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Caribbean Scientists Work to Limit Climate Impact on Marine Environment

In the Turks and Caicos, the government is searching for new ways to manage the conch and lobster populations. Credit: Zadie Neufville/IPS

In the Turks and Caicos, the government is searching for new ways to manage the conch and lobster populations. Credit: Zadie Neufville/IPS

Caribbean scientists say fishermen are already seeing the effects of climate change, so for a dozen or so years they’ve been designing systems and strategies to reduce the impacts on the industry.

While some work on reef gardens and strategies to repopulate over fished areas, others crunch the data and develop tools designed to prepare the region, raise awareness of climate change issues and provide the information to help leaders make decisions.

As the oceans absorb more carbon, the region’s supply of conch and oysters, the mainstay of some communities, is expected to decline further.

In December 2017, the Caribbean Regional Fisheries Mechanism (CRFM) secretariat, with funding from the UK government, announced a Climate Report Card to help formulate strategies to lessen the impact of climate change on regional fisheries.

“The CRFM is trying to ensure that the issue of climate change as it relates to the fisheries sector comes to the fore… because the CARICOM Heads of Government have put fish and fishery products among the priority commodities for CARICOM. It means that things that affect that development are important to us and so climate change is of primary importance,” said Peter Murray, the CRFM’s Programme Manager for Fisheries and Development.

The grouping of small, developing states are ‘fortifying’ the sectors that rely on the marine environment, or the Blue Economy, to withstand the expected ravages of climate change which scientists say will increase the intensity of hurricanes, droughts, coastal sea level rise and coral bleaching.

In its last report AR5, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reported: “Many terrestrial, freshwater and marine species have shifted their geographic ranges, seasonal activities, migration patterns, abundances and species interactions in response to ongoing climate change,” patterns that are already being noted by Caribbean fishers.

In an email to IPS, Murray outlined several initiatives across the Caribbean that ,he says are crucial to regional efforts. The Report Card, which has been available since March, will provide the in-depth data governments need to make critical decisions on mitigation and adaptation. It provides information covering ocean processes such as ocean acidification; extreme events like storms, surges and sea temperature; biodiversity and civil society including fisheries, tourism and settlements.

In addition, the 17-members of the CRFM agreed to incorporate the management of fisheries into their national disaster plans, and signed off on the Climate Change Adaptation and Disaster Risk Reduction Strategy for the fisheries sector.

“It means that anything looking at climate change and potential impacts is important to us,” Murray says.

The IPCC’s gloomy projections for world fisheries has been confirmed by a 2015 World Wildlife Fund (WWF) report indicating that for the last 30 years, world fisheries have been in decline due to climate change. In the Caribbean, reduced catches are directly impacting the stability of entire communities and the diets and livelihoods of some of the region’s poorest. Further decline could devastate the economies of some islands.

But even as climate change is expected to intensify the effects of warming ocean waters, pelagic species could avoid the Caribbean altogether, bringing even more hardships. So the regional plan is centred on a Common Fisheries Policy that includes effective management, monitoring and enforcement systems and tools to improve risk planning.

In addition to the disaster plan and its other activities, the Community has over time installed a Coral Reef Early Warning System; new data collection protocols; improved computing capacity to crunch climate data; an insurance scheme to increase the resilience of fishing communities and stakeholders; as well as several tools to predict drought and excessive rainfall.

Worldwide, three billion people rely on fish as their major source of protein. The industry provides a livelihood for about 12 per cent of the world’s population and earns approximately 2.9 trillion dollars per year, the WWF reports. With regional production barely registering internationally, the Caribbean is putting all its efforts into preserving the Blue Economy, which the World Bank said earned the region 407 billion dollars in 2012.

The Caribbean Community Climate Change Centre, known regionally as the 5Cs, has coordinated and implemented a raft of programmes aimed at building systems that will help the region cope the effects of climate change.

Through collaboration with the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the 5Cs has been setting up an integrated network of climate and biological monitoring stations to strengthen the region’s early warning mechanism.

And as the oceans absorb more carbon, the region’s supply of conch and oysters, the mainstay of some communities, is expected to decline further. In addition, warming sea water is expected to shift migration routes for pelagic fish further north, reducing the supply of available deep sea fish even more. Added to that, competition for the dwindling resources could cause negative impacts of one industry over another.

But while scientists seek options, age-old traditions are sometimes still pitted against conservation projects. Take an incident that played out in the waters around St. Vincent and the Grenadines a few weeks ago when whale watchers witnessed the harpooning of two orcas by Vincentian fishermen.

