Country Profiles

Antigua and Barbuda - Country Profile

Biodiversity Facts

Status and trends of biodiversity, including benefits from biodiversity and ecosystem services

The islands of the Caribbean, including Antigua and Barbuda, have a combination of extremely high endemism and an intense packing of species per unit area. It should be considered one of the highest priority biodiversity hotspots on the planet since the Caribbean now maintains only 11.3% of its original biological habitat. Both the activities of man, in pursuit of economic development, and natural causes, such as hurricanes and droughts, have drastically altered Antigua and Barbuda’s biodiversity over the years. The main trend is that biodiversity is being destroyed by the unsustainable use of the resources. Historically, most of the natural vegetation of Antigua and Barbuda was cleared for the cultivation of sugar cane and cotton. The economy is currently dominated by tourism, a sector that is also dependent on the quality of the environment. Inventories of the country’s vegetation suggest that a large percentage of plant species is classified as rare and endangered. Many terrestrial animals have become rare, endangered or extinct due to the loss and/or fragmentation of natural habitats such as mangroves, seagrass beds and coral reefs. Some waterbirds and several species of reptiles have become extinct; sea turtles that are endangered world-wide are declining in numbers; while over-fishing has resulted in a decline in the variety and number of reef species of fish. In addition, exotic species such as the mongoose, the Giant African Snail and the Cuban Tree Frog have been introduced.

The islands have extensive wetlands, beach and coral reef ecosystems, as well as extensive watershed systems with accompanying waterways and forests. There are also smaller offshore islands with extensive marine ecosystems of coral reefs and seagrass beds. All of these provide habitats for the support of many globally rare fauna. For example, the country boasts one of the rarest and smallest known Racer Snake (Alsophis antillensis antiguae) populations in the world and hosts the largest frigate bird (Fregata magnificens) nesting ground in the Caribbean. Over the past ten years, there has been significant improvement in the management of biodiversity in country and this may have reduced the rate of losses however the threats are still significant. Though the country has developed a National Environment Management Strategy and completed an initial draft National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan, there is still much work to be done to revise and implement these strategies.

With regards to marine biodiversity and the continuous impacts of climate change on the country, it is worth noting that, of the 25 beaches monitored over the 1996-2001 period, 12 showed signs of erosion at an alarming rate of 0.8 m per year. Of the total, ten are considered important nesting beaches. This poses a significant threat to nesting sea turtles, decreasing the availability of appropriate nesting sites. Seagrass beds that provide food for fish and turtles and function as nurseries for young conch, spiny lobsters, shrimp and a variety of fish are also being destroyed. Additionally, coral reefs are in very poor condition, stressed by high sedimentation, over-fishing, destruction by the anchoring of boats, improper placement of fish traps, garbage, breakage by recreational diving, and the release of partly treated sewage from coastal holiday developments, residences and businesses directly into the sea.

Biodiversity provides a great source of revenue for Antigua and Barbuda. Since the 1960s, the economy has relied mainly on tourism, the main attraction being the 365 white sandy beaches and other aspects of the country’s marine and coastal environment. Agriculture, which formerly dominated the country’s economy through the sugar industry, now provides a direct contribution through the fisheries sub-sector, including the export of lobsters from Barbuda. Approximately 50% of the fishing industry for Barbuda depends on the Codringon Lagoon. The livestock sector is also important since there are very few chemical inputs used in this industry and the meat is considered low-fat and virtually organic. The value of this sector is however not recognized and poorly managed.

To emphasize further the direct impact of the country’s natural resources on human development, it is also worth noting that six of the country’s thirteen watersheds have been identified as major catchments based on socio-economic and agro-ecological conditions; these six primary watersheds occupy 43% of Antigua’s land area and sustain 50% of the island’s total forests, 90% of its crops and 60% of livestock production. The watersheds contain 80% of Antigua’s ground water supplies and 90% of its surface water in reservoirs and are the most important terrestrial ecosystem for biodiversity. The 36 mangrove sites also act as an excellent filtration system.

Main pressures on and drivers of change to biodiversity (direct and indirect)

Since the preparation of the first national report, the threats to biodiversity have not really changed, although the extent of the pressure has intensified. Threats are mainly anthropogenic and include fragmentation and loss of habitats due to ad hoc development for tourism and housing purposes; overgrazing of vegetation by livestock in the watersheds; deforestation; improper land use practices leading to erosion and desertification and the introduction of invasive alien species that deplete local genetic diversity. The marine biodiversity is also increasingly threatened by habitat destruction, overexploitation, sand mining and destructive fishing methods. Mangroves that function as nurseries, breeding grounds and habitats for both marine and terrestrial wildlife are being destroyed for coastal development, especially that associated with the tourism sector. The threats to agricultural biodiversity are very different from that of the rest of the country’s biodiversity. The main threats are lack of adequate research, lack of ex situ facilities, very little protection of intellectual property and the lack of trained personnel for the implementation of approved policy initiatives. Though the overuse and misuse of herbicides and pesticides may also be cited as a concern, this threat has been significantly curtailed with the implementation of the country’s new pesticide and toxic chemicals act.

