Alongside bringing in tourist dollars, healthy coral reefs, seagrasses and salt-tolerant mangroves provide habitats for many species that generate an income for fishermen — from spiny lobsters in Belize to bonefish in the Bahamas.
Reefs can also act like breakwaters to dramatically reduce wave strength, while mangroves can buffer against hurricane winds and storm surges.
Marine scientist Michael Beck calculates coral reefs can slash up to 97 percent of the wave energy that would otherwise hit the shoreline, while a 100-meter wide band of mangrove can cut wave height by up to two-thirds.
High-tech modelling is helping Caribbean governments bolster coastal resilience by demonstrating how development can affect coastal ecosystems, livelihoods and property, said Katie Arkema, lead scientist at the Natural Capital Project, which has used its technology in Belize and the low-lying islands of the Bahamas.
“What we seek to do is understand how will our decisions and the decisions of governments...affect ecosystems and how in turn will those ecosystem changes affect people,” said Arkema.
The World Bank, which is helping pilot a coastal insurance project offering reduced premiums to governments working to make the region’s over-exploited fisheries more resilient, said Jamaica, Grenada and St. Lucia were among those interested.
But pay-outs would likely hinge on countries agreeing to invest a slice of the money in marine habitats, he said.
“Increasingly, Caribbean governments are finding ways to make better use of their marine resources, [to] take advantage of their marine ecosystems, the natural assets that are so important to them,” said Miguel Angel Jorge, senior fisheries specialist with the World Bank.
“They want to be much smarter about how they invest and plan with the likely climate impacts in mind.”
In Grenville, Grenada, where many low-income families depend on fishing, efforts to boost coastal resilience were partly driven by the community — which is involved in projects to replant mangroves and establish an artificial reef, said Nealla Frederick, TNC’s Eastern Caribbean conservation planner.
“Just everybody has recognized this is happening and wants to try to get ahead of it,” she said.