UNESCO, St. Mary's Biosphere. St. Kitts

Conserve biological and cultural diversity
(Conservation of landscapes, ecosystems, species and genetic variation)

Several landscapes, ecosystems and habitats within St. Mary’s Parish have been identified as special ecological communities because of their national, regional or global conservation value. These ecological communities are of significance for the conservation of biodiversity at the national scale because they represent a majority of the ecological systems found throughout St. Kitts, and yet they are unique because the all occur together in a fairly small space of land rather than spread throughout the island. The ridge to reef landscape of the proposed SMBR is a naturally contiguous mosaic of habitats with a variety of natural processes, disturbance regimes, succession patterns, species diversity, and genetic variation. Each ecological community has a history of land use and biodiversity profilethat can be studied and interpreted to further understand its conservation value at the national level, and therefore help to protect similar landscapes, and ecosystems on the island, within the region and even globally.

Special ecological communities that will fulfil the function of conservation

Elfin and Sierra Palm Cloud Forest /Evergreen Cloud Forest, Dry Evergreen Forest, Ghaut Ecozones, Littoral Vegetation Complex, Forested Wetland-Mangrove Swamp, and Barrier/Coral Reef and Rubble Bottom/Conch. For example, the coral reef and fisheries habitat has conservation significance at an international scale due to their rarity, coral bleaching, and predicted sea level rise. The conservation and protection of these habitats would hopefully slow, if not halt coral bleaching and reduce impacts to fisheries and coastal communities, as well as encourage other Caribbean countries, and coastal countries beyond, to conserve their barrier/coral reef systems and fisheries. The Forested Wetland-Mangrove Swamp is another ecological community of global conservation significance. Forested wetlands, especially mangrove swamps are becoming rare with dwindling habitat due to development pressure and pollution. Wetlands are globally significant because of their ability to cleanse pollutants in the landscape. Conservation and restoration of the Greatheeds Pond and mangrove swamp would enhance the quality of the water, create migratory bird and fisheries habitat and create a space for recreation like bird watching and nature walks.

Within the SMBR there are thousands of plant, mammal, insect, and invertebrate species; however some that are found in the proposed biosphere reserve or are known to occur in similar habitat types are endemic, rare, threatened or endangered species.

According to past studies, there are approximately 926 plant species found in the Federation. This number is likely low given the topographic diversity of the island and the greater numbers listed for neighbouring islands with a more robust plant research history and also a greater degree of human impact.  Forty-five plants are known to be endemic to the country, or Lesser Antilles and occurring in this country. Collectively, St. Kitts and Nevis support 25 endemic bird species and 11 subspecies. Some of the latter are expected to be elevated to species status after additional research, and at least 23 of these taxa are likely vulnerable or known to be highly endangered. An endemic red-capped bullfinch (Loxigilla portoricensis grandis) thought to be extinct since the 1920s, may exist in the high forest on the volcanic ridge.  Confirmation of the existence of this bird would give the island a high-profile national bird and put St. Kitts firmly on the ornithological map.

In addition to resident species, the site has value for migratory species and wetland birds. Important and rare birds found in the salt ponds and mangrove swamps include the uncommon Black-necked Stilt; the Clapper Rail, a critically endangered specie; and the endangered White-cheeked Pintail, a species restricted to the Caribbean. There are also endemic frogs, the brown tree frog, and the Mountain chicken, as well as the rare blind snake. The most notable species that depend on the marine habitat in the SMBR are the three endangered
sea turtles: leatherback turtle (Dermochelys coriacea), hawksbill turtle (Eretmochelys imbricate), and green turtle (Chelonia mydas).