Open Data and the Caribbean Protected Areas Gateway

Here in all of the Caribbean, there are two possible futures regarding data: open or closed. A closed future would mean that data collection, sharing and use are limited. Whereas an open future is one where collected data is shared and open to the public and can be used by various organizations to inform policy or decision making. With an open data future for PAs, governments, businesses and civil society collect, use and publish data openly. 

The Caribbean Protected Areas Gateway (CPAG) was established under the Biodiversity and Protected Areas Management Program (BIOPAMA). The CPAG aims to link data to better decisions concerning the Caribbean’s protected resources. It is a resource hub for facilitating and promoting viable decisions and policies by decision makers and resource managers for effective and sustainable management of protected areas and biodiversity. 

Provided there is access to better data and analytic tools, Protected Areas can be monitored and assessed to recognize any changes, be it positive or negative (better outcomes). This will enable better policies and decisions.

Problem: data gaps exist in the Caribbean and where data does exist, it is not being shared.

Legal, cultural and financial challenges are some of the commonly encountered hurdles to data sharing. This is a reality in the Caribbean where there often is resistance to share data across agencies, including public sector agencies.

Sourcing data can be riddled with roadblocks. Inadequate consent procedures, uncertainty about data ownership, information silos and limited organizational staffing leads to a variety of problems, such as duplication of effort, lack of synergy and missed opportunities. It is not unusual for data sourcing exercises to quickly turn into a ‘wild goose chase’. 

Here’s a hypothetical example to demonstrate the impact of lost data sharing opportunities. We’ll name the agency the ‘Fisheries Division. They collect data on the number of fishermen and fish catch within a community. The Community Development/Gender Affairs office collects data on employment, livelihoods and education. The issue is that there is no integration of these datasets; so informed decision on cross cutting matters cannot be made. 
A PA manger may decide to implement policies that will expand the size of a PA. Without the right types of data available to make such a decision, there may not be a full view on impacts to be expected. “Will fish catch decline as the no-take zone is expanded?” “Will fishermen change trade as a result of reduced income?” “Will there be an increase in unemployment and poverty?” Such questions should be posed before deciding on an expansion. Paucity of open data or insufficient data sharing may therefore stymie progress.

In this context, the Caribbean Protected Areas Gateway is picking up momentum: datasets are slowly being shared, and relationships are being built with various agencies and data custodians. However, progress needs to be further catalyzed, which will be a focus going forward.

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