The incident forced Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves to announce the end of what was, until then, a thriving whaling industry in the village of Barouille. For years, government turned a blind eye as fishermen breached regional and international agreements on the preservation of marine species. The continued breaches are also against the Caribbean Community’s Common Fisheries Policy that legally binds countries to a series of actions to protect and preserve the marine environment and its creatures.

On April 2, five days after the incident, Gonsalves took to the airwaves to denounce the whaling caused by “greed” and announce pending regulations to end fishing for the mammals. The incident also tarnished the island’s otherwise excellent track record at climate proofing its fishing industry.

Murray’s email on regional activities outlines SVG activities including the incorporation of the regional strategy and action plan and its partnership with several regional and international agencies and organisations to build resilience in the marine sector.

Over in the northern Caribbean, traditions are also testing regulations and international agreements. In Jamaica, the Sandals Foundation in association with major supermarket chains has launched a campaign to stop the capture and sale of parrotfish for consumption.

Scientists say that protecting the parrotfish is synonymous with saving the reefs and mitigating the effects of climate change. And further north in the Turks and Caicos, the government is searching for new ways to manage the conch and lobster populations. While trade is regulated, household use of both, sea turtles, and some sharks remain unregulated; and residents are resistant to any restrictions.

And while many continue to puzzle about the reasons behind the region’s climate readiness, scientists caution that there is no time to ease up. This week they rolled out, among other things, a coastal adaptation project and a public education and awareness (PAE) programme launched on April 26 in Belize City.

The PAE project, named Feel the Change, is funded by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and Japan-Caribbean Climate Change Project (J-CCCP) public awareness programme. Speaking at the launch, project development specialist at 5Cs, Keith Nichols, pointed to the extreme weather events from severe droughts to changes in crop cycles, which have cost the region billions.

“Climate change is not just sea level rise and global warming; climate change and climate variability is all around us,” he said.

Credit: Inter Press Service News Agency

Piloting the integration of Climate Change Adaptation and Coastal Zone Management in Southwest Tobago

Trinidad and Tobago is highly vulnerable to the impacts of global climate change; particularly rising temperature, decreased precipitation and sea level rise (SLR). It is anticipated that these changes will have adverse effects on the physical environment and economy. There is therefore a need to reduce the risks associated with the expected impacts of climate change on the country by mainstreaming climate change adaptation into development planning. In December 2012, the Government of Trinidad and Tobago signed a technical cooperation (TC) with the Inter-American Development Bank (IADB) to undertake a pilot study on integrating climate change adaptation (CCA) into coastal zone management (CZM) in SW Tobago.

The Institute of Marine Affairs is the executing agency. Activities under this project began in April 2013 and are expected to be completed in June 2015. The objective of this TC is to develop an ICZM program that incorporates CCA and disaster risk management using an ecosystem based approach. The lessons learnt from this TC will directly inform the development of the broader national ICZM Policy Strategies and Action Plan. The TC will also lay the foundation for future investments in a coastal risk assessment and management program in Trinidad and Tobago.

l-r: Dr. Amoy Lum Kong; Mr. Hayden Spencer, Assistant Secretary, THA; Mr. Garth Ottley Member of the Board of Governors of IMA at the launch.

l-r: Dr. Amoy Lum Kong; Mr. Hayden Spencer, Assistant Secretary, THA; Mr. Garth Ottley Member of the Board of Governors of IMA at the launch.

Activities completed to date under this TC included the following:

  • Gap analysis – review of the legislative, policy and institutional information an capacity arrangements related to CZM and climate change in Trinidad and Tobago.
  • Vulnerability and Risk Assessment – the development of climate-related hazard vulnerability and risk assessments of the coastal zone area of Southwest Tobago based on climate variability (existing climatic events) and climate change scenarios.
  • Coastal ecosystem-based climate change adaptation response plan – the design and implementation of an adaptation response plan for coastal ecosystems in Southwest Tobago which included the deployment of an coral reef early warning system (CREWS) on Buccoo Reef and enhancement of a long-term water quality monitoring program.
  • General guidelines for incorporating an ecosystem based approach to adaptation into a national ICZM Policy – produce guidelines that incorporate CCA into an ICZM Policy, including identification of best management practices for adapting coastal economic activities to risk.
GAP Analysis -The Legislative, Policy and Institutional Arrangement for CCA and ICZM

While Trinidad and Tobago has a National Climate Change Policy (NCCP), it does not specifically address ICZM and CCA on the coast, though it does note the effects of rising sea level and temperature. Research has shown that there is a lack of specific policies to treat with CZM and CCA although various policies address ICZM in a piecemeal and fragmented manner. Moreover, the policies are dated and those that exist are not implemented. In addition, it is important to recognise that ICZM and CC adaptation cannot be dealt with without reference to other policies. In situations where a policy names several organisations with responsibility to implement, the absence of specific provisions on ICZM and CC adaptation can translate into non-action. There is little in existing policies that indicate how the policies are to be used as part of an ICZM plan or for CCA as it relates to the coast. Development plans suffer from a similar lack of specificity as it relates to ICZM and CCA.

