Image from here
The Turks and Caicos Islands solidified a Climate Change Committee earlier this summer with a goal to publish a Green Paper in the coming months. As a member of the TCI Environmental Club, I had invitation to attend a meeting with some of the members of this committee on climate change on September 29th held at the Gansevoort. The meeting was opened with remarks from DECR director Wesley Clerveaux highlighting that small, low lying coastal nations such as the TCI are regarded as the most vulnerable to global climate change and accompanying sea level rises. He went on to explain that though we may not be the cause of much of the climate change occurring by large industrialized nations, we must be the most resilient, with firm policies in place to cope with these changes. Jewel Batchasingh, deputy director of the Department of Environment and Coastal Resources (DECR) followed with a presentation outlining the areas of the TCI that may be affected by climate change; rising temperatures, sea temperatures, and sea levels. So first we begin with the bad news . . . . Fisheries were the first area noted with powerful data showing that a one degree Celcius rise had lead to dramatic drops in fish populations in similar regions in 2007-2008. This temperature rise caused a migration of stocks and a habitat change, an accompanying map clearly showing dolphin fish and parrot fish migrations out of the areas experiencing the temperature rise. Tourism would be affected most notably by a higher frequency and intensity of major storms and hurricanes leading to more coral bleaching, reduction in vegetated areas, damages and overall decrease in marketability. Then came the area of settlements and infrastructure whose effects, mostly from increasing hurricane and major storms, would see rising insurance costs, reconstructions and refitting expenses, as well as decrease in water quality and water availability. Human health would be jeopardised by heat stress, less potable water, rising cost of health care, and a potential increase in vector borne disease. Affects on coral reefs were discussed in length, with data showing TCI as borderline in the 1998 and 2005 bleaching events. The Seychelles Islands saw a 95% death of their coral reefs and two years after the devastation virtually no recovery. Marlon Hibbert, scientific officer of the DECR, explained that we have been at the threshold of coral bleaching but due to unprecedented temperature rises we are beginning to experience it here. Fortunately we have had greater resistance than most countries in the Caribbean thanks to the buffer of the Atlantic Ocean, but it’s moderation is waning. Coral mortality (physical damage due to storms), and ocean acidification among other factors are leading to slower coral growth. Coral bleaching may lead to an increase in invasive species and a massive reduction in diving and snorkeling availability (hence decrease in marketability, decrease in tourism). Hand in hand with all of the above, the biodiversity of the islands would shrink and we would see a loss of species, native vegetation reduction, erosion of mangroves, loss of medicinal species, and many uncharted changes in both land and ocean species diversity. The final area of impact discussed was agriculture where mentioned increase in fire, draught, pests, salinization, and inundation would most assuredly lead to compromised food security.
The goal of the meeting was to get feedback on ways to constructively cope and combat all of the above mentioned. One large step theTurks and Caicos Islands are taking is securing an Environmental Management Bill and an Endangered Species and Wildlife Protection Bill. These bills are being drafted as we speak and the DECR would like to hear your opinions, views, and ideas. What are your thoughts on suggestions such as:
Enforcement of sustainable fishing practices and laws, review of marine protection areas, exploration of aquaculture, encouragement of green practices within the hotel and tourism sectors, review and enforcement of building codes and setback limits, distribution and communication of guidelines for residents and visitors, adoption of green key or green globe certifications, review and enforcement of EIA’s that would be mandatory for commercial construction, revision of existing EIA restrictions with current data and findings, conduction of scientific research on more resiliant species of corals, creation of “NO GO” protected areas, increased management of pollution and waste, creation of penalties for pollution and littering, revision of irrigation and drainage design criteria, introduction of tarifs, promotion of locally grown crops, improvement of water collection and storage, adoption of drip only irrigation practices, implementation of beach nourishment projects, adoption and distribution of a construction development manual, stabilisation of shorelines, . . . . may this list grow with your advice and suggestions.
The good news is there are several small nations that are making great strides which we can learn from. In Fiji a popular resort established a private coral conservancy area. Their efforts not only protected the area from further damage but raised funds to rejuvenate the existing degradation. To read more about community based conservation in Fiji click here. In the Caribbean we import 85% of our food yet three neighboring countries, Guyana, Belize, and Dominica, could produce the food supply for our entire region. In Anguilla, Cuisinart Resort and Spa have created the regions only pesticide free hydroponic farm, in operation since the hotel opened in 1999 and a perfect thriving example of how ecofriendly practices have created a unique experience for their guests and given them a competitive edge in their market. The other good news is that new technology is hitting the market daily. For example Ecotech’s roofing material that minimizes a 30,000 pound roof to 3,500 pounds, reducing production and energy costs, shipping and transportation costs, and above and beyond that is 100% recyclable with 0% waste. There are solutions out there. We are a small community and do have the power to make changes for the betterment of this country. Please make your voice heard.