Developing an Approach for Adaptation to Climate Change in the Insular Caribbean - the Hawksbill Turtle as an Indicator Species
Miami, Florida, December 5, 2007
WWF, The World Wildlife Fund, has organized a workshop in Miami on Dec 10-12, to
investigate the potential effects of climate change on hawksbill sea turtles (Eretmochelys
imbricata) With the support of the MacArthur Foundation, a group of the world’s best
biologists on marine turtles and climate change will gather to study the threats and effects
of climate change on this indicator species. The recommendations of the workshop will be
incorporated into an 18 month data gathering and research period, ending with a
reconvening of the specialist network to revisit the recommendations and make best use of
the information gathered.
Hawksbills are an “indicator species” with
which to measure biological effects of climate
change since they live in habitats ranging
from beaches to the open ocean throughout
their lives. As adults, Hawksbills mainly feed
on sponges, found on coral reefs, and
therefore the fate of coral reefs may be very
important to them. The health of beaches as
well as mangrove, sea grass beds, coral
reefs and deep ocean ecosystems can be
gauged by the presence of sea turtles that
use these areas for nesting, foraging,
rookeries and migrations
Increased understanding of how climate change may affect the beaches, the reef and the
open ocean will not only benefit endangered sea turtle populations, but also the millions of
people who live along the coastlines of the world. By designing strategies to avoid the
negative impacts of climate change, many other species in these environments will also
Global climate change is pushing many species towards probable extinctions and causing
them to shift poleward at rates faster than in geological pasts. Entire regions are suffering
from the effects of climate change and will continue to suffer for the indefinite future.
Eventually all ecosystems will be affected by climate change, as well as the host of other
anthropogenic threats that already challenge them (e.g., habitat degradation and pollution).
Some of the most heavily impacted and relied upon ecosystems are rich in biodiversity and
sustain essential services.
The Insular Caribbean has a unique biodiversity that supports complex coastal and marine
systems (e.g. the Meso American barrier reef – the second largest in the world), making it a
region highly vulnerable to climate change effects, including sea-level rise. WWF is trying to
link abundant but scattered existing resources, databases, and information sources within
the Insular Caribbean to assess their validity, usefulness and accessibility aiming at the
future development and implementation of a climate change-related ecosystems
vulnerability and adaptability action plan.
The Insular Caribbean consists of the region between North and South America comprised
of three subregions: the Bahamas, the Lesser Antilles, and the Greater Antilles. This
region includes 25 different countries and territories spread over more than 4 million km2 of
ocean with only an estimated 230,000 km2 of land. The Insular Caribbean is known for its
rich biodiversity and high levels of endemism, yet has a long history of human exploitation
resulting in a significant amount of resource degradation and depletion. For example, 90%
of the Insular Caribbean forest cover has been converted to agroscapes, over 70% of its
coral reefs are threatened, mangroves deforested, and its beaches impacted, altered and
squeezed by coastal development. The Insular Caribbean islands emerge as top priority
for the expansion of the global protected areas with endemically rich islands in need of
preservation, and requiring biodiversity assessments, and management tools to conserve
the remaining resources and create sustainability.
WWF Central America
Apartament #1, 1061
Queen Helmet St.
Belize City, Belize