to implement the Protocols Concerning Pollution from Land-Based Sources and Activities (LBS Protocol) and  Co-operation in Combating Oil Spills (Oil Spills Protocol).  The main areas of focus include pollution monitoring and assessment, sharing information on best management practices and reducing pollution from solid wastes, marine litter, wastewater and agrochemical runoff.
  2. Specially Protected Areas and Wildlife (SPAW) – supports countries in the Wider Caribbean to implement the SPAW Protocol. The main areas of focus include the protection and conservation of Protected Areas and threatened and endangered species in the Wider Caribbean Region, developing guidelines to implement the SPAW Protocol, ensuring the conservation and sustainable use of coastal and marine ecosystems, and promoting sustainable tourism.
  3. Communication, Education, Training and Awareness (CETA) – supports the AMEP and SPAW Sub-Programmes, as well as the overall activities of the wider Secretariat in the areas of communications, capacity-building, public awareness and public education, related to the implementation of the Convention and its Protocols. The CETA Sub-Programme focuses on developing educational and knowledge management products, raising the visibility of the Secretariat’s activities, facilitating public awareness and social media campaigns, maintaining the Secretariat’s website, networking mechanisms and database platforms, as well as providing assistance concerning data access and information management.

F. Partnerships

The Cartagena Convention Secretariat partners with various sectors of society (such as governments, non-governmental organizations, media, youth groups, the private sector, civil society, and the scientific community), regional and international agencies, as well as other Secretariats of Multilateral Environmental Agreements, to implement programmes, projects and activities under the framework of the Cartagena Convention and its Protocols.

These partners provide funding, technical expertise and other resources. Some of these partners where formal Memorandum on Cooperation have been signed include the Gulf and Caribbean Fisheries Institute (GCFI), The Ocean Foundation, Convention on Biological Diversity, Ramsar Convention on Wetlands, Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission of UNESCO, Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and their Disposal, Organization of Eastern Caribbean States,  Secretariat of the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals, International Atomic Energy Agency, Inter-American Convention for the Protection and Conservation of Sea Turtles, Mesoamerican Reef Fund, inter alia.

G. Ongoing projects

  1. UNDP/GEF project “Catalysing the Implementation of the SAP for the Sustainable Management of shared Living Marine Resources in the CLME+ region” (CLME+)
  2. Capacity Building Related to Multilateral Environmental Agreements in African, Caribbean and Pacific Countries (ACP MEA) –Phase III
  3. Global Environment Facility-funded Integrating Water, Land and Ecosystems Management in Caribbean Small Island Developing States (IWEco Project)
  4. GEF (CReW+) Project: An integrated approach to water and wastewater management in the Wider Caribbean Region using innovative solutions and sustainable financing mechanisms
  5. Implementation of the Strategic Action Program of the Gulf of Mexico Large Marine Ecosystem Project

For a review of the full list of projects and activities on our ongoing work plan, please click here.

H. Key achievements

  1. Governance
  1. Training and capacity-building
  • Since 1999, 211 managers from English-speaking and Spanish-speaking countries have participated in the Caribbean Marine Protected Area Management Network and Forum (CaMPAM) Training of Trainers (ToT) regional courses on MPA Management.
  • Over 700 persons from 13 countries trained in wastewater treatment technologies, resource valuation, governance and wastewater effluent monitoring.
  • Over 5,000 people from Colombia, Costa Rica and Nicaragua trained in good agricultural practices resulting in a reduction in the use of synthetic pesticides.
  • More than 45 outreach activities related to marine environmental protection have been undertaken, benefitting over 1,000 maritime operators, planners and responders across more than thirty countries; more than 22 national-level capacity building events were held to help build national response frameworks and develop specific products vital for oil spill prevention and response.
  1. Marine Biodiversity
  • Over 50,000 km² of marine protected areas designated since 2010.
  • 35 Marine Protected Areas listed under the SPAW Protocol (as at July 2020).
  • Over 50 grants provided to improve management of marine protected areas since 2004.
  • 256 species in total are protected under the SPAW Protocol (as at July 2020). This includes 2 new species added in June 2019 (Large tooth sawfish and Silky Shark) and 8 Caribbean shark species added in 2017.
  1. Pollution
  • Development of Caribbean Regional Node for Marine Litter (GPML-Caribe) Management co-hosted by the Cartagena Convention Secretariat and the Gulf and Caribbean Fisheries Institute.
  • Regional platforms established to support improved management of priority pollutants: nutrients, wastewater and marine litter.
  • Launch and implementation of Caribbean Clean Seas Campaign on Marine Litter and     


  1. Knowledge management

I. Focal Points

Link to focal points for the Cartagena Convention and its 3 Protocols available here.

Cartagena Convention Staff page accessible here.

J. Interesting facts (About the WCR region, the Convention or its Contracting Parties)

  1. While the Caribbean Sea constitutes just 1% of the global ocean, the estimated value of its ocean economy in 2012 was US$407 billion, which represents between 14 and 27% of the global ocean economy (Patil et al. 2012).
  2. The region is the most highly diverse and complex among the Regional Seas Programmes due to the presence of numerous political entities, as well as the vast differences in physical size (from very small to large) and varying levels of development (from the poorest to very wealthy) among the States and Territories.
  3. 51 Small Island Developing States (SIDS) are recognized by the United Nations for special assistance because of their increased environmental and economic vulnerability, 22 are States or Territories in the Cartagena Convention Area. This is the largest number of SIDS by far in any of the Regional Seas Programmes.
  4. Two of the world’s biodiversity hotspots are entirely or largely in the region: the Caribbean islands and Mesoamerica.
  5. The Mesoamerican Barrier Reef System, which stretches along the coasts of Mexico, Belize Guatemala and Honduras, is the second longest barrier reef system in the world.
  6. The Western Caribbean ecoregion has been identified as one of 10 marine biodiversity hotspots globally.
  7. The Caribbean is the main cruise market worldwide in terms of passenger capacity, with an estimated capacity of around 8.5 million passengers in 2017 (BREA, 2018).

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