Despite its small size and widespread environmental degradation, Haiti is extremely rich in ecosystems and species diversity. The country is, after Cuba, the second largest center of biodiversity in the Caribbean.

Haiti’s diverse topography and geomorphological features create distinct climatic zones. In addition, a variety of habitats including deltas, estuaries, coastal plains, and lagoons occur along its coastline. All this allows the existence of a wide variety of ecosystems, including humid forests, dry forests, and mountain forests; inland wetlands (lakes, ponds, rivers, marshes, etc.), semi-arid ecosystems; coastal and marine ecosystems (mangroves, estuaries, coral reefs, seagrass beds etc.); and satellite islands.

This diversity of ecosystems has favoured a high species diversity and a high level of endemism. Although data are scarce and outdated, the flora of Haiti is estimated to comprise between 5,000 and 5,600 species of vascular plants; about 37% of which are endemic to the country. The fauna of Haiti is estimated to comprise over 2,000 species, with some 75% of them being endemic to the country.

Several parts of the country, such as the Macaya National Park, Ile de la Gonâve, Ile de la Navase, Turtle Island, and the Massif de la Hotte, are exceptionally or uniquely biodiverse. In fact, the Critical Ecosystems Partnership Fund (CEPF) [1], [2] has identified 43 Key Biodiversity Areas (KBA) in Haiti, which cover about 25% of the country’s territory. KBAs are sites of global significance for biodiversity conservation and require priority protection due to the vulnerability and uniqueness of the animal and plant populations that reside in them [3], [4].

Despite its global importance, most natural ecosystems, particularly forests, have been cleared out, fragmented, or severely degraded. Although data are insufficient to assess with certainty the extent of species loss, it has been considerable. The IUCN lists a total of 196 animal and 211 plant species vulnerable or threatened of extinction in Haiti [5].

In addition, the extensive, ongoing deforestation make it likely that many of Haiti’s narrowly endemic amphibian and reptile species might have already been lost or are at risk of extinction [6].


Haiti’s rich biodiversity has been under constant and diverse anthropogenic threats and pressures, many of which result from the precarious socio-economic situation of local communities. Main direct threats include overexploitation of natural resources, massive deforestation, habitat loss (due to land-use changes) and fragmentation, invasive exotic species, unplanned urban expansion, pollution and poor waste management, poor environmental governance, political instability, etc.  

Deforestation has been a particularly serious issue in Haiti and, currently, only a few, mostly small patches of forest vegetation remain, covering only 13% of the country. Primary forests remaining are estimated to cover only 0.36% of the country [6]. Deforestation is ongoing, driven by agricultural expansion and forest exploitation, mainly for charcoal production.

Haiti's marine and coastal ecosystems have been seriously affected by overfishing, over-exploitation of mangroves, pollution from land-based sources (sediments from erosion of coastal watersheds, as well as domestic and industrial waste), unintended discharges from ships and boats, and invasive exotic species, resulting in considerable loss in biodiversity. The coverage of mangrove swamps has been continuously and drastically reduced. Mangrove area decreased from 16,462 ha in 1996 to 14,759 ha in 2016 [7]. Unlike mangroves, seagrass beds seem to be in a good state of conservation in general.

Haitian coral reefs cover an estimated area of 400 km2 but are seriously affected by diseases, pollution and silt discharges from agricultural and road works, illegal extraction and trade, invasive exotic species (such as the sea lion), and seawater warming (which causes coral bleaching). The most serious bleaching episode so far recorded in the Caribbean region took place in 2005, when exposure to high seawater temperatures for a six-month period caused bleaching in 50–60% of the Caribbean coral reefs. Half of the bleached corals had died by 2006.

Impacts of these threats are exacerbated by the country’s high exposure and vulnerability to recurrent natural hazards such as hurricanes, floods, and droughts. In addition, climate change is likely to put additional pressure on ecologically sensitive or threatened species.

Given the very restricted (often in the order of a few square kilometres) distribution of several narrowly endemic species [6], there is a considerable risk of these multiple threats causing rapid and irreversible biodiversity losses.


Key policies and governance approach

The 2005 Framework Decree on Environmental Management and the Regulation of the Conduct of Citizens for Sustainable Development [8] includes a chapter specifically dealing with the conservation of biodiversity; it also addresses the protection of ecosystem services; and mandates the integration of ecosystem services into National Accounts as well as mainstreaming environment, biodiversity, and ecosystem services into national planning. The Decree also created the National System of Protected Areas and the National Authority for Protected Areas.

Haiti submitted its National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan [9] in 2020. The strategy proposed a coherent framework to respond to the challenges related to the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity. The strategy’s general objective is to conserve biodiversity in order to protect the country’s natural heritage and capital. Achieving this objective would involve significantly reducing and reversing biodiversity loss to ensure that critical goods and ecosystems services are available and guarantee the fair and equitable share of benefits from biodiversity for the environmental, economic, and social well-being of current and future generations.

