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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

Multimillion-dollar regional climate change initiative to be launched in Barbados

This image made available by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration on December 17, 2015 shows warmer- or cooler-than-normal temperatures around the world for January through November 2015. If governments are serious about the global warming targets they adopted in Paris, scientists say they have two options: eliminating fossil fuels immediately or finding ways to undo their damage to the climate system in the future. The first is politically impossible — the world is still hooked on using oil, coal and natural gas — which leaves the option of a major clean-up of the atmosphere later this century.

A new partnership to help disaster-prone Caribbean countries mitigate the effects and adapt to climate change will be launched in Barbados on January 28.

The Caribbean Community (Caricom), Japan and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) will launch the US$15-million Japan-Caribbean Climate Change Partnership (J-CCCP) that will bring together policymakers, experts and representatives of affected communities to encourage policy innovation for climate technology incubation and diffusion.

A UNDP statement said that the launch is in “tandem with the recent agreement by world leaders at the Paris Climate Conference to keep global warming below 2 degrees celsius, and further to pursue below 1.5o degrees celsius in order to avoid negative impacts to the Caribbean”.

It said that the new initiative aims to ensure that barriers to the implementation of climate-resilient technologies are addressed and overcome in a participatory and efficient manner.

 Thursday’s launch will be addressed by Rebeca Arias, director, UNDP Panama Regional Hub, Masatoshi Sato, minister-counsellor and deputy head of mission at the Trinidad-based Embassy of Japan, and Stephen O’Malley, resident representative, UNDP Subregional Office for Barbados and the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States.

The new Japan-Caribbean-UNDP Partnership will boost national policies and plans to cope with climate change-related adversity, also aiming to reduce dependency on fossil fuel imports, setting the region on a low emission path and improving access to sustainable energy.

Credit: Jamaica Observer

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

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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