Country profiles:
Antigua and Barbuda
Cayman Islands
Trinidad and Tobago
Environmental & Social Licensing and Enforcement in Latin America Reports:
Costa Rica

Caribbean Region: Legislative and institutional frameworks governing the protection of coral reefs and other marine ecosystems in selected countries

Marine protected areas, environmental enforcement, coastal zone development,
marine- and land-based sources of pollution, and related topics

1. Overview
Coral reefs are facing an existential crisis across the Caribbean region due to the effects of climate change, which are largely beyond the ability of small island states to mitigate. A variety of local threats caused by human activities can be more effectively regulated at the national level. As a general trend in Caribbean countries, legislative and regulatory provisions pertinent to the protection of coral reefs tend to be distributed among a patchwork of laws and regulations rather than normalized within a coordinated hierarchy. However, the body of laws of some countries (e.g., Belize, Guyana, Trinidad & Tobago, and The Bahamas), increasingly includes overarching environmental framework legislation.
It is more often the case that legislative provisions that protect corals and other marine life—and the institutions that implement them—have evolved along separate lines from a variety of sources, including laws that specifically address fisheries, the creation of marine protected areas (MPAs), tourism, water pollution and waste treatment, oil spills, and maritime sovereignty, as well as oversight of planning and development within the coastal zone (including the environmental impact assessment (EIA) process. In addition, almost all countries in the region have legally binding commitments as signatories of international agreements, such as the Convention for the Protection and Development of the Marine Environment of the Wider Caribbean Area (Cartagena Convention).

Coordinated governanceCaribbean coral reef legislation

The Cartegena Convention and SPAW Protocol

Using contract law andparametric insurancepolicies to protect coral reefs

The composition of Caribbean legislation has often been influenced by the colonial legacy of each country, the economic benefits coral reefs have historically contributed (e.g., fishing and tourism), and the extent to which the country has embraced conservation and sustainable development. Although coral reefs provide important ecosystems services throughout the Caribbean, the regulatory approach maintained or adopted by each country reflects differences in political structures and economic priorities. Legal protections for coral reefs are largely focused on MPAs, with lesser, implicit protections for corals embedded in the provisions of other legislation. Finally, it should be noted that coral reefs are sporadically mentioned specifically in the legislation of many Caribbean countries and are often encompassed under definitions of "fish" or "marine life," or contained in appendices at the end of legislation.

The synopses of legislation on this website are designed to be concise rather than exhaustive and intended to provide an overview of the key laws and government agencies that impact coral reef health in the featured countries. The summaries aim to describe the salient components of the key laws that are most relevant to keeping in check threats to coral reefs. Prohibited behaviors that cause threats to coral reefs, as well as the corresponding provisions for enforcement and sanctions in response to those violations, are described in the context of the laws that address them. Finally, the applicable international agreements to which each country is a signatory are listed below each country profile.

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2. Language conventions and terminology used in the country profiles

U.S. vs. British spelling
United States English is used throughout these profiles. Hence, in discussing the general operation of Caribbean laws and regulations, terms such as "offence" appearing frequently in Caribbean legislation are replaced with offense or violation. Where legislation is quoted verbatim, the original British spelling is preserved.

Use of EIA vs. EsIA in connection with the impact assessment process
In many jurisdictions, the potential social impacts of proposed projects are increasingly incorporated into the environmental impact assessment process, resulting in environmental & social impact assessment" (EsIA) becoming the preferred phrase. Since most legislative texts in the Caribbean region still use "environmental impact assessment," that term and its abbreviation, EIA, are used for the time being in these reports.

3. Summary conviction and indictment in countries with British colonial heritage
In many common law jurisdictions outside the United States (e.g., the United Kingdom, Ireland, Canada, and Caribbean countries with British colonial heritage) the prosecution of offenses may be resolved in two ways: summary convictions and indictments. The severity of sanctions prescribed in legislation generally differs depending on the prosecution process followed.

A summary conviction results from a hearing before a magistrate in a less formal setting, with a lower burden of proof and evidentiary standard. The sanctions imposed are generally less severe than those resulting from convictions following the indictment process. A conviction by indictment follows a formal process in a court with a judge and Jury and generally carries more severe penalties. In the United States, an indictable offense would generally be equivalent to a felony (also requiring an indictment at the beginning of the prosecution process).

4. Future topics to be added to the Caribbean profile series
The profiles of additional Caribbean countries will be added going forward, as time allows. Other areas for expansion of this series include:

  • Government policies, programs, plans, projects, and strategies for conserving and restoring coral reefs (as well as related public-private partnerships).
  • Expanded coverage of legislation related to land- and marine-based sources of pollution.
  • Sector-specific pollution control rules and guidelines.
  • Legislative provisions relating to fulfilling national commitments to the Protocol Concerning Specially Protected Areas and Wildlife in the Wider Caribbean Region (SPAW Protocol to the Cartagena Convention) and other multilateral environmental agreements.
  • Public participation and access to information.

Comments and suggestions for improving the utility of this resource are greatly appreciated and can be submitted to me via email.

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