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Study: Climate change will lead to annual coral bleaching in the Caribbean

 

Coral bleaching on the Great Barrier Reef. Photo Credit: Paul Marshall

A new study has predicted that if current trends continue and the world fails to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, nearly all of the world’s coral reefs, including many in the Caribbean, will suffer severe bleaching — the gravest threat to one of the Earth’s most important ecosystems — on annual basis.

The finding is part of a study funded by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and partners, which reviewed new climate change projections to predict which corals will be affected first and at what rate.

The report is published in the journal Nature Scientific Reports. Researchers found that the reefs in Taiwan and the Turks and Caicos archipelago will be among the first to experience annual bleaching, followed by reefs off the coast of Bahrain, in Chile and in French Polynesia.

Calling the predictions “a treasure trove” for environmentalists, the head of the UN agency, Erik Solheim, said the projects allow conservationists and governments to prioritise reef protection.

“The projections show us where we still have time to act before it’s too late,” Solheim said.

On average, the reefs started undergoing annual bleaching from 2014, according to the study.

Without the required minimum of five years to regenerate, the annual occurrences will have a deadly effect on the corals and disrupt the ecosystems which they support, UNEP said.

However, it said that if governments act on emission reduction pledges made in the Paris Agreement, which calls on countries to combat climate change and limit global temperature rise to below two degrees Celsius, the corals would have another 11 years to adapt to the warming seas.

Between 2014 and 2016, UNEP said the world witnessed the longest global bleaching event recorded.

Among the casualties, it said, was the Great Barrier Reef, with 90 per cent of it bleached and 20 per cent of the reef’s coral killed.

Credit: Jamaica ObserverUnited Nations Environment Programme

Young voices are heard in sustainability conversation

One carrier has come up with a novel approach to the issue of sustainable tourism that involves science, students and scholarships.

JetBlue recently launched a program to increase planning for sustainable tourism in the Caribbean region through grants to students who will focus on using science to improve the travel experience for customers and communities now and in the future.

The grants highlight the airline’s commitment to education and the environment and focus on the impact of climate change in the Caribbean.

For the first year of the grant, JetBlue partnered with the Center for Responsible Travel (Crest) to offer two student scholarships to attend Crest’s and the Puntacana Ecological Foundation’s conference, Innovators Think Tank: Climate Change and Coastal & Marine Tourism, held recently at the Punta Cana Resort & Club in the Dominican Republic.

From a field of 90-plus applicants, two recipients were selected: Stefan Knights from Hugh Wooding Law School in Barbados and Katrina Khan from the University of the West Indies in Trinidad & Tobago.

The conference revolved around the theme of how coastal and marine tourism must be planned, built and operated in the era of climate change.

“Too often conferences and think tanks are out of reach for students. These grants open the door to the community of students who have cutting-edge ideas about sustainable tourism,” said Sophia Mendelsohn, head of sustainability for JetBlue.

“If tourism in the Caribbean is going to flourish through a changing climate and increased ecosystem pressures, the tourism industry and its brands are going to need support and ideas from universities and students,” she said.

The tourism industry can either be part of the problem or part of the solution in dealing with climate change, according to Crest Director Martha Honey.

“It is imperative that we engage the next generation in the solution. It’s time to take the blinders off much of our industry and get passionate young people involved in preserving not only tourism-related livelihoods and the environment but our very existence,” Honey said.

The outcome of the conference will be showcased in a video documentary titled “Caribbean ‘Green’ Travel” and in a publication, both scheduled for release late this year.

Credit: Travel Weekly

Scientists Map Caribbean Seafloor as Part of 12-Year Project

This April 6, 2005 file photo shows a coral reef and fish on a snorkeling trail off Buck Island near St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands. U.S. scientists on Tuesday, April 7, 2015 completed a nearly two-week mission to explore waters around the U.S. Virgin Islands as part of a 12-year project to map the Caribbean sea floor and help protect its reefs. (AP Photo/Brent Hoffman, File)

This April 6, 2005 file photo shows a coral reef and fish on a snorkeling trail off Buck Island near St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands. U.S. scientists on Tuesday, April 7, 2015 completed a nearly two-week mission to explore waters around the U.S. Virgin Islands as part of a 12-year project to map the Caribbean sea floor and help protect its reefs. (AP Photo/Brent Hoffman, File)

U.S. scientists on Tuesday completed a nearly two-week mission to explore waters around the U.S. Virgin Islands as part of a 12-year project to map the Caribbean seafloor and help protect its reefs.

A team with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration studied an area of 270 square miles (700 square kilometers), using equipment including underwater gliders and a remotely operated vehicle to help map the seafloor and locate areas where fish spawn. They focused mostly on the southern coast of St. Croix and the northwestern coast of St. Thomas.

“It’s a relatively unexplored but believed to be rich ecosystem,” lead researcher Tim Battista said by telephone. “We’re able to map large areas that you couldn’t do with just divers.”

The information will be used in efforts to conserve coral reefs as well as to update navigational charts and help government officials manage and better protect fish populations.

Reefs across the Caribbean have shrunk by more than 50 percent since the 1970s, with experts blaming climate change as well as a drop in the populations of parrotfish and sea urchins.

Part of the mission focused on studying the habitat and number of deep-water snappers that have become increasingly popular with fishermen in the area, scientist Chris Taylor said. Researchers currently know very little about the status and habitat of the silk snapper, which has golden eyes and is almost iridescent pink in color, he said.

About two-thirds of the survey was conducted in deep water, in depths up to 7,500 feet (2,300 meters), researchers said.

Among the more interesting discoveries was an underwater landslide about 6 square miles (16 square kilometers) in size as well as hundreds of cylindrical sea floor structures that were packed closely together and featured hard and soft coral on top, Battista said.

“It was really kind of unique,” he said. “I hadn’t seen that before.”

Researchers also found a collection of sea anemones in purple, green, white and black; gray sea cucumbers with stubby green spines; and white starfish with red stripes.

Credit: ABC News

United Nations Observes First International Day of Forests

Google Image

Google Image

Today is the International Day of Forests. This historic United Nations General Assembly designation is “to celebrate and raise awareness of the importance of all types of forests and of trees outside forests”.

For centuries forests have been a source of food, fibre, livelihoods, resources and water.  They are also central to combating climate change, but until today, and despite a multitude of special days honouring or commemorating key elements of human life, there has never been a globally recognized day for paying homage to the world’s forests.

In a message for the new International Day, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said:  “By proclaiming the International Day of Forests, the United Nations has created a new platform to raise awareness about the importance of all types of forest ecosystems to sustainable development.”

Learn more about our work to improve forests across the Caribbean here (search using relevant terms as you would in Google).
Here’s a sample of what we have done… Morne Diablotin National Park: Improved Management Plan 2011-2016 and Morne Trois Pitons National Park World Heritage Site: Improved Management Plan.

**Source: United Nations Press Release. Read more…

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