There are some 20 pieces of legislation that can potentially address ICZM. The multiplicity of laws and policies impacting on coastal areas gives rise to as much as twenty nine (29) institutions having a defined legal and/or policy role. This creates problems such as overlapping jurisdiction, the independence syndrome, and a lack of proper co-ordination of the work of enforcement and management agencies. Key problems confronting State entities with responsibility for aspects of coastal zone management are the lack of sufficient resources, the most important being financial resources and the presence of little or no public awareness of the importance of coastal areas to the society. Public education programs are limited and sporadic and have generally failed to transform attitudes towards sustainably using coastal areas in Trinidad and Tobago. These problems have led to unsustainable utilization of our coastal resources.

The legal and institutional structure for ICZM must be customised:

  • to meet the needs of T&T;
  • to the nature of its coastal areas,
  • to the institutional and governmental arrangements; and
  • to the country’s traditions, cultures and economic conditions of Trinidad and Tobago.

There are accepted principles and characteristics associated with the ICZM concept that focuses on three operational objectives:

  • Strengthening sectoral management, for example, through training, legislation, and staffing
  • Preserving and protecting the productivity and biological diversity of coastal ecosystems, mainly through prevention of habitat destruction, pollution, and overexploitation
  • Promoting rational development and sustainable utilization of coastal resources.
Vulnerability and Risk Assessment

Southwest Tobago is home to an estimated 70% of the population of Tobago. The area houses the majority of development associated with housing, hotels and resorts. The coastal area includes Buccoo Reef and other fringing coral reef formations, which have been identified as invaluable to Tobago’s tourism industry. The viability of SW Tobago can be stated through social, financial and environmental considerations. All of these considerations are dependent on a healthy, productive coastal
environment. Adverse climate changes may thus threaten the sustainability of not only the SW region but all of Tobago.

Halcrow, a CH2M HILL Company, was contracted to undertake a study to develop a vulnerability and risk assessment for South West Tobago based on climate change scenarios. The assessment was used to formulate a Coastal Vulnerability Index (CVI) which will identify areas that are at risk to erosion and/or permanent or temporary coastal flooding. The results will be applied to better understand the risk of climate change to the region so that educated decisions can be applied at policy and planning levels.

Adam Hosking of Halcrow presenting on Vulnerability and Risk Assessment for Southwest Tobago based on climate change scenarios at IMA’s 14th Research Symposium.

Adam Hosking of Halcrow presenting on Vulnerability and Risk Assessment for Southwest Tobago based on climate change scenarios at IMA’s 14th Research Symposium.

In June 2014, Halcrow facilitated a training workshop with key stakeholders on the methodology being applied to the assessment. The preliminary result of the risk assessment and CVI was presented at the IMA 14th Research Symposium held at the Madgalena Hotel, Tobago in September 2015. This assessment is currently being finalised.

Installation of a Coral Reef Early Warning System (CREWS) at Buccoo Reef

In an effort to monitor and build capacity to adapt to the impacts of climate change, a CREWS buoy was deployed on Buccoo Reef, Tobago in November 2013. The customized CREWS buoy, referred to as Winky by fisherfolks and dive operators, is designed to measure, record and transmit key meteorological and water quality measurements. Meteorological sensors that measure air temperature, wind speed and direction, barometric pressure, rainfall, photosynthetically available radiation (PAR), ultraviolet radiation (UVR), and specialized oceanographic sensors and site specific sensors are also included.

Addison Titus, IMA Marine Technician (l), and Jon Fajans, secure the CREWS buoy

Addison Titus, IMA Marine Technician (l), and Jon Fajans, secure the CREWS buoy

The data collected is available to scientists and other stakeholders to predict possible threats to the reef environment from climate change impacts and from land-based sources of pollution. The data can be downloaded from the link featured below.
A tide gauge would be installed during the first quarter of 2015 to monitor sea level.

