The Regional Activity Centre for the Protocol Concerning Specially Protected Areas and Wildlife for the Wider Caribbean Region
Caribbean Environment Program
DEAL Guadeloupe
United Nations Environment Programme
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Cartagena and SPAW : introduction

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The Cartagena Convention

The Wider Caribbean Region relies greatly upon its marine and coastal resources for the greatest proportion of its economic activity. Seaside tourism now constitutes a major share of the islands and fishing sector’s economy, and, despite its global decline, remains an important traditional economic activity for various countries in the region. These activities depend heavily on relatively small surface areas of coral reef, sea grass beds and wetlands, at the heart of semi-enclosed seas, used by a great number of nations with very varied political and cultural systems and levels of development. That is why the sustainable management of sea and coastal resources and the protection of critical habitats for concerted regional cooperation, is vital for Caribbean populations.

Having acknowledged this, the Caribbean nations adopted in 1983 the Cartagena Convention (Convention for the protection and development of marine environment in the Wider Caribbean Region), the only legally restrictive regional agreement on the environment. Three protocols deal with biodiversity (Specially Protected Areas and Wildlife - SPAW, 1990), telluric pollutions (Land-based pollutions – LBS, 1999) and oil spills (1983) make up and add variety to the Convention. The convention application has been conveyed by the implementation of a Caribbean Environment Programme (CEP). The convention secretarial duties are covered by the Regional Coordination Unit for the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP-RAC/RGU) based in Kingston, Jamaica. Its role is to coordinate the programme and actions to undertake in order to protect the Caribbean Sea.

The entire Caribbean Basin is concerned. This not only includes insular territories surrounded by the Caribbean Sea but also those with catchment areas pouring out into them. 37 territories are therefore concerned (including 27 countries) from the Gulf of Mexico to the Guyana plateau and the Colombian coasts to the Florida peninsula.

The SPAW Protocol

The SPAW Protocol follows an ecosystem approach and supplies a unique legal framework for the conservation of the region’s biodiversity. The SPAW protocol is also recognised as an important tool for reaching international agreement objectives on biodiversity such as the Convention on Biological Diversity or the Ramsar Convention. Important regional initiatives have been launched under the patronage of SPAW, in particular in order to reinforce protected areas, the conservation of key species and the protection of coral reefs, with the participation and involvement of all major stakeholders, from governments to Non-Governmental Organisations and local communities.


Signed in January 1990, the SPAW Protocol looks to:

  • Protect, preserve and sustainably manage areas of particular ecological value;
  • Protect and preserve threatened wild species or endangered species as well as their habitats.

The SPAW Protocol was adopted as international law on 18 June 2000. This Protocol has been ratified by 17 countries [1]

According to the terms of the Protocol and in accordance with their own laws and regulations, the Parties must take every measure to protect, preserve and sustainably manage the areas that need protecting and endangered animal and plant species on their territories.


[1Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Colombia, Cuba, Dominican Republic, France (Guadeloupe, Guyane, Martinique, Saint-Barthélémy, Saint-Martin), Grenada, Guyana, Honduras, Netherlands (Aruba, Bonaire, Curaçao, Saba, Sint-Eustachius, Sint Maarten), Panama, Saint-Lucia, St Vincent and the Grenadines, Trinidad and Tobago, United States (States following Gulf of Mexico, U.S. Virgin Islands, Puerto-Rico) and Venezuela.