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Stark warning issued to Caribbean concerning climate change

Thursday, May 18, 2017

BRIDGETOWN, Barbados (CMC) – A warning has been issued to governments across the Caribbean to do more to make countries resilient to climate change as there is a price to pay if nothing is done.

According to a report commissioned by the Commonwealth Marine Economies Programme, the Caribbean is “in the front line” and at greater risk from more severe impacts than many other parts of the world because of its geographic location because most regional states are smaller islands where people live close to and depend on the sea.

The Caribbean Marine Climate Change Report Card 2017, which was conducted by scientists and researchers said more intense storms, floods, droughts, rising sea levels, higher temperatures, and ocean acidification are major threats to all regional economies and pose a danger to lives as well, both directly and indirectly.

“As the seas, reefs and coasts on which all Caribbean people depend are under threat, much more needs to be done to protect these resources and the authors recommend building more resilient environments to prepare for, and protect against, climate change,” the report noted.

It has recommended developing a regional network of marine protected areas designed to future-proof marine biodiversity against climate change and stabilise shorelines to preserve natural barriers such as mangroves, salt marshes, and coral reefs.

The scientists warn that while the overall frequency of Atlantic storms may decrease, the strongest hurricanes are likely to increase. Global average sea level is projected to rise by a further 10-32 inches over the coming century — a devastating amount for a country as low-lying as Cayman, where it could be even worse.

“In the northern Caribbean, sea level rise could be 25 per cent higher than the global average due to other physical factors affecting land elevation,” the report states. “This projected rise in sea level and severe storms is likely to increase the risk of storm surge events for Caribbean states, which will further exacerbate risks to biodiversity, settlements and infrastructure.”

The report also zeroed in on some countries in the region including Jamaica, Belize, St Vincent and the Grenadines, Guyana and St Lucia.

Where fishing is concerned, the researchers noted that if there is no action – permanent fishing camps on low lying offshore cays may be completely submerged by future sea level rise and these are particularly vulnerable during extreme-weather events.

“Examples of these occur in Jamaica (Morant and Pedro Cays), Belize, and St Vincent and the Grenadines.”

In Dominica, the report said the road network and the airports are particularly vulnerable adding that ports and port lands are also under threat and at risk of inundation under scenarios of a one metre sea-level rise.

For Grenada and St Lucia – “Climate-induced sea surface temperature changes are being linked to the increased occurrence of the micro-algal toxins that accumulate up the food chain to cause ciguatera fish poisoning (CFP) in humans. Although CFP is well known in the northern states of the Caribbean, it could become more frequent in the southern Lesser Antilles.”

In the case of Guyana the researchers said frequent flooding “linked to climate change could destroy landing sites and cooperative buildings along the coast. Mangrove forests may become damaged or displaced causing valuable resources to be lost. Salt water intrusions are also a risk, as salinisation is likely to affect freshwater aquaculture, as well as large areas of agriculture near the coast.”

On the matter of tourism, the report said “the attractiveness of water-based tourism in the region is being negatively affected by the increased frequency and magnitude of coral bleaching and disease.”

“Coastal tourist resorts could potentially be two-to-three times more exposed to climate change impacts such as extreme events and saltwater intrusion than inland tourist resorts,” the report stated, which will clearly have a serious impact on investment decisions about the type of tourism development that the local government is keen to attract.

“During this century, it is expected that the dry season will be longer in some areas, as rainfall will decrease in the early part of the wet season. This would put more pressure on water supplies for people, given the high level of water consumption of visitors and demands from cruise ships for water,” the report stated.

Although the researchers offer these very stark warnings, they also point to action that can help mitigate the impact of climate change. The report stresses the importance of better data and assessments of the marine and coastal environment's economic value.