1.3 The Wider Caribbean (CLME+ region)

Large Marine Ecosystems (LMEs) are large extensions of ocean encompassing coastal areas from river basins and estuaries to the seaward boundaries of continental shelves and the outer margins of major ocean current systems (such as the North Brazil Current), and/or occupying semi-enclosed seas (such as the Caribbean, and the Gulf of Mexico). They are transboundary ecosystems where primary productivity is generally higher than in open ocean areas, making them a meaningful geospatial unit for the implementation of an ecosystem-based management (EBM) approach through international coordination and collaboration.

In what follows, we will refer to the combined area of the Caribbean and North Brazil Shelf LMEs as “the CLME+ region” (Figure x) which has an approximate area of 4.4 million Km 2 . Due to the geographical extent of the area of competence of some of the organizations that constitute the Regional Governance Framework (see section 1.5), SOMEE will cover also the area of the Gulf of Mexico.

Figure x. The three Large Marine Ecosystems of interest in SOMEE

The Caribbean LME has an extension of approximately 3.3 million Km 2 . It constitutes a distinct and globally important bio-geographical region with exceptionally high levels of species endemism.

The North Brazil Shelf (NBS) LME has an extension of approximately 1 million Km 2 (slightly larger than the area of Venezuela) and extends south-southeast along North-Eastern South America from the boundary with the Caribbean LME to its southern limit near the Parnaiba River estuary in Brazil. The LME is characterized by a wide shelf; the sea bed is formed mainly by mud in shallow water, and by sand, mud, and gravel in deeper water. It features macrotides and upwellings along the shelf edge. It receives high volumes of freshwater and sediments from terrestrial river basins in South America – including the Amazon and Orinoco basins- which are transported by the North Brazil/Guyana Current through this LME, into the Caribbean Sea.

The NBS LME has moderately diverse food webs and high production due in part to the high levels of nutrients coming from the Amazon and Tocantins rivers, as well as from the smaller rivers of the Amapa and western Para coastal plains. This highly productive environment hosts important fisheries, such as shrimp fisheries, and while the extent of coral reefs in this LME are limited, mangroves are abundant, especially at the mouth of big rivers.

The CLME+ region occupies a globally highly relevant position in terms of its share in the total coverage of key tropical marine habitats known to deliver substantial contributions to globally important ecological processes. Approximately 10% of the world’s coral reefs, and around 20% of the world’s remaining mangrove forests are located within the CLME+ region. In a similar way, it is estimated that at least 25 to 50% of the world’s seagrass beds would be located within the CLME+ region. Globally, mangrove forests, seagrass beds and salt marshes
contribute almost 50% of the total organic carbon burial in ocean sediments, known as ‘blue carbon’. As such, these habitats help in constraining the rise in atmospheric carbon dioxide, and provide nursery grounds for regionally and globally important fish stocks (Holmyard, N., 2014). Of high relevance for fisheries are also the continental shelf and pelagic ecosystems. Therefore, the CLME+ SAP focuses on three so-called “sub-ecosystems”: the coral reef, the pelagic and the continental shelf sub-ecosystems (Figure x).

Figure x. Three key sub-ecosystems and habitats in the CLME+ region.
Table x. CLME+ States, Territories, Associated States, Departments, Outermost Regions and Islands with a Special Status

Belize [1]
Costa Rica
Guyana [1]
Suriname [1]
United States of America

Antigua & Barbuda [1]
Bahamas, the [1]
Barbados [1]
Cuba [1]
Dominica [1]
Dominican Republic [1]
Grenada [1]
Haiti [1]
Jamaica [1]
St. Kitts & Nevis [1]
Saint Lucia [1]
St. Vincent & the Grenadines [1]
Trinidad & Tobago [1]

Anguilla (United Kingdom)
Aruba [1,2]
Curaçao [2]
Bonaire [3]
British Virgin Islands (United Kingdom)
Cayman Islands (United Kingdom)
French Guiana[4] (France)
Guadeloupe [5] (France)
Montserrat (United Kingdom)
Martinique [5] (France)
Puerto Rico [6]
Saba [3]
St. Eustatius [3]
St. Barthélemy (France)
St. Maarten [2]
St. Martin [5] (France)
Turks and Caicos (United Kingdom)
U.S. Virgin Islands (United States of America)

[1] Low-lying coastal and/or Small Island Developing States (SIDS) as listed by the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs; see http://sustainabledevelopment.un.org/index.php?menu=1522
[2] As of 10 October 2010, Holland, Aruba, Curaçao and St. Maarten are partners in the Kingdom of the Netherlands.
[3] The islands of Bonaire, Saba, and St. Eustatius have become “special municipalities” of Holland
[4] Outermost Regions (normally considered part of the European Union and subject to European law)
[5] Overseas Departments and Regions – Overseas Collectivities of France
[6] Puerto Rico is a Free Associated State of the United States

The region’s diversity in terms of historical backgrounds, cultures, languages, country and population size and political systems result in a complex geopolitical landscape at regional level, as is reflected in the existing regional political and economic integration mechanisms; for example the Central American Integration System (SICA), the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS), and the Association of Caribbean States (ACS).

IOC-UNESCO and UNEP (2016) estimated that more than 70 million people lived in coastal areas of the Caribbean Sea and more than 30 million in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010. From those, more than 12 millions live below the national poverty line. The NBS LME is much less populated, with about 1.5 million people living within 100 Km to the coast, from which at least 250 000 are poor. Their income is generated mainly through economic activities that are based on living marine resources, for example small-scale fisheries. While this type of fisheries is directed to local markets and subsistence, some types of fisheries are targeted to “iconic species” like the Queen Conch and Spiny Lobster, which are unique to the region and highly valued by tourists and visitors.

In the CLME+, except for the island countries, only Belice, Guyana and Suriname have their capitals located at the CLME+/GoM coast. Only three cities with more than one million inhabitants (Barranquilla and Cartagena in Colombia; Colón in Panama) can be counted (Figure x). Human pressures on the sea might not seem to have a big impact, but in reality, many threats to the sea come from far, including land-based pollution transported through large river basins that drain to the CLME+/GoM (Figure x) and waste generated by the touristic activities of foreign visitors.

Figure X. Main coastal urban centers in the wider Caribbean based on population size estimates for 2020.
Figure X. Freshwater drainage areas in the CLME+ region. They include the Amazon, the Orinoco and the Magdalena river basins.
Figure X. 2015 population by LME drainage areas in the wider Caribbean region

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