Story by Lyndon John (UK Overseas Territories Officer - Caribbean)

This week, the world’s attention is on the 23rd meeting of the UNFCCC Climate Change Conference of Parties in Bonn, Germany. While we are hoping that progress will be made by governments in seeking more ambitious targets in mitigating the threat of climate change, you could well expect the Small Island Developing States of the Caribbean to highlight the destruction that has occurred across the region from this year’s Atlantic hurricane season, particularly by Hurricanes Irma and Maria. As I type, the season is still active with Tropical Storm Rina is churning its way in the North Atlantic, so all is far from over.

We have been checking up with our colleagues and friends across the Caribbean UKOTs and are reassured to find that slowly but surely, progress is being made in terms of recovery across the worst affected islands of the British Virgin Islands, Anguilla and Turks and Caicos Islands. We thought we would give an update on what’s been happening with our partner organisations since the last blog.

Here are some pre and post-Hurricane Irma photos of the Ebenezer Church and Old East End School - both are heritage properties under the care of the Anguilla National Trust (Credit: ANT)

In Anguilla, Farah Mukhida (Executive Director, Anguilla National Trust (ANT)) says ANT is still not in their office due to lack of electricity and other connections. Generally, she estimates that there's approximately 20% power restored on the island. Much of The Valley is still without power, so that's their most significant frustration and she also indicated that power utility personnel from other islands (e.g. St. Lucia and St. Vincent) are in Anguilla to assist but given the work ahead, it's still likely to be quite a wait for many residents. At the moment, ANT is sharing office space in the Ministry of Youth and Culture, so that's better than the balcony arrangement they had before! Farah says the ANT team is busy on the ground conducting post hurricane assessments including bird and iguana counts while also doing habitat site assessments (e.g. beach profiles, the wetlands and offshore islands). They’re also responsible for the built patrimony and so some of the historical buildings under their care were damaged during the hurricane and their status also had to be assessed. The team remains enthusiastic and focused on the tasks as they acknowledge the importance of documenting the impacts as critically important to informing decisions in Anguilla’s post-Irma future.


In Anguilla, Hurricane Irma scoured the beaches with significant sand erosion and destruction of infrastructure across the island (Credit: ANT)

 

Much has been said and shown on the media concerning the horrendous impact of hurricane Irma on the BVI, more so on Tortola and its inhabitants. Thankfully, there are indications that circumstances are improving on Tortola, with electricity restoration and resumption of business activity. However, there are heroic efforts underway by resilient residents on some of the other BVI cays (e.g. Anegada and Jost Van Dyke). I had a chat with Susan Zaluski (Director of the Jost Van Dyke Preservation Society) who was off-island during the passage of Hurricane Irma but has since returned to give her energies to assisting in the recovery process on JVD. She said that they've got power by generator which is kept on because business depends on it. They get fuel from Tortola by ferrying a truck across by barge. She explained that the JVDPS boat, 'Endeavour', sustained damage to the mast and needs repairs done but she’s concerned about long-term plans on where to moor it until such repairs can be done. While many of the small JVD community population of about 300 have had to leave due to personal losses sustained, she is heartened by the resilience and the commitment of those who have remained to support the recovery process.

 

Hurricane Irma’s destruction across the BVI captured here in images taken on Tortola. Trees were stripped of leaves and bark leaving hillsides, once green, like matchsticks. Many residents have since fled to neighbouring islands, the UK, or the USA. Joining a stream of 'climate refugees' fleeing natural disasters globally (Credit: The BVI Beacon)

The island of Montserrat got off relatively lightly from the passage of the hurricanes in comparison to the extensive damage done to Turks & Caicos Islands, the BVI and Anguilla. There was some damage to infrastructure, loss of electricity and communications recorded; however, Montserrat did not suffer the losses sustained by neighbouring islands such as Dominica or Antigua and Barbuda. Beyond structural losses, the Department of Environment was concerned about the storm’s impact on the island’s vulnerable endemic wildlife - most notably, the Montserrat Oriole. DoE Officer, James 'Scriber' Daley acknowledged that damage was done to the forests. However, he recorded observations of the Oriole and other birds during their field assessments.  He pointed out that all the forest tourism hiking trails were impassable due to fallen trees and land slippage. These tourism hiking trails are important to the islands ecotourism activities. He explained that efforts will be made through government funds to start the process of trail clearing, hopefully to restore the trails in time for this winter season's visitor arrivals.


The hurricane impact is even visible from space as shown here by NASA’s ISS commander Randy Bresnik, in these pictures he tweeted of Irma’s impact on the Turks and Caicos coastline as viewed from the International Space Station

In Turks and Caicos intermittent power is still a problem too. Our National Trust partners based on Providenciales have almost finished moving out of their water and mould damaged offices Downtown, and are heading for new premises in Grace Bay. Long-term, this could be a story with a silver lining as far more visitors frequent that area and may visit the Trust. The ruined building in their flagship historic site Cheshire Hall Plantation suffered again in the hurricane with a number of walls collapsing. Expert technical advice and assistance is needed for this site. The sister plantation ‘Wades Green’ on North Caicos suffered less, but still one of the old plantation buildings was destroyed. The world class reserve Little Water Cay (or ‘Iguana Island’) fared better. The natural system including the endemic iguanas has evolved to cope with these events and is fairly resilient, but of course trees came down across board walks and the dock and visitor infrastructure needs repairing. Ethlyn Gibbs Williams – the Trust’s director – and her staff remain incredibly positive working have to get sites up and running for the upcoming tourist season.  Contact from ‘outside’,  support, donations and empathy make a huge difference in lifting morale; for example the donation from RSPB Northern Ireland Development team who held a lunchtime fundraiser and donated proceeds to the TCI National Trust. We at the RSPB are heartened by the efforts and the resolve shown by our partners in the affected islands and we remain committed to ensuring our continued support where ever possible.

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