The Southern Caribbean Basin of Venezuela is considered a reservoir of biodiversity and an important site for fishing, tourism, and more recently oil and gas development. Represented in this area are some of the principal marine ecosystems of the Caribbean, including marine grasses, mangrove forests, and 98% of the coral species found in the Atlantic. It also serves as an important route for numerous migratory bird species and marine mammals.
All the coral species in the Caribbean are present in Venezuela, including the critical endangered staghorn coral, fused staghorn coral and sea fan. Reefs and other shallow-water habitats, such as sea-grass beds, sandy beaches, mangroves and rocky shores — as well as favorable oceanographic conditions — make Venezuela's Caribbean an ideal home for nearly 450 species of fish, including:
- Ocean surgeonfish
- Spotfin butterflyfish
- Nurse shark
Commercially-valuable species, including snappers, groupers and spiny lobsters, are harvested in Venezuela´s Caribbean. The sea is also a haven for critically-endangered turtle species such as the loggerhead, hawksbill, leatherback, and green turtle. Marine mammals including humpback whales, dolphins and manatees are found in open seas. Unfortunately, the Caribbean monk seal was hunted to extinction during the 20th century, becoming the first mammal to disappear from the Caribbean.
Many of the Venezuelan islands distributed in the Southern Caribbean Sea, including the Los Roques Archipelago, Isla Las Aves, and Isla La Tortuga, serve as stopovers for North American migratory birds in their routes towards the south. Migratory birds as least tern, osprey, peregrine falcon and merlin falcon are found in the islands. Also some resident birds have colonies in the islands, like common pelicans, red-billed tropicbirds, magnificent frigate birds, American oyster-catchers and snowy plovers. Some islands such as Margarita Island have endemic bird subspecies as the macagua and the clapper rail.
Why the Conservancy Works Here
The Southern Caribbean Basin of Venezuela includes key ecosystems such as coral reefs, sandy ocean floors and sea grasses, which harbor an unparalleled number of threatened species due to the high demand and pressures placed on its rich resources. Not only is wildlife at risk, but the degradation of ecosystems also impacts human populations, especially local fishing communities along the northern coast of Venezuela.
What the Conservancy Is Doing
The Conservancy is providing technical support to the Institute of Technology and Marine Science (INTECMAR) of Venezuela's Simón Bolívar University through a project with the country's state petroleum company PDVSA (Petróleos de Venezuela S.A.) with the objective of identifying sensitive marine ecosytems and providing conservation guidelines for 64,000 square miles of the Caribbean that are being prospected for oil and gas.
Once priority sites have been ascertained, experts from INTECMAR and the Conservancy, together with other organizations and marine experts, plan to propose conservation strategies and recommend best practices for petroleum operations in the zone. This work follows the Conservancy's Conservation by Design framework and is modeled after guidelines established by the Energy and Biodiversity Initiative (EBI), a venture between conservation groups, including the Conservancy, and energy firms to make harvesting hydrocarbons more environmentally friendly.
The Conservancy has also supported its partner the Los Roques Science Foundation (Fundación Científica Los Roques) by helping improve its ecological research station and providing equipment for its operations in Los Roques Archipelago National Park. The Foundation has been working to conserve the biological diversity of Los Roques through research and activities that provide for the protection and sustainable use of marine resources. The organization also works to promote a conservation ethic in local communities and supports the breeding and release of endangered marine turtles within the park.