Clearing up: Credit Louise Soames

Blog by Lyndon John (RSPB) and Louise Soames

The 2017 Atlantic hurricane season dealt devastating blows to the Caribbean region, particularly for the Caribbean UKOTs. The islands of Anguilla, British Virgin Islands and Turks & Caicos Islands were particularly hard hit by hurricanes Irma and Maria in fairly quick succession in September 2017. The devastation left in the wake of these storms has heightened the issue of vulnerability of Small Island Developing States and Overseas Territories of the Caribbean to the ravages of climate change. It has also emphasized the urgent need for Caribbean OT Governments to advance adaptation measures to address resilience and ensure the survivability of the island societies.

In this regard, the RSPB is happy to be a partner with the University of Roehampton London, and the Jost Van Dykes Preservation Society (JVDPS) in support of the Darwin Plus funded project entitled “Improving small island resilience and self-sufficiency in habitat monitoring and management”. The RSPB will be supporting the University of Roehampton’s Life Sciences Department and the JVDPS in conducting investigations into how healthy ecosystems can weather and increase resilience to the increasingly extreme storms and hurricanes brought about by climate change.

Transplanting Mangroves: credit Louise Soames

Dr. Louise Soanes of Roehampton notes that past studies into resilience against extreme weather have focused on human-built structures, such as improved flood defences. As a result, they have often neglected the potential of healthy ecosystems in improving the resilience of islands to the effects of storms. This project will focus on the ecosystem of Jost Van Dyke, a small inhabited island in the British Virgin Islands. It aims to assess the resilience of key habitats to extreme weather, develop community-led conservation efforts and raise awareness of how healthy natural habitats can increase the resilience of Jost Van Dyke and other islands to extreme weather. Dr Soanes said ‘Jost Van Dyke is a perfect site for a case study, as it provides a variety of key habitats, including numerous marine and terrestrial nature reserves, and offshore cays—small, sandy islands on the surface of nearby coral reefs. The project supports ongoing conservation efforts and international agreements on the environment and biodiversity’.

The project is funded by a Darwin Plus grant and runs from April 2018 to April 2020. It comes at a crucial time, following on from the worst recorded hurricane season in the Caribbean: in September alone, a Category 4 and a Category 5 hurricane—the two most severe classes of hurricane, with wind speeds in the latter case exceeding 156 mph (251 km/h)—hit the British Virgin Islands, following severe flooding earlier in the year. The predictions for the 2018  Atlantic hurricane season are similarly of serious concern to the region and climate change models predict that the years to come will continue to witness more severe and more frequent hurricanes and other extreme weather events making resilience a top priority for the Caribbean. Given the important role Key Biodiversity Areas play in strengthening island resilience - from dry forest, mangroves to wetlands - the RSPB is working with partners across the Caribbean OTs to ensure KBAs receive full protection.

Mangroves Aerial: Susan Zaluski