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Rich in biodiversity, cultural diversity and natural resources, the Guianas form a unique region and one of the last wilderness places on Earth, with some 80% of forest in pristine condition. French Guiana is an important component of the Guiana Shield, a region covered by the largest expanse of undisturbed tropical rain forest and harbouring one of the highest biodiversity in the world. With 98% of forest and 48% of the territory as protected area, French Guiana is one of the best protected regions of the world.  Threats to this exceptional ecosystem include illegal mining and fishing, infrastructure development and traffic species, and are to be addressed by the stakeholders involved in biodiversity preservation and sustainable development.


Main characteristics of the Region

Located at the north of South America between Brazil and Surinam, French Guiana is the biggest terrestrial outermost territory (83 992 km2) and the smallest South-American territory. 90% of it is covered by primary tropical forest, and its 350km long coastline hosts mostly undisturbed mangroves and some sandy beaches. 

Socioeconomic, Policy and Civil Society Context

French Guiana’s human population represents a true kaleidoscope of the world population, with over 40 nationalities represented. Although population density is low (2.8 inhab/km2 in 2011), population growth appears to be one of the most important in Europe (increase of 3.5% per year since the 90s): with 213 031 people in 2009, the population of French Guiana doubled in 20 years. This demographic dynamism is both an opportunity and a challenge, as economic growth (growth average of 4.3% per year between 1999 and 2007) is absorbed by population growth. Illustrating its double identity (European territory based in South America), French Guiana presents one of the lowest Gross Domestic Product (GDP) per inhabitant in France, while the very same GDP per inhab. appears to be the second most important for South America. Even if aerospace and construction activities are important drivers for local economy, sustainable forest exploitation, fisheries and tourism sectors, are likely to be much more developed in the near future. The gold-mining sector also plays a role in the local economy, although its contribution has significantly decreased over the last decade.

French Guiana is an OR which will have a unique local government in 2015. At international level, the CAR SPAW (Caribbean Specially Protected Areas and Wildlife) protocol applies in French Guiana and it is also formally participating in the Guiana Shield Facility (GSF) since 2013, which is a multi-donor funding mechanism managed by the representative office of the French Ministry of Ecology in French Guiana (DEAL).

Facts and Figures

As the unique European tropical forest of significant size, the French Guiana forest harbours more tree species in 1 ha than overall continental Europe. On a six times smaller area than France, French Guiana has three times more vertebrates, eight times more freshwater fishes (around 490 inventoried species amongst of which 35-40% are endemics), five times more reptiles (around 170 indigenous species) and three times more bats. It hosts emblematic species such as the Jaguar, the Anaconda, the biggest insects of the world - the Titan beetle - , as well as the Leatherback turtle.

With 20,300 km2 as core zone, the Parc Amazonien de Guyane (PAG) is the biggest terrestrial protected area of Europe. With the Tumucumaque Park in Brazil, they form the biggest tropical forest block of the world. Six natural reserves, one biological reserve, 13 sites protected by the Coastal Conservatory (Conservatoire du Littoral), one regional natural park and other areas protected by national legislation cover almost 2/3 of the territory.

The coast is also one the main nesting areas of the world for the leatherback turtle. Productive waters on this part of Atlantic Ocean are good for fishing and several marine mammals live there, including the endemic dolphin the Sotalia guianensis

One BEST project was already implemented in French Guiana, piloted by the Amazonian Park, focusing on the monitoring of the white-lipped peccary. 

Main challenges

Illegal gold mining is one of the main pressures on French Guiana biodiversity. The deforestation linked to this activity doubled from 2000 until 2008 at the Guiana Shield scale.

Regarding the maritime sector, impacts of illegal fishing seems to increase and overfishing indicators are beginning to appear for some species. In 2010, IUU (Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated) fishing was 2 times more important than the legal French Guiana fishing fleet off the French Guiana coast. 

Importance for the Region to be involved in the BEST initiative 

French Guiana is the only continental, Amazonian, European overseas territory. Consequently, it benefits from a specific hub that will allow a proper analysis of socioeconomic and environmental specificities. The BEST Initiative is an excellent opportunity for French Guiana to carry out a coherent and shared biodiversity and sustainable development strategy with all relevant stakeholders at the regional scale, in addition to already existing environmental policies (National Plan for endangered species, regional strategy for biodiversity, the Guiana Shield Facility/Lifeweb Initiativepdf for Guiana Shield Biodiversity Corridor,…).

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