With increasing climate change issues affecting the globe, some countries are at higher risk of losing their place in the world – quite literally. Found throughout the world’s oceans and seas, Small Island Developing States (SIDS), are suffering the consequences of human actions and climate change combined.
Already saddled with terrible social and economic vulnerabilities – SIDS also face preventable environmental challenges. Scientists believe that the greatest global stressors contributing to climate change are warming and acidity of sea waters in the Pacific, Atlantic, and Indian Oceans, and the Caribbean, Mediterranean and Southern China Seas.
Dan Brumbaugh, who focuses on coral reef conservation as Senior Conservation Scientist of the American Museum of Natural History, tells MediaGlobal how the dangers faced by SIDS worsen significantly when their natural coastal protection is worn away, increasing the chances that these islands may soon be completely submerged undersea. “Because of the overfishing and climate change, among other situations, the natural habitat of the reefs are being affected,” added Brumbaugh.
Coral reefs are living organisms that house thousands of species of fish and other sealife. Often referred to as the “sea’s rainforests” they hold a vital role in the survival of SIDS, as it protects them rising sea levels, among the many other dangers the climate change imposes. However, they are very vulnerable to the changing tides, specifically the warming of the waters. “Coral reefs are always changing, it is part of their natural process, most of the recent changes are consequences of what humans are doing to their world,” stressed Brumbaugh as he explained how some reefs have replaced their usual coral-like habitat with a seaweed habitat.
Among those Non-UN Member/Associate Member of the Regional Commissions affected by not only declining coral reef health, but increasing changes in land structure, are the Cook Islands, the British Virgin Islands, the Commonwealth of Northern Marianas, and Puerto Rico. Widely known as a beautiful vacation spot for its white sandy beaches, Puerto Rico is suffering not only from the effects of climate change but from the consequences of urbanization.
“We are going to be hit with a larger impact, as an island from the rising sea levels – harder than any other island,” Fernando Lloveras, Executive Director of the Conservation Trust of Puerto Rico, told MediaGlobal News. The southwest region of Puerto Rico is already suffering – its coral reef health down by more than half while the northern region of the island finds itself without any coral reefs to protect its shoreline or house marine life, according to Lloveras. “[For the past decade] the development has been more industrial, with increasing amounts of constructions since the 1930’s and a high dependency on cars,” explained Lloveras.
According to the Conservation Trust’s website, Puerto Rico averages 1.5 registered vehicles per person – that’s approximately four million residents exhausting an average of two billion gallons of gas per year. During the past decade, the Department of Transportation of Puerto Rico, in an effort to reduce pollution and promote a greener lifestyle, began construction of a mass transportation system with its “Tren Urbano.”
Organizations like the Conservation Trust of Puerto Rico take it upon themselves to work to safeguard land from construction, along with installing man-made coral reefs to filter river water before it reaches shore. “We’re working on planting reefs in the rivers, to help the situation,” said Lloveras. Still with the efforts made, pollution remains an issue for the island.
The Conservation Trust of Puerto Rico began working with the National Science Foundation to increase the land protection. “There was an issue with not being able to do any work to increase the percentage of [protected] land – but that law expired on 1 January,” Lloveras enthused. “We have a lot of work to do, we’re looking forward to it.”
Prime examples of the impact of climate change on SIDS are the South Pacific islands of Kiribati and Tuvalu, now preparing for emergency evacuation to nearby uninhabited islands due to rising sea levels. According to reports by the Environmental Defense Fund, the islands were “preparing for extinction.”
“With all the global stressors affecting the coral dominated states, it’s making it that much harder for the reefs to recover,” stressed Brumbaugh. “The Coastlines have benefits beyond those monetary ones.”