Measures to Enhance Implementation of the Convention

Implementation of the NBSAP

The NBSAP for Antigua and Barbuda was produced in 2001 after extensive consultations with stakeholders and agencies. The NBSAP process and actions received positive support from the NGO community however the NBSAP never received Cabinet approval. The document is considerably outdated and does not reflect the advances made by negotiations at the international level. As such, in early 2012, the country began the process to review and update the NBSAP. The four key aspects of the strategy address the obstacles to biodiversity planning, including at the institutional, scientific, legal and policy levels. The strategy, in combination with the draft environment management bill aim to improve and maintain the well-being of the people of Antigua and Barbuda, as well as the productivity and diversity of the country’s ecosystems, through the achievement of the overall goal to promote the conservation and sustainable utilization of the island’s terrestrial, marine and freshwater biodiversity.

Actions taken to achieve the 2020 Aichi Biodiversity Targets

Since the development of the NBSAP in 2001, significant effort has been taken towards implementing recommended actions. Areas that are yet to be adequately addressed are: research, and the development of market measures for protection. Additionally, though legislation exists and new legislations have been drafted for the declaration and management of protected areas, there are still legislative gaps to be filled in order to ensure the implementation of necessary actions to effect change in overall environmental management throughout the country. For example, protected areas were not given early attention however, since 2001, the Government has provided protection status to wetlands and coastal ecosystems, with 20% of watersheds and 30% of mangrove swamps and beaches currently under some level of protection. In this regard, the country is actually on target to meet the requirements of Aichi Biodiversity Target 11. It is anticipated that, with the country being committed to having the environmental management bill enacted by July 2013, one of the most significant challenges to effective sustained protected areas management would be removed.

Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) is now mandatory for certain projects and several new pieces of biodiversity-related legislation have been adopted. Government actions were encouraged as a result of an increase in biodiversity knowledge, including an awareness of the importance of biodiversity for health and economic development, on the part of the population. Though many 2010 targets (e.g. conservation of 10% of reefs for dive tourism only) were not accomplished, other activities related to other targets (e.g. development of legislation for the management of genetic material, the declaration of a number of sites as marine protected areas and the implementation of a new Fisheries Act and its supporting regulations) were either initiated or completed. To date, the country, through the assistance of a number of agencies, including the GEF, has begun to undertake an assessment aimed at ensuring the improvement of the status of threatened species. This process will also seek to alleviate the current problems experienced in the country due to a lack of available data. Success examples include the development of a Strategy for Agricultural Biodiversity Protection; 100% ban of threatened plant and animal species from commercial trade; stopping of sand mining from most beaches and the development of a sustainable island resource management and zoning plan. This zoning plan has been completed and accepted by Cabinet.

With regards to biodiversity and climate change, mitigation and adaptation measures have been integrated in project plans for the Northwest Coast Rehabilitation and Rehabilitation of the Body Pond Watershed. These projects are designed to reduce the incidence of flooding in coastal communities while rehabilitating wetlands that are important habitats for numerous birds and marine species. Within four months of the initiation of the McKinnon’s Pond Rehabilitation Project, thousands of birds returned to the area on the northwest coast to feed and nest. Additionally, the area has not recorded flooding in excess of the targeted six inches of rain in 24 hours; new areas of mangrove growth have been recorded and there have been less foul smells which signals the return of health to the sediment and water quality of the area.

Support mechanisms for national implementation (legislation, funding, capacity-building, coordination, mainstreaming, etc.)

In general, there has been significant improvement in implementation since 2001, but the lack of capacity and legal framework suitable for small island states remain severely limiting factors. The integration process was driven by several agencies with the lead agency being the Environment Division. The Environment Division is the focal point of most of the MEAs as well as the GEF focal point. Other agencies involved in the process included the Fisheries Division, Central Board of Health and Forestry Department and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. This process was further supported by NGOs and an increasingly aware public. In 2004, the National Environmental Management Strategy (NEMS) was adopted as the main policy document for the implementation of all the Rio conventions, including the CBD and its NBSAP, as well as for the development of draft environmental legislation which places emphasis on protected areas and the establishment of a trust fund for the management of these areas. An important initiative is the development of a new national park (Mount Obama National Park) and the use of the renewable energy potential of the park to ensure its financial sustainability.

Further, a policy document and standards are to be completed in 2013, so that all biodiversity-based products are derived from sources that are sustainably managed, and production areas are managed consistent with the conservation of biodiversity. However, there has been very limited success in the provision of sustained institutional support to maintain the success achieved over the past ten years. These capacity building issues are seen as the limiting factor in the integration process and will therefore provide the focus of the biodiversity activities within the country for the next ten years.

Mechanisms for monitoring and reviewing implementation

Antigua and Barbuda did not establish specific national targets and a way to measure them until 2009. Baseline data was also not collected until 2009 and, since then, there has been no quantitative assessment of species or ecosystems status and the impacts of the actions taken. The assessment of implementation status was based on interviews with responsible agencies, as well as reports produced over the past ten years. In 2012, a review of potential targets based on the Aichi Biodiversity Targets and specific measures to be used in monitoring them was completed. Work has also been initiated to complete the necessary quantitative assessments. It is anticipated that this information will help in the revision of the NBSAP as well as the upcoming fifth national report.