Haiti has adhered itself to a number of MEAs and their instruments have become an integral part of the national regulatory framework related to biodiversity. However, other multilateral instruments directly related to biodiversity such as the Cartagena Protocol, the Nagoya Protocol, and the Ramsar convention were signed by Haiti but have not been ratified so far.

The main mechanism for conserving biodiversity in Haiti has been the creation of protected areas. The National System of Protected Areas (SNAP) comprises a total of 26 protected areas that cover 4.5% of the country area, 11 of which are marine. In addition to these protected areas, Haiti also contains the La Selle (608, 816 ha; transboundary Dominican Republic/Haiti) and La Hotte (435,194 ha) UNESCO biosphere reserves [10]. Most of these protected areas have management plans and structures, but financing mechanisms are still being established.


Successes and Remaining Challenges

Implementation of the Convention on Biological Diversity in Haiti has been limited. Political conflicts as well as institutional and financial limitations have prevented the government to fully comply with its reporting obligations to the CBD. The fifth national report, submitted in 2016, concluded that the state and trends of biodiversity in the country showed appreciable progress in some areas and reasons for concern in others. It also indicated that negative trends caused by anthropogenic factors will always be a challenge due to the persistence of driving forces (population growth and chronic poverty) and pressures (land use changes, uncontrolled exploitation of resources, etc.).

The creation of protected areas has proved insufficient to solve the problems for which they were created. First, their coverage is limited, leaving out many biodiversity-important sites. For example, only six of Haiti’s Key Biodiversity areas are fully covered by protected areas, nine are partially covered, and the remaining 28 are entirely outside of the protected areas that currently exist [2]. In addition, the CBD secretariat estimates that only 0.3% of the territory is actually protected, as only four protected areas are effectively managed as such: Macaya National Park, La Visite National Park, the Pine Forest Reserve (Massif de La Selle), and Sans Souci Historical Park/North Citadel. Finally, public investment in protected areas is too limited for them to yield significant benefits in the recovery of degraded ecosystems and habitats.


Goals and Ambitions

The Environmental Action Plan 2021 includes halting biodiversity degradation and effectively managing protected areas as one of its strategic objectives.


So far, the main mechanism for biodiversity conservation has been the creation of protected areas, but this has been insufficient in practice due to their limited coverage that leaves many biodiversity-important sites out and, equally important, several or many protected areas do not actually have management plans and mechanisms. Finally, public investment in protected areas is too limited for them to yield significant benefits. As envisioned in its National Biodiversity Strategy, the extent, management, and institutional capacities of the national network of protected areas has to be strengthened if Haiti is to conserve its unique biodiversity.


[1] Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund 2011. Key Biodiversity Areas of Haiti

[2] Key Biodiversity Areas. Retrieved September 2021

[3] Langhammer PF, Bakarr MI, Bennun LA, Brooks TM, Clay RP, et al. (2007) Identification and gap analysis of Key Biodiversity Areas: targets for comprehensive protected area systems. IUCN World Commission on Protected Areas Best Practice Protected Area Guidelines Series No. 15. Gland, Switzerland: IUCN.

[4] Langhammer, P., Butchart, S. H. M. and Brooks, T. M. (2018). Key Biodiversity Areas. Encyclopedia of the Anthropocene.

[5] IUCN Red List. Retrieved October 2021

[6] Hedges, S.B., W.B. Cohen, J. Timyan, Z. Yang 2018. Haiti’s biodiversity threatened by nearly complete loss of primary forest. PNAS 115: 11850-11855

[7] Global Mangrove Watch. Retrieved October 2021

[8] Décret portant sur la Gestion de l'Environnement et de Régulation de la Conduite des Citoyens et Citoyennes pour un Développement Durable. Le Moniteur. Jeudi 26 Janvier 2006.

[9] Ministère de l’Environnement 2020. Haïti Biodiversité 2030 Stratégie Nationale et Plan d’Actions pour la Diversité Biologique

[10] UNESCO. Directory of the World Network of Biosphere Reserves. Retrieved October 2021


Additional Sources

[11] Ministère de l’Environnement. 2021. Plan d’action pour L’Environnement d’Haïti (draft).

[12] USAID 2020 Climate Risks in Food for Peace Geographies: Haiti

[13] Ministère de l’Environnement 2013. Deuxième Communication Nationale Sur les Changements Climatiques

[14] Climate Investment Fund 2013. Strategic Program for Climate Resilience

[15] Ministère de l’Environnement 2019. Sixième Rapport National sur la Biodiversité d’Haïti

[16] Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund 2019. Ecosystem Profile - The Caribbean Islands Biodiversity Hotspot

[17] L’Agence Nationale des Aires Protégées. Retrieved October 2021

[18] Convention on Biological Diversity. Haiti Country profile. Retrieved September 2021