March 17 (Reuters) - On the first leg of his Caribbean tour, Britain's Prince Charles touted a "vital blue economy," built on sustainable use of ocean resources for economic growth, as part of the solution to climate change, noting that rising sea levels represent an especially severe threat to nearby island nations.
Charles began his 12-day tour of the region on St. Lucia and is due to visit several other islands that are also former British colonies and retain Charles' mother, Queen Elizabeth, as head of state.
The prince, an outspoken environmentalist, in a speech shortly after arriving called attention to efforts to create sustainable agriculture and hailed local entrepreneurs taking risks to protect the environment
"Climate change... poses nothing short of an existential threat to this island as it does to every part of this region," he said at Vieux Fort at the southern tip of the island.
The British royal spoke just a few weeks after St. Lucia marked the 40th anniversary of its independence in 1979.
Charles, the heir to the British throne, pointed to a project that aims to map St. Lucia's seabed. It is supported by the Commonwealth Marine Economies Programme, which was launched by the UK government in 2016 and aims to support marine economies, nicknamed blue economies, of 17 Commonwealth small island states.
Charles said the initiative holds "the potential to help develop St. Lucia's vital blue economy in significant and sustainable ways."
The prince was expected to fly to Barbados later on Sunday, where he will join his wife, Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall, who was likely to accompany him on the remainder of the tour.
Charles will also travel to St. Vincent and the Grenadines, St. Kitts and Nevis and Grenada, in addition to communist-run Cuba, the first time a British royal will make such a visit.
The trip to Cuba is meant to underscore warming British-Cuban ties and was scheduled in coordination with the British government. (Reporting by David Alire Garcia; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)
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