March 3rd is World Wildlife Day, designated by the United Nations to celebrate wild flora and fauna and the benefits they provide. The date was chosen as it is the date that the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) was signed, 50 years ago in 1973. On this World Wildlife Day, we recognise and appreciate the rich diversity of life found in Barbados as part of the Caribbean hotspot, one of the most diverse regions in the world. Despite its size, Barbados is home to a myriad of plant and animal species, some of which are found nowhere else on Earth. Barbados boasts an array of ecosystems from coastal mangroves and coral reefs to wet and dry forests and woodlands. These habitats are home to an impressive variety of native wildlife, including the endemic Barbados leaf-toed gecko, Barbados velvet worm and Barbados bullfinch. On this island there have been reported around 1,500 plants, over 200 birds, 13 reptiles, 9 mammals, and 2 amphibians in the wild in recent history, among countless other invertebrates such as snails, spiders and insects. Some of these species are introduced, such as Barbour’s tree snake and the cattle egret, and others are invasive, like brown and black rats. Others are simply migrants, stopping by the island on a larger journey, like brown pelicans and great blue herons.
Unfortunately, our native and visiting flora and fauna face a variety of threats. Habitat loss and fragmentation due to urbanisation are major challenges, as are the impacts of climate change, including sea level rise and the increased frequency of intense storms and drought. Invasive species also pose a significant threat to native wildlife and agro-ecosystems in Barbados. The giant African snail is one such invasive species, a highly destructive pest which feeds on a wide range of crops and can cause significant damage to agricultural systems. In addition to its impact on crops, the giant African snail can also transmit diseases to humans and other animals. Another pest is the pink hibiscus mealybug which attacks not only food crops like citrus, avocado, mango, sugarcane, lettuce, and cucumber among others, but also ornamental plants like allamanda, anthurium, croton, heliconia, hibiscus, and oleander. These insects eat the soft parts of many plant species, and their saliva causes curling and contortion of leaves.
To address these threats to Barbados’ biodiversity and agricultural systems, it is essential to engage in collaborative efforts at the local, regional and global levels. Barbados is a signatory to several international agreements aimed at protecting wildlife and the environment, including the Convention on Biological Diversity, the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands and the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. Under these agreements, Barbados has committed to taking measures to conserve and sustainably manage its natural resources, including its wildlife and ecosystems. At the local level, the National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan (NBSAP 2020) speaks to raising awareness of the values of biodiversity and the steps necessary to reach sustainability. Community engagement and education are critical for building awareness of the importance of native species and ecosystems to foster a culture of conservation. The NBSAP further aims to reduce the rate of loss of natural habitats, to reduce pollution, and to protect areas important to biodiversity and ecosystem services.
As we celebrate World Wildlife Day, let us remember the vital role that the natural world plays in maintaining healthy ecosystems and the benefits they provide to us, from clean air and water to food and medicine. To learn more about the plants and animals found in Barbados and their ecological and cultural importance, please follow our Instagram page at biodiversity.bb.