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Caribbean Scientists Work to Limit Climate Impact on Marine Environment

by Zadie Neufville

The following was published by InterPress Service (IPS) on April 28, 2017
KINGSTON, Jamaica:
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.

Diver checking growing reef fragments

Caribbean scientists are finding some successes in reef gardens. This diver checks growing reef fragments.

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.

Birds flock to fishermen’s boats at landing of Pedro Bank, Jamaica. CHECK WITH MACR FOR USAGE RIGHTS

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 Gonsavles 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.

redtail parrot fish

Redtail parrot

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 parrot 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

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More than two billion people at Zika risk

Mapping Zika

Mapping the “environmentally suitable” areas where the Zika Virus could take a foothold.

 

More than two billion people who live in “environmentally suitable” areas around the world are at risk at of being infected by the Zika Virus, a study  from Oxford University in England suggests.

The team of researchers including Oxford’s Moritz Kraemer and Jane Messina concluded that the likelihood of the disease getting a foothold in vulnerable areas from the United States to China, is extremely high. The researchers combined climate data, mosquito prevalence and the socio-economic makeup of each region in the study: Mapping global environmental suitability for Zika virus.

With the state of Florida already caught up in its own mosquito eradication programme after several infections, researchers have also identified the states of Texas, sections of Louisiana, Georgia, Alabama and the Carolinas as vulnerable.

‘Environmental suitability’ also extends to large areas of sub-Saharan Africa, to more than two million square miles of India “from its northwest regions through to Bangladesh and Myanmar”; the Indochina region, southeast China and Indonesia. The study which was  published April 19 this year noted: that roughly 250,000 square miles of Australia are also at risk.

According to the researcher: “Globally, we predict that over 2.17 billion people live in areas that are environmentally suitable for ZIKV transmission”.

The researchers mapped data on the virus from its emergency in 1947 to the present and into the future. The findings indicate that a global area inhabited by 2.17 billion people is ‘highly suitable’ for the transmission of the Zika virus.

2006 Prof. Frank Hadley Collins, Dir., Cntr. for Global Health and Infectious Diseases, Univ. of Notre Dame This 2006 photograph depicted a female Aedes aegypti mosquito while she was in the process of acquiring a blood meal from her human host, who in this instance, was actually the biomedical photographer, James Gathany, here at the Centers for Disease Control. You’ll note the feeding apparatus consisting of a sharp, orange-colored “fascicle”, which while not feeding, is covered in a soft, pliant sheath called the "labellum”, which retracts as the sharp stylets contained within pierce the host's skin surface, as the insect obtains its blood meal. The orange color of the fascicle is due to the red color of the blood as it migrates up the thin, sharp translucent tube. The first reported epidemics of Dengue (DF) and dengue hemorrhagic fever (DHF) occurred in 1779-1780 in Asia, Africa, and North America. The near simultaneous occurrence of outbreaks on three continents indicates that these viruses and their mosquito vector have had a worldwide distribution in the tropics for more than 200 years. During most of this time, DF was considered a mild, nonfatal disease of visitors to the tropics. Generally, there were long intervals (10-40 years) between major epidemics, mainly because the introduction of a new serotype in a susceptible population occurred only if viruses and their mosquito vector, primarily the Aedes aegypti mosquito, could survive the slow transport between population centers by sailing vessels.

This 2006 photograph shows a female Aedes aegypti mosquito getting a blood meal from her human host, who in this instance, was the biomedical photographer, James Gathany, at the Centers for Disease Control.

The efficiency of the mosquitoes at spreading disease in urban areas plus population densities are reportedly the main factors contributing to this estimate. The study pointed out that the Zika Virus has been isolated in 19 different species of the Aedes family, although the virus was most prevalently found in the Aedes aegypti.

Other studies into the distribution of vectors have found that the Asian Tiger Mosquito (Aedes albopictus) – which is also responsible for the spread of the Chikungunya virus -has increased its territory and can now be found in Europe. Other Aedes species have also been found to spread the Zika virus, although to fewer people.

Health authorities are scrambling to produce a vaccine as other recent studies have indicated that ZIKV could lead to more severe complications than those already identified.

The Zika virus was first identified in Uganda and is transmitted by Aedes aegyptai mosquitoes, also the vector insect for the dengue and Chikungunya viruses. Prior to an outbreak in Micronesia in 2007, the virus was only known to cause illness in Africa and parts of Asia. In 2013 it began spreading outside its usual areas until the first outbreaks in Latin America in 2015 with Brazil bearing the burden of infections.

Aedes albopictus, the Asian tiger mosquito

Aedes albopictus also known as the Asian tiger mosquito, one of the most effective vector insects for mosquito diseases

The rapid spread of the virus raises concern that it could quickly impact vulnerable areas around the globe, leading to its declaration as a Public Health Emergency of International Concern by the World Health Organization.

In addition to the UK, researchers also came from several prominent universities in the USA, Canada, Sweden, Australia and Germany.
-Zadie Neufville

The study Mapping global environmental suitability for Zika virus is online

The article above appears in
spotlightMag

Jamaica’s Drought Tool Could Turn the Table on Climate Change

By Zadie Neufville

The following article was published by IPS on  January 13, 2016  
On a very dry November 2013, Jamaica’s Meteorological Service made its first official drought forecast when the newly developed Climate Predictability Tool (CPT) was used to predict a high probability of below average rainfall in the coming three months.

By February, the agency had officially declared a drought in the eastern and central parishes of the island based on the forecasts. July’s predictions indicated that drought conditions would continue until at least September.

