Carribean coastal peatlands

Underlining their importance for biodiversity, climate change mitigation, coastal protection, and human livelihoods

 

Coastal peatlands in the Caribbean provide important ecological functions beyond declining habitats for endangered biodiversity and sequestration and long-term storage of carbon. Intact coastal ecosystems including coastal peatlands fulfil important roles in the protection against extreme weather events (e.g. hurricanes, which have become more frequent and strong in times of climate change). Coral reefs break the biggest waves in front of the shore, mangroves stabilize the coast line’s soils with their roots, and coastal peatlands finally act like buffer zones between salt and inland freshwaters. Peatlands store freshwater like huge sponges, blocks salt water intrusion in the aquifers and provide permanent water supply throughout the year for local communities, bridging periods of water shortage in the dry seasons. Therefore, they are a key ecosystem in climate change adaptation.

 

Draining coastal peatlands implies emission of CO2 to the atmosphere due to oxidation of peat layers and dissolving of underlying carbonates typical for Caribbean mires. This process is fast under tropic climate condition and imposes the risk of catastrophic fire events during droughts. Furthermore, decomposition of peat soils leads to subsidence which implicates a risk of irreversible land loss as sea level is rising in contrast to dropping peatland surface. Last but not least, the beauty of mire landscapes is a significant asset for future development of eco-tourism in the region.

 

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However, there are indications that many of the coastal peatlands in the Caribbean region (including Bahamas, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Haiti, Jamaica, Mexico (Yucatan), Panama, Puerto Rico) are in unfavourable conditions and under threat of degradation.
 

Within the Project "Strategic environmental dialogues on Caribbean Coastal peatlands" the Michael Succow Foundation, partner in the Greifswald Mire Centre, is conducting a series of environmental dialogues with experts, local stakeholders and decision-makers from politics, academia and business in these countries to increase the understanding of mire ecology and the ecosystem services they provide to the Caribbean societies.
Activities of the project:
It is assembling a desktop inventory of peatlands in the Caribbean and organising several round table talks with experts in key countries. It will set priorities for restoration action and initiate political dialogue on the coastal peatland protection.
 

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Project coordination:

Jan Peters, E-mail: jan peters(at)succow-stiftung.de