On the heels of a recent declaration expanding and establishing new land and sea parks in The Bahamas, The Nature Conservancy applauds a recent Presidential decree in the Dominican Republic, which will add 31 new protected areas into its national protected areas system. The new protected areas encompass a total of 1,321,024 hectares—just over 3.2 million acres—of terrestrial and marine habitat.
The decree acknowledged the need to reinforce the Dominican Republic’s existing National System of Protected Areas, particularly in near shore marine diversity. Of the new protected areas, 217,455 hectares—approximately 537,343 acres - is terrestrial habitat. The remaining 1,103,569 hectares—approximately 2.7 million acres—spans marine environments.
During the announcement, Jaime David Fernández Mirabal, Secretary of State for Environment and Natural Resources in the Dominican Republic, thanked The Nature Conservancy for conducting the biological gap analysis that served as the scientific basis for the decision on at least 22 of the 31 new protected areas.
“The Dominican Republic is considered one of the most biologically diverse countries in the Caribbean,” said Phil Kramer, director for The Nature Conservancy’s Caribbean Program. “The recent declaration of 2.7 million acres of new marine and coastal areas lays the foundation for a fully functioning, viable marine system with coral reefs and sea grass meadows that will provide refuge for endangered species like sea turtles and manatees."
In May of 2008, the Dominican Republic, alongside leaders from Jamaica, The Bahamas, and St. Vincent and the Grenadines launched the Caribbean Challenge, a region-wide campaign to protect the health of the Caribbean’s lands and waters. Today, five Caribbean nations have committed to protecting 20 percent of their marine and coastal habitat by 2020.
“With this new declaration, the Dominican Republic has protected 56 percent of its near shore habitat and just over 20 percent of its terrestrial habitat,” said Marianne Kleiberg, the director of The Nature Conservancy’s Central Caribbean Program. “Now that these areas have been granted legal protection, we will continue to work with others toward the effective management of the entire system, providing economic opportunities for people and preserving the Dominican Republic’s valuable natural and cultural resources in the process.”
Because less than 7 percent of the islands and waters here are protected and managed to ensure their future survival, the coral reefs, beaches, rivers, mountains, forests and fisheries that are the foundation of all life in the Caribbean are increasingly at risk.
The Caribbean Challenge, which represents the largest coordinated, multi-national conservation campaign in the region, is no small undertaking. The Nature Conservancy has pledged $20 million in private funding to help leverage another $20 million in public financial commitments. The goal of the Challenge is to permanently establish a network of 20 million acres of marine parks across the territorial waters of at least 10 countries, and also to ensure that once established, the protected areas also receive sufficient, permanent funding through sustainable financing tools.
The Dominican Republic was one of the first nations to reach its goal of protecting 20 percent of its marine habitat when it declared the country’s largest Marine Protected Area with the National Whale Sanctuary. While this move created a solid foundation for the country, gaps still existed—much like a puzzle with significant missing pieces. The declaration acknowledged the need to reinforce the country’s existing National System of Protected Areas, particularly in near shore marine diversity. The Nature Conservancy’s GAP analysis provided the science that guided the selection and decision behind 22 of the new protected areas.
The cultural impact of the signing is also encouraging as archeological ruins and sites of historical importance from Colonial times will now be better cared for as will communities that live near or depend on protected areas. The fact that many areas home to mangrove forests fall into this category means that people will now have greater protection from hurricanes. Protected mountains will also see a reduction in deforestation and soil erosion. Activities related to sustainable tourism will also benefit from this as well as local families who will be able to enjoy open spaces and access to clean water sources.
The Nature Conservancy is a leading conservation organization working around the world to protect ecologically important lands and waters for nature and people. The Conservancy and its more than 1 million members have protected nearly 120 million acres worldwide. Visit The Nature Conservancy on the Web at www.nature.org.
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