The Caribbean region is one of the world’s most vulnerable in the face of catastrophic natural disasters like the Category 5 hurricanes that put 2017 on record as one of the worst tropical storm seasons in history. Hurricanes Irma and Maria resulted in hundreds of deaths and hundreds of billions of dollars in economic losses as they devastated Barbuda, Dominica, Puerto Rico, St. Maarten and the U.S. Virgin Islands and caused severe damage across multiple other islands. Not only were lives lost, but homes, businesses, livelihoods, infrastructure, landscapes and ecosystems were destroyed.
Low-lying islands, like those throughout the Caribbean region, often contribute the least to climate change yet suffer from its impacts the most. There is scientific evidence that the documented warming of our ocean, an impact of climate change, is creating an upswing in the intensity, duration and frequency of tropical storms — and will continue to do so as climate change escalates. Hurricanes benefit from warmer ocean and air temperatures, and there is a broad consensus among scientists today that these conditions contributed to the rapid intensification of recent storms from categories 1 or 2 into categories 4 or 5. Even more alarming is the finding that climate-related elevated sea levels and increased rainfall are amplifying the danger and destruction hurricanes bring. Now, more than ever, it is imperative to take meaningful action to build resilience throughout our islands and coastal communities.
In the heartbreaking aftermath of Hurricanes Irma and Maria, the Conservancy is implementing both short-term relief efforts and long-term recovery strategies that use the power of nature to heal and build climate resilience.
- In immediate response to the disasters, a relief and recovery crew was organized, made up of fire and forest crew members from throughout the Conservancy, and deployed to St. Croix in the U.S. Virgin Islands, home to our nature preserves that protect important land, historical structures, coastal areas, coral restoration nurseries and endangered sea turtle nesting sites. In addition to restoring public access areas and wildlife refuges, the crew is helping the local government clear debris from streams that are causing flooding of homes and roads. Learn more about the U.S. Virgin Islands hurricane recovery crew.
- For meaningful, long-term recovery, the Conservancy is working closely with government decision-makers to communicate our willingness and capacity to implement ecosystem-based solutions for climate resilience in rebuilding efforts across the region. We will provide post-storm assessments and evidence of the role that coastal ecosystems play in reducing risks to people and nature. We will also be creating aerial maps, using state-of-the-art hyperspectral imaging, of the region’s coral reefs and mangroves, to provide the most rigorous evaluation of the coastal protection, risk reduction, quality-of-life and economic benefits these critical habitats provide to island communities.
- Working with established partners in the region, including the International Federation of the Red Cross, we are launching a new Resilient Islands program. Focusing on ecosystem-based climate adaptation, Resilient Islands will help Caribbean islands protect and strengthen their coral reefs and mangroves for essential coastal protection and will offer tools to local leaders and communities to help them build climate resilience on multiple levels. The program will initially work in Jamaica, Grenada and the Dominican Republic, with the goal of expanding these efforts to other islands to benefit communities and reduce vulnerability on a broad scale, and to position the Caribbean region as a leader in innovative climate adaptation and sustainable development.
To learn more about the work we are doing to help create a more resilient Caribbean in the face of climate change, and how you can help, please contact:
Lisa Lord Price
Director of Philanthropy, Caribbean Division
Senior Assoc. Director of Philanthropy, Caribbean Division