The seas of the Guianas are incredibly rich in marine life. The murky coastal waters with its mudbanks and extensive mangrove forests form a highly productive ecosystem, supported by the constant outflow of the majestic Guianas rivers and the Amazon River.
There is an abundance of marine life including significant estuarine dolphin populations, manta rays, whales, and five species of endangered marine turtles. The limited number of sandy beaches along the Guianas coastline are of global significance as sea turtle nesting sites. In the Guianas they are found on five main beaches, Shell Beach Protected Area in Guyana, Braamspunt, Galibi in Suriname, Awala- yalimapo and Cayenne in French Guiana.
A healthy Guianas ocean is indispensable for the livelihoods of coastal communities. Artisanal fishers rely on fish populations and sea turtle tourism as an important source of income. The industrial fishery serves as an important economic sector for the Guianas and of course sea fish is on the menu of many people, providing a important protein source for many.
There are threats to marine turtles as population of leatherbacks has declined rapidly in the region, in which the IUCN red list status has been updated in 2019 from “least concerned” to “endangered”. These threats include climate change (eroding beaches, changes in availability and distribution of prey), egg poaching, bycatch in gillnets and fish trawlers, and predation of the eggs by dogs.
Predicted climate change impacts will worsen already existing threats on coastal and marine ecosystems and resources. For example, natural erosion levels of the Guianas coast will increase with sea level rise and extreme weather patterns, adding additional impact on sea turtle nesting beaches. The dynamic nature of the coast is still not well understood including potential climate change impacts.
Growth of offshore exploration activities in Suriname and the discovery of near-shore oil wells in Guyana have increased the understanding of the value of these waters, particularly for marine mammals (whales, dolphins). However all these drilling, exploration and seismic activities have an (unknown) impact on the marine environment and its inhabitants.
Increasing demand for fish products in this region and globally is resulting in increased fishing pressure (industrial and artisanal) and possible overexploitation of valuable fish stocks. The increasing number of artisanal vessels and fishing licenses in Suriname and Guyana over recent years, a growing tuna fishing industry, together with inadequate and unreliable fish landing data from artisanal vessels, make it difficult to know the actual stock status and which maximum allowable catches would be sustainable.
WWF-Guianas collaborates with communities, governmental agencies and fisheries. We help to protect nesting beaches of sea turtles, develop and implement sustainable fishing methods and conserve sea life by working in multiple stakeholder platforms on marine spatial planning.
We contribute to the Oceans Practice Goal of the worldwide WWF network to double the world’s sustainable fisheries by 2030, and we will contribute to the Wildlife Practice Goal that the most iconic and endangered species are secured and recovering in the wild and illegal wildlife trade is eliminated and exploitation is reduced to sustainable levels for priority species.