Barbados’ Rendezvous with Climate Change


Barbados’ idyllic but threatened coastline (Photo by Wesley Gibbings)

If most fisherfolk, tourism operators, scientists, politicians, and regular citizens collectively agree on anything here it is that the unfolding impacts of climate change have the potential to dramatically change the face of the 432 square kilometre island republic forever. 

This is particularly the case when it comes to Barbados’ famed marine resources that constitute the islands key tourism assets, provide recreation, and contribute to domestic food supplies.

Robert Hinds, Operations Manager at Atlantis Submarines is convinced the threats are not to be taken lightly.

“It is not a joke, if we look, we may not be able to see the effects right now. Yes, climate change has a big impact. It’s just a matter of time before we see those effects of sea level rise, and the effects on the coastline,” Hinds said.

His operation takes visitors to the island on underwater sea excursions via submersible vessels. Ocean conditions are the company’s key asset.

“There is the possibility of less operational days, the sea life that people come to the island to see would be impacted … negatively so,” he said.

Robert Hinds, Operations Manager, Atlantis Submarines

Director of the island’s Coastal Zone Management Unit (CZMU), Dr Leo Brewster suggests that “the impacts that we are seeing are starting to be significant.”

This is so, he added, though the country’s contribution to the global phenomenon continues to be miniscule. 

“Whether it is through deforestation, through burning of forests for land clearing … or just general industrialisation, you are getting a lot of pollution from developed countries,” he added.

The implications for Barbados have been dramatic. “Over the last 10 years we’ve seen exacerbated drought which has affected our ground water supply due to lack of rainfall. We have seen short, sharper showers that lead to torrential flooding and rapid runoff in a short space of time, leading to flooding,” Dr Brewster said.

Dr Leo Brewster, Dir. Coastal Zone Management Unit

Already, beaches along the east coast of the island are being tested by sea swells and wave action. Coastal communities at Fitts Villages St James, Road View St Peter, and Shermans, St Lucy are experiencing significant forms of coastal erosion.

Additionally, the popular coastal strip along the southern coastline in Hastings Christ Church was under threat of erosion some 15 years ago, necessitating mitigating action by the (CZMU).

This included engineering work to restore, stabilise and protect the beach and to shield properties in the area.

There also appears evidence that coral reef bleaching, as a function of the warming of the ocean, has begun to take its toll.

Dr Leo Brewster, CZMU

Dr David Bynoe, Environmental Economist and National Co-ordinator of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) GEF Small Grants Programme in Barbados says there have been the combined impacts of sea-level rise, coral bleaching, and the presence of invasive alien biological species.

“These coral reefs have significant economic value; not only do they provide aesthetics, not only do they provide food, but they also provide protection of the coastline against sea surges, tsunamis et cetera,” he said. “The impacts are related to each other.” 

Bynoe also refers to the presence of more invasive and migratory species like insects, which we would not have seen before. The impacts, he argued, are wide and have implications for a cross-section of recreational, social, and economic activities.

The “Barbados 2020 Coral Reef Report Card” published by the CZMU in collaboration with University of the West Indies (UWI) Centre for Environmental Resource Management and Environmental Studies (CERMES) indicates that when the last mass coral reef bleaching event occurred in 2010 there was a loss of 8% coral cover the following year. 

Read the entire CERMES Report here:

The experts all agree that any prolonged coral bleaching event must be a cause for concern to Barbados. 

Reefs play an important function within the marine ecosystem, supporting other sea life, thereby facilitating biodiversity in the ocean. By extension, the ingredients of sand, which make up our beaches, originate from living coral. 

These beaches facilitate human recreation and relaxation. The reef ecosystem nurture fisheries and thereby provide a source of food for human consumption. Fishermen who derive an income from their catch, harvest these fishery resources. 

Coral reef structures along the coast are the first line of natural defence against pounding ocean waves. Living reefs act as an important “breaker” reducing their erosive power on the beaches and coastline. 

