Resilient islands

New regional project to use nature to reduce climate risks

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

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Following one of the most devastating hurricane seasons in recent history, environment groups are launching a four-year initiative to show Caribbean islands how to use nature to protect coastal communities from flooding, storm surges, hurricanes and other disasters related to climate change.

Called Resilient Islands, the project is being led by The Nature Conservancy and the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), and combines cutting-edge conservation science with expertise in disaster response to develop tools and test solutions in Jamaica, the Dominican Republic, and Grenada.

The launch ceremony is scheduled for tomorrow, April 12, at the Knutsford Court Hotel in Kingston.

“The goal of the project is to integrate nature-based solutions into development plans in order to provide physical protection from future storms and reduce recovery time through proactive environmental management,” a release from the partner organisations said.

It explained that the conservancy will incorporate nature-based strategies into vulnerability assessment tools and add island-specific data to its award-winning interactive mapping website. The conservancy says it will use the data to develop a mobile app to help governments and communities visualise how specific ecosystems reduce their risks. For example, allowing users to calculate the physical protection provided by a healthy reef or mangroves under possible flooding scenarios and selecting key sites for habitat restoration.

“The use of biodiversity and coastal ecosystems to help people adapt to climate change is an urgent priority that must be embedded into national and regional tools, policy and planning,” said Eddy Silva, project manager at the conservancy. “Including nature-based solutions into risk reduction strategies in three countries will significantly broaden evidence on the effectiveness of nature to enhance human well-being and build climate resilience.”

While the region continues to recover from consecutive Category five hurricanes, many islands are reaffirming their commitment to climate adaptation and seeking ways to protect coastal areas from flooding, erosion and other impacts which disproportionately put small islands in danger. Caribbean nations are among the first to suffer the impacts due to their low-lying infrastructure, location within the hurricane belt and reliance on coastal ecosystems for both tourism and fishing, two of the region's major economic sectors.

Scientists have long heralded the value of certain ecosystems, like coral reefs and mangroves, to shoreline protection in the event of hurricanes and tropical stroms to which the region is prone.

“[These are] national resources worthy of investment,” the conservancy says. “These habitats support fisheries, attract tourists, and physically protect beaches from erosion. For example, a healthy coral reef can reduce wave energy by up to 97 per cent, and just 100 metres of mangroves can reduce the height of waves by 66 per cent.

But in spite of the physical protection they provide and the remarkable biodiversity they sustain, scientists say reefs and mangroves are at risk, citing data that shows that between 50-80 per cent of live coral cover in the region has been lost completely, and mangroves are consistently cut down for development, leaving shorelines exposed.

“Our understanding of the extent of climate change continues to evolve and with that so is our methodology,” said IFRC Project Manager Marisa Clarke-Marshall.

“We are expanding our strategies to include adaptation — actions to reduce the vulnerability of communities — by introducing nature-based solutions and redefining how we think about resilience and disaster preparedness,” she said.

Nature-based interventions have already been selected for implementation by community and government stakeholders in Grenada, including building a climate-smart fisher facility, improving water quality, and hosting environmental awareness activities. These actions complement extensive mangrove restoration and the installation of engineered reef structures that reduce wave energy, two previously tested and successful nature-based solutions that are replicable in vulnerable islands throughout the world.

In both Jamaica and the Dominican Republic, project partners will first complete vulnerability assessments and then select two at-risk communities with which to develop a portfolio of possible nature-based interventions to address their specific risks.

The partners say that in order to scale up project successes to impact the entire region, the Resilient Islands project will assemble a Caribbean resilience coalition to facilitate access to funding specifically for climate resilience and the exploration of solutions that prioritise nature to reduce disaster risk.

The Resilient Islands project is part of the International Climate Initiative, with support from the Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety.

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