Leonardo Anselmi

Fondation Franz Weber Comes to the Aid of the Caribbean

The Caribbean is in great danger: Overfishing and mass tourism are gradually ruining the Caribbean. But there is still hope that this unique world heritage can be kept alive. With the support of Fondation Franz Weber’s campaign “Gran Seaflower”, six countries want to save the wildlife and the ecosystem.

The Caribbean – sun, palm trees, turquoise blue water, and white sandy beaches. But this paradise is in great danger. Overpopulation on the coasts, destructive fishing practices and mass tourism are gradually ruining the resources of the Caribbean. That is why the archipelago, world-famous for its landscapes and picture-perfect underwater worlds, will soon have nothing in common anymore with this postcard idyll.

The “Gran Seaflower” campaign
Due to the urgency, Fondation Franz Weber (FFW) developed the “Gran Seaflower” campaign. With this platform, FFW wants to win six Caribbean states for a joint project to save this globally unique natural heritage. In addition, the campaign aims to reach a cross-state agreement on environmental management in the south-western zone of this tropical region.

Joint strategy
The Gran Seaflower project was well received in the region. As a result, FFW was able to quickly find scientific and political partners in several countries, such as in Colombia, Costa Rica, Honduras, Jamaica, Nicaragua, and Panama. This local anchoring and support is essential in the eyes of FFW. After all, nothing can be achieved without the cooperation of the neighbouring countries that are affected by the environmental damage in the region.

FFW supports without exhorting
FFW defines and practices its role as follows: It makes suggestions, encourages the authorities of the affected countries and offers its support. However, it does so without exhorting or wielding the moral club. FFW’s utmost concern is to serve the local communities as a platform, as advisor, and as mediator. The platform should also enable relationships to be established, to work together and to initiate holistic and regional cultural and nature conservation management. Thus, it was possible to form working groups with various countries, which in turn are to act as local facilitators. These groups have created three focal points: ethical, scientific and institutional. On this basis, a holistic strategy for the conservation and restoration of the third largest coral reef in the world is to be built.

Unique biodiversity
From a scientific perspective, the contribution that this species-rich area makes to global biodiversity cannot be rated highly enough. A report on the regional evaluation of biodiversity and ecosystem services for the Americas 2019 reveals: The southwest Caribbean has the most biodiverse coastal and marine fauna and flora in all of the Americas, and thus, the entire western hemisphere.

Largest reef shark population
Several species are exclusive to this region of the tropics, notably the reef shark. While extremely rare in all other areas, numerous reef sharks inhabit the archipelago of San Andrés, which bears the name Seaflower. This Seaflower was declared a World Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO in 2000. The animals are so numerous at the various sites and at the Seaflower that they form the most significant population of reef sharks in the entire Caribbean.

Dire situation for reef sharks
Over a period of four years, reef sharks were observed, counted and recorded on 371 reefs in 58 countries worldwide. The results of the study were published in the journal Nature: Reef shark populations declined dramatically in most oceans. For example, in the Dominican Republic, Qatar, Vietnam and Kenya, only just three reef sharks were registered in an 800-hour video recording. Conclusion: The situation is much more worrying than assumed. Worse still, in 20 per cent of the reefs surveyed, no sharks could be detected at all. In other words, sharks are practically extinct in these ecosystems, which have been damaged by overfishing.

Virtual exchange
The health crisis thwarted the plans of FFW and the working groups. Three major conferences had to be cancelled due to Covid-19. At the planned meetings in March, the “Gran Seaflower” campaign should have been presented. But the teams were not discouraged. The Gran SeaFlower campaign was redesigned to adapt to the constraints of the pandemic. Thanks to the virtual exchange, the working groups involved in this programme of international cooperation were able to continue.

Website as a forum
The quarantine also gave the teams time to design the campaign website and list all the projects – it will be launched in autumn. Visitors to the site will have access to a new menu with interactive maps and exclusive scientific content, as well as a project database. As a place for exchange, the website will now also become a forum for dialogue for anyone who wants to take part in the discussion. The target groups include, in particular, fishermen and teachers who can contribute to the projects with their knowledge and experience.

Overcoming national borders
But the campaign still has many hurdles to overcome in order to strengthen dialogue between states that have fallen into individualistic thinking patterns. Hence, FFW’s main goal is to overcome national borders in order to put environmental protection at the centre of the debate.

FFW plans environmental policy school
FFW is planning to set up a “Caribbean School of Environmental Policy”. The main goal is to democratise the culture of ecology. Politicians are to be sensitised to scientific as well as environmental issues. Another goal is to bind the regions in the Caribbean together. Since the Caribbean is a common heritage for all bordering countries, it is in the interest of all countries to protect the Caribbean!

FFW gains support
Like a seed, this idea is gradually developing. But it will take time to overcome the obstacles and constraints due to the health situation. In the meantime, many things are changing in favour of nature and animals: countries are gradually realising that the protection of natural resources is in their own interest. And FFW can count on the support of the local and scientific communities. Time is pressing. Covid-19 has cruelly reminded us of this. Only if all forces are mobilised to strengthen and save the Caribbean can Planet Earth face a slightly less grim future!


More information:

  • Our project page “Gran Seaflower”
  • This article was first published in the Journal Franz Weber 133. You can find the PDF version of all previous magazines here.
  • You have not yet subscribed to our quarterly magazine, the Journal Franz Weber? Order the latest issue for free here (in German and French only).