Caribbean countries look to nature for protection from climate change


Climate change impacts on the Caribbean region include rising sea levels, extreme weather events, unpredictable rainfall and food insecurity. Small island nations in the region can use natural ecosystems to increase their resilience and adaptation.

Mangroves, for example, act as a barrier between the sea and land, helping to mitigate the impact of storm surges and rising sea levels. However, many of the Caribbean region’s mangrove forests have been degraded or cut for coastal development. This damage makes coastlines more vulnerable to flooding and erosion.

In 2016, the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) requested the Intra-ACP GCCA Programme to train instructors in disaster and environmental management. The aim was to build capacity for eco-based disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation (DDR/CCA).

The four-day ‘train the trainer’ workshop trained 36 instructors from 10 OECS countries, identifying and analysing the links between ecosystems, disaster risk reduction, resilience and climate change. It also looked at mainstreaming eco-based DDR/CCA into development policies, plans and strategies. Participants included engineers, fisheries managers and NGO workers.

“The fact that different departments and job functions were represented, not just different island nations, added greatly to the richness of the discussion and experiences that were exchanged,” the trainers said in their mission report.

The workshop was held on the island of Dominica, which had been hit by Hurricane