Coral Reef Early Warning System (CREWS)

Coral Reef Early Warning System (CREWS)

CREWS data – www.coral.noaa.gov/data/icon-network/crews-data-reports.html

Read more: ICZM Newsletter Issue 3 – January 2015

Belize Fights to Save a Crucial Barrier Reef

The humble CREWS buoy hosts several instruments designed to measure conditions above and below the water, and keep track of these developing threats. Credit: Aaron Humes/IPS

The humble CREWS buoy hosts several instruments designed to measure conditions above and below the water, and keep track of these developing threats. Credit: Aaron Humes/IPS

Home to the second longest barrier reef in the world and the largest in the Western Hemisphere, which provides jobs in fishing, tourism and other industries which feed the lifeblood of the economy, Belize has long been acutely aware of the need to protect its marine resources from both human and natural activities.

However, there has been a recent decline in the production and export of marine products including conch, lobster, and fish, even as tourism figures continue to increase.

“What happens on the land will eventually reach the sea, via our rivers.” — Dr. Kenrick Leslie

The decline is not helped by overfishing and the harvest of immature conch and lobster outside of the standard fishing season. But the primary reason for less conch and lobster in Belize’s waters, according to local experts, is excess ocean acidity which is making it difficult for popular crustacean species such as conch and lobster, which depend on their hard, spiny shells to survive, to grow and mature.

According to the executive director of the Caribbean Community Climate Change Center (CCCCC), Dr. Kenrick Leslie, acidification is as important and as detrimental to the sustainability of the Barrier Reef and the ocean generally as warming of the atmosphere and other factors generally associated with climate change.

Carbon dioxide which is emitted in the atmosphere from greenhouse gases is absorbed into the ocean as carbonic acid, which interacts with the calcium present in the shells of conch and lobster to form calcium carbonate, dissolving those shells and reducing their numbers. Belize also faces continuous difficulties with coral bleaching, which has attacked several key sections of the reef in recent years.

Dr. Leslie told IPS that activities on Belize’s terrestrial land mass are also contributing to the problems under Belize’s waters. “What happens on the land will eventually reach the sea, via our rivers,” he noted.

To fight these new problems, there is need for more research and accurate, up to the minute data.

Last month, the European Union (EU), as part of its Global Climate Change Alliance Caribbean Support Project handed over to the government of Belize and specifically the Ministry of Forestry, Fisheries and Sustainable Development for its continued usage a Coral Reef Early Warning System (CREWS) buoy based at South Water Caye off the Stann Creek District in southern Belize.

Developed by the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), it has been adopted by the CCCCC as a centrepiece of the effort to obtain reliable data as a basis for strategies for fighting climate change.

Dr. Leslie says the CREWS system represents a leap forward in research technology on climate change. The humble buoy hosts several instruments designed to measure conditions above and below the water, and keep track of these developing threats. The data collected on atmospheric and oceanic conditions such as oceanic turbidity, levels of carbon dioxide and other harmful elements and others are monitored from the Centre’s office in Belmopan and the data sent along to international scientists who can more concretely analyse it.

The South Water Caye CREWS station is one of two in Belize; the other is located at the University of Belize’s Environmental Research Institute (ERI) on Calabash Caye in the Turneffe Atoll range. Other stations are located in Jamaica, Barbados, Trinidad and Tobago, and the Dominican Republic, with more planned in other key areas.

According to the CEO of the Coastal Zone Management Authority and Institute (CZMAI), Vincent Gillet, this is an example of the kind of work that needs to be done to keep the coastal zone healthy and safeguard resources for Belize’s future generations.

A report released at the start of Coastal Awareness Week in Belize City urges greater awareness of the effects of climate change and the participation of the local managers of the coastal zone in a policy to combat those effects. Several recommendations were made, including empowering the Authority with more legislative heft, revising the land distribution policy and bringing more people into the discussion.

The report was the work of over 30 local and international scientists who contributed to and prepared it.

In receiving the CREWS equipment, the Ministry’s CEO, Dr. Adele Catzim-Sanchez, sought to remind that the problem of climate change is real and unless it is addressed, Belizeans may be contributing to their own demise.

The European Union’s Ambassador to Belize, Paola Amadei, reported that the Union may soon be able to offer even more help with the planned negotiations in Paris, France, in 2015 for a global initiative on climate change, with emphasis on smaller states. Belize already benefits from separate but concurrent projects, the latter of which aims to give Belize a sustainable development plan and specific strategy to address climate change.

In addition, Dr. Leslie is pushing for even more monitoring equipment, including current metres to study the effect of terrestrial activity such as mining and construction material gathering as well as deforestation on the sea, where the residue of such activities inevitably ends up.

Credit: IPS News Agency

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