Sun | Dec 15, 2019

Earth Today | ‘Retreat from the coastline’

Published:Thursday | November 21, 2019 | 12:24 AM

WITH SEA level rise and extreme ­hurricane events among the climate impacts facing Caribbean small-island developing states (SIDS), one researcher is championing a retreat from the coastline as one way to protect settlements and infrastructure.

“The establishment of Integrated Coastal Zone Management (ICZM) Units, which would help frame national ­guidelines on coastal management and beach restoration within each island, is recommended,” said Professor Michelle Mycoo.

Mycoo was writing in her 2017 study ‘Beyond 1.5 degrees Celsius: vulnerabilities and adaptation strategies for Caribbean Small Island Developing States’.

“Furthermore, international development agencies can play an instrumental role in funding studies on coastal ­dynamics and data collection which are integral to the establishment and ­functioning of an ICZMU,” she added.

She has noted that one such project initiated in The Bahamas “aims to build upon the improvements contained in the 2010 Planning and Subdivisions Act” while “a risk-based ICZM was also established to assist The Bahamas meet the target of 20% conservation of the nearshore ­environment by 2020”.

According to the professor, ­retreating from the coastline to protect settlements and infrastructure is not new to the Caribbean. However, she said that it will require a relook, given the potentially devastating ­climate consequences.

“Caribbean SIDS have been at the ­forefront in using coastal setbacks which will now augur well for combating climate change beyond the 1.5 degrees Celsius target. In some SIDS, such as Barbados, the Dominican Republic and Cuba, coastal ­setbacks are employed, but in several islands enforcement is weak and large private developers may appeal the decisions of physical planning agencies,” she said.

“Lessons may be distilled from Cuba, which has a strong ­legislative ICZM plan that is relatively simple to apply, and Barbados, where ICZM has been enacted and successfully implemented. St Lucia and Tobago use colonial legislation that prohibits built development in designated coastal reserves with setbacks from the high water mark,” she added.

Natural disasters cost the Caribbean a reported US$53 billion between 1950 and 2014, according to the Centre for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters, while the IMF has revealed that one in 10 ­disasters cause damage amounting to more than 30 per cent of Caribbean SIDS gross domestic product (GDP), compared to less than one per cent of GDP in larger countries.

“Scientists warn that while the overall frequency of Atlantic storms may decrease, the ­intensity of the hurricanes is likely to increase. Additionally, ­projections indicate that the global average sea level is set to rise by 254 to 812 mm in the coming century,” Mycoo said, referencing the work of Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change scientists.

“As a result, for low-lying Caribbean SIDS such as The Cayman Islands, The Bahamas and Suriname, this rise will be devastating if these countries are unable to adapt. The projected rise in sea level and severe storms are likely to increase the risk of storm surges and will further negatively impact biodiversity, settlements and ­infrastructure,” she warned.