Sandals Foundation reaffirms commitment to protecting Caribbean environment

As the world celebrates World Oceans Day today, and on the heels of the June 5 observation of World Environment Day, Sandals Foundation is reaffirming its commitment to the environment, pledging to continue building on its 11 years of work in the region.

Reiterating its dedication to protecting environment in the Caribbean, Sandals Foundation the philanthropic arm of Sandals Resorts International pointed out that it has taken an increasing leadership role in developing and implementing targeted programmes to promote and facilitate the sustainable management of the region’s natural ecosystems.

The foundation, in a news release on the weekend, pointed out that for the last 11 years its “carefully integrated approach, which involves the active participation of Sandals and Beaches Resort team members, communities, guests, travel agents, donors and partners, has led to substantial improvements in the Caribbean’s marine and terrestrial conservation efforts”.

Together, the initiatives are strengthening the ability of all seven islands in which the foundation operates Jamaica, Barbados, Grenada, St Lucia, The Bahamas, Antigua, and Turks and Caicos to support thousands of livelihoods and millions of lives.

“By taking an integrated approach to addressing the environmental challenges in our islands, we are using the most effective tool to guarantee that the programmes we execute meet the social and economic needs of everyone involved,” the release quotes Sandals Foundation President Adam Stewart.

“Community members and team members who live in these communities are taking practical steps to solve the challenges they face and, at the same time, resort guests, partners and donors get to experience first-hand and become active participants in helping to restore and protect the environment they are enjoying,” Stewart added.

Over the years, the foundation’s marine conservation efforts have seen significant improvements in the health and biodiversity of the region’s seas through initiatives such as the Sea Turtle Conservation Project, which seeks to combat the loss of sea turtles due to pressures from the fishing industry, climate change, illegal hunting, pollution and other threats.

Through carefully preserved nesting sites, community and resort guest sensitisation, and sustained partnerships with local stewards, Sandals Foundation has supported the safe hatching, releasing and careful guiding of approximately 100,000 sea turtles to the wild. “This is helping to preserve the population of the hawksbill, leatherback, green and Loggerhead Turtles, known to return to the Caribbean shores to lay their eggs,” the foundation noted.

The foundation has also done considerable work in the management of marine sanctuaries, partnering with the Government of Jamaica to manage two fully operational marine sanctuaries aimed at restoring fish stock, securing the livelihood of local fisherfolk and enhancing the ecological benefits of these ecosystems.

The sanctuaries, one in Boscobel since April 2013, and the other in Whitehouse since December 2014, also allow the foundation to track the effect of climate change through consistent assessment and monitoring. The protected spaces are already reaping rewards with community fisherfolk seeing a 1,300 per cent increase in fish population in the Boscobel Marine Sanctuary between 2013 and 2017.

The foundation also assists five other sanctuaries in Jamaica through funding and in-kind donations annually.

Additionally, in partnership with the Coral Restoration Foundation and CLEAR Caribbean, Sandals Foundation has established three coral nurseries in Jamaica and two in St Lucia to grow and plant thousands of pieces of coral to help restore local reefs, sequester carbon, restore fish populations and protect shorelines. To date, over 8,400 coral fragments have been out planted with a 90 per cent average success rate.

The foundation said it has also supported efforts to reduce the impact of the invasive lionfish, which have no natural predators in Caribbean waters and prey on local fish populations, upsetting ecological balance and threatening the resilience of Caribbean reefs which are already in danger from climate change.

Partnering with marine invasive species experts from The University of the West Indies, Sandals Foundation has hosted workshops in Jamaica, Grenada, St Lucia and The Bahamas to engage local stakeholders, raise awareness and develop their capacity to properly handle lionfish.

The foundation said that Sandals and Beaches Resorts guests may assist with managing the invasive species by participating in a PADI Invasive Species Tracker speciality certification, and Special Lionfish Hunting dives. Fees from the programmes go towards additional lionfish work across the region.

In addition to its robust marine conservation efforts, Sandals Foundation has also made regional inroads with its broader land-based environmental programmes. These include the Mangrove Restoration for Climate Resilience programme, which works across the region to replant mangrove forests and strengthen key coastal defence mechanisms; sustainable solid waste management initiatives which have seen more than 60,000 pounds of solid waste being collected across the seven islands where Sandals Foundation works; and partnerships with various forestry and conservation organisations across the region resulting in the planting of over 14,000 trees across the Caribbean.

Sandals Foundation also assists wildlife sanctuaries such as the Wallings Nature Reserve in Antigua and the Blue and John Crow Mountains National Park in Jamaica UNESCO-designated World Heritage Site to safeguard indigenous plants and animals. Through intensive awareness and behaviour change campaigns, the foundation has worked to protect the population of the ecologically important conch, and is working with partners to re-established the endangered and indigenous Grenada Dove and the Lansan Tree in St Lucia.

The foundation explained that all its programmes are underpinned by robust environmental education efforts targeting schools and communities and have reached 36,000 people so far.

“By funding symposiums, field trips, seminars and other activities, we are educating and empowering Caribbean youth to become stewards of the environment,” the foundation said.

“With the help of resort guests, team members, partners and donors, we are working to protect the marine and terrestrial environment while sustainably maintaining the livelihoods of the hundreds of thousands of Caribbean nationals who depend on the region’s natural ecosystems to make a living,” the foundation added.

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