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Parched cracked ground

Said to be the island’s worst in 30 years, the 2014 drought saw Jamaica’s eastern parishes averaging rainfall of between 2 and 12 per cent, well below normal levels. Agricultural data for the period shows that production fell by more than 30 per cent over 2013 and estimates are that losses due to crop failures and wild fires amounted to one billion dollars.

Jamaica’s agricultural sector accounts for roughly seven per cent of the island’s gross domestic product (GDP) and employs about 20 per cent of its workforce.

The Met Service’s, Glenroy Brown told IPS, “The CPT was the main tool used by our Minister (of Water, Land, Environment & Climate Change) Robert Pickersgill throughout 2015 to advise the nation on the status of drought across the island .”

It was also used but the National Water Commission (NWC) to guide its implementation of island-wide water restrictions.

A technician with Jamaica’s Met Service, Brown designed and implemented the tool in collaboration with Simon Mason, a climate scientist from Columbia University’s International Research Institute (IRI) for Climate and Society with funding from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).

“The tool provides a Windows package for constructing a seasonal climate drought forecast model, producing forecasts with updated rainfall and sea surface temperature data,” he explained.

The innovation was one of the first steps in building resilience under Jamaica’s national climate policy. It provides drought-monitoring forecasts that allows farmers to plan their planting around dry periods and has been “tailored for producing seasonal climate forecasts from a general circulation model (GCM), or for producing forecasts using fields of sea-surface temperatures,” Brown said.

Farmers in the Hills above Kingston depend on rainwater

Farmers in the Hills above Kingston depend on rainwater. Most small farms on the island are rain-fed.

The tool combines a number of applications including Google Earth and localised GIS maps, to generate one to five day forecasts that are country and location specific. The information is broken down and further simplified by way of colour-coded information and text messages for the not so tech-savvy user.

The tool designed by Brown and Mason also incorporated IRI’s own CPT (designed by Mason) that was already being used by Caribbean countries with small meteorological services and limited resources, to produce their own up-to-date seasonal climate forecasts. The new tool combined data on recent rainfall and rainfall predictions to provide a forecast that focused specifically on drought.

“It was important for us to design a system that addressed Jamaica’s needs upfront, but that would also be suitable for the rest of the region,” Mason noted.

The scientists explained, “Because impact of a drought is based on the duration of the rainfall” and not only the amount of rainfall, looking forward is not enough to predict droughts because of factors related to accumulation and intensification.

“What we’re doing is essentially putting a standard three-month rainfall forecast in context with recent rainfall measurements,” Mason, told USAID’s publication Frontlines last May. He noted that if below-normal rainfall activity was recorded during an unusually dry period, indications were there was a “fairly serious drought” ahead.

Sheldon Scott from Jamaica’s Rural Agricultural Development Authority (RADA) told IPS that farmers who used the SMS information were able to avoid the worse effects of the drought.

“The impacts were visible in relation to farmers who used the information and others who didn’t, because those who did were able to manage the mitigating factors more effectively,” he said.

During the period, more than 500 farmers received text alerts and about 700,000 bulletins were sent to agricultural extension officers.

Among the farmers who signed up for text messaging service, Melonie Risden told Frontlines, “The information we received from the Met office gave us drought forecasts in terms of probabilities. We still decided to plant because we were fortunate to have access to the river and could fill up water drums ahead of time in anticipation of the drought.”

Risden lost the corn she planted on the 13-acre property in Crooked River, Clarendon, one of the parishes hardest hit by the drought with only two per cent of normal rainfall, but was able to save much of the peas, beans and hot peppers.

Six months after Jamaica’s Met Service made its ground-breaking forecast, the CIMH presented the first region-wide drought outlook at the Caribbean Regional Climate Outlook Forum in Kingston. Now 23 other Caribbean and Central American countries are using the tool to encourage climate change resilience and inform decision-making.

“Regionally the tool is now a standard fixture across several countries within the region, including the Dominican Republic, Cuba and Haiti. This regional effort is coordinated by the CIMH,” Brown said.

Back in Jamaica, the tool is being hailed “a game-changer” in the climate fight by Jeffery Spooner head of the Met Service, who described the CPT as “an extremely important tool in Climate Change forecasting and specifically for the agricultural – including fisheries- and water sectors for rainfall projection .”

The CPT is now also used to provide regular monthly bulletins that are published by the Meteorological Service on their web site http://www.jamaicaclimate.net. RADA has also continued to use the CPT in its extension service, to enhance the ability of farmers’ and other agricultural interests to improve water harvesting, planting and other activities.

Since most of the island’s small farms depend on rainfall, more farmers – including those with large holdings – are using the information to better manage water use and guide their activities, Scott said.

Local and intentional scientists have linked the extreme atmospheric conditions related to the droughts affecting Jamaica and the region to the persistent high-pressure systems that has prevented the formation of tropical cyclones to global warming and climate change.

Drought-map_-629x432

Image from the Jamaica Weather website shows areas likely to have less rainfall

Across the agricultural sector, Jamaica continues to feel the impacts of drought and the challenges are expected to increase with the climate change. In a 2013 agricultural sector support analysis, the Inter-American Development Bank estimated, low impact on extreme climate events on Jamaica’s agriculture sector by 2025 could reach 3.4 per cent of “baseline GDP” annually.

In fact, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Synthesis Report (AR5) pointed to tools like the CPT to mitigate the impacts of climate change. Its importance to Jamaica’s and the region’s food security and water sector cannot be overlooked.

In addition to adaptation for the water sector, the CPT is being modified to provide early warning indicators for wind speeds and coral bleaching among among other applications, said the report.

And as showers of blessings cooled the land and brought much relief in the closing months of the year, CPT shows the drought could well be over.

(End)