Nature Foundation report: “Climate change already affects our environment”

POSTED: 05/15/14 12:54 PM

GREAT BAY “Climate change is already affecting St. Maarten’s environment, ecosystems and species in many ways. Evidence suggests that the impact will become more severe as climate change continues,” the Nature Foundation writes in its climate change action plan. Yesterday this newspaper focused on the consequences of climate change for the country’s hard infrastructure, which is an understandably small yet extremely significant part of this report. Today we report about the effect climate change will have on our ecosystems.

That impact will be severe. In ordinary language: species that are unable to adapt to the changing environmental conditions have to options: die or leave, events that will create havoc beyond our imagination.

The report words it like this: “Individuals, populations or species may suffer severe mortality events, which ultimately could result in their local extinction. Others may migrate to more favorable areas or change their physiology to adapt to the new conditions. These effects in turn will lead to altered species interactions like predation and competition, and to cascading effects (….) that may significantly alter the structure and function of St. Maarten’s marine communities.”

The report furthermore warns that species will have to deal with additional threats caused by human activities, “some of which may act in synergy with climate change.” How these effects will turn out is currently poorly understood, the report points out.

St. Maarten’s marine environment has already been confronted with the invasion of two alien species: the lionfish and sea grass. The predatory and venomous lionfish are able to “significantly reduce biodiversity and can drive important fish species into extinction.” This in turn has a negative effect on our coral reefs. The lionfish is also a threat to people’s health.

The boating and yachting industry is the most likely carrier for transportation of sea grass (H. stipulacea) to St. Maarten’s marine environment. Especially yachts operating in the Mediterranean that come to the island and vessels traveling from Grenada, St. Lucia and Dominica contribute to this development, the report states.

Another aspect is the bleaching of coral reefs. These ecosystems are extremely vulnerable to temperature changes, the report points out. In the next 15 to 25 years, the reefs will undergo “regular widespread and catastrophic bleaching.”

In St. Maarten coral reefs represent a major source of income, the report notes. “Both the tourist and the fishing sector are extremely dependent on healthy reefs. They are also important ecosystems for the local and global biodiversity”

Coral reefs are home to the endangered green turtle, boulder star coral, the critically endangered hawksbill turtle and staghorn coral. The Nature Foundation works with a Coral Bleaching Response Plan to diminish coral bleaching.

The full report will become available on www.naturefoundationsxm.org

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