Dr David Bynoe, UNDP

Moreover, coral reefs make up the tourism product of our island Barbados. Apart from fisher folk, many individuals derive an income from undersea tours, scuba diving, glass bottom boat tours and submarine excursions. 

Tourism in turn contributes heavily to employment and other forms of economic activity. 

To add to the challenges is the growing presence of Sargassum Seaweed. There is an immediate nuisance impact, but far-reaching implications related to the resilience of coastal areas.

While the science is still being investigated to determine the extent to which climate change is contributing to this problem, it is understood that something significant has happened in the ocean and general environment leading to more intense seasonal episodes.

Dr Leo Brewster

Overall, scientists are recognising gradual but real changes. Increased atmospheric temperatures influence changes in climate, leading to adverse weather conditions such as more intense and frequent tropical storms and hurricanes. 

While, since Hurricane Janet in 1955, Barbados had not had a direct impact by a hurricane, the effects of Hurricane Elsa were felt on July 3 this year.

One countryside resident recalled the experience: “I was by my sister, foreday morning about 7:00 we start to hear the wind; it is something that I never experienced before… and then we see all the houses start blowing and coming down flat. Then after about 9:00 I come home, when I see the mess inside here, everything full ah water.” 

Another resident who experienced damage to her house related that the experience “wasn’t that easy, this is really a bad experience for me. Then I see the other houses over here, there roofs going.” 

There is every indication that there is more like this on the way. The CZMU has been at work on the country’s National Climate Change Policy Framework. This framework looks at how the island will purse reductions in its own greenhouse gas emissions, while driving policies governing climate change mitigation and adaptation to achieve climate resilience. 

The committee comprises representatives from government ministries, non-governmental organisations, and other private sector agencies. Other individuals are co-opted as necessary. 

The CZMU frameworks notes that Barbados is seeking to begin orienting its population to mitigating and adapting to climate impacts at the beginning stage of the planning approval process, thereby ensuring that planning approval for land development and building construction is granted only after certain specific climate related criteria are met. 

Another pillar of the country’s climate mitigation efforts is the Roofs to Reefs Programme (R2RP). This was included as a part of Barbados’s Nationally Determined Contributions (NDC) submitted to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) 2021 in time for the recently concluded COP26.

Among its highlights are measures to make low- and middle-income homes more resilient to extreme weather events and their impacts, such as possible loss of access to electricity and potable water distribution systems; and to increase freshwater storage capacity and water use efficiency and reduce emissions through the deployment of distributed renewable energy generation.

There are also measures to reduce land-based sources of marine pollution through more sustainable land use practices; to make critical utility, water and sanitation and road infrastructure climate resilient; and to restore vulnerable coral reef ecosystems, particularly on the west and south coasts of the island.

The island’s National Energy Policy (BNEP) 2019 – 2030, the government has set itself the goal of achieving a 100% renewable energy and carbon neutral island- state by 2030. 

Such a policy has implications for the transportation sector as it relates to transitioning from fossil fuel dependent vehicles to ones fuelled by clean energy. 

To achieve 100% renewable energy status in nine years is however an ambitious target given all that will be involved in this transformation drive. 

There is a view that achieving such a feat will require consistent conversations with sectoral groups across the country and the general population.

Across the island, many individuals, households, for profit and non-profit organisations are already benefitting from solar generated energy. Solar water-heating panels have long been a feature of island rooftops and on available land space exposed to the sun.

There is now a recognisable need to accelerate the process and to ensure more decisive action is taken to build resilience against an encroaching challenge linked to the natural, social, and economic future of Barbados.

Full interviews with Carseen Greenidge can be accessed here:

1. Dr David Bynoe of UNDP discusses multiple challenges to the marine environment:

2. Robert Hinds of Atlantis Submarines speaks on threats to tourism businesses:

3. Three Parts – 1.  Dr Leo Brewster describes the climate challenge issues confronting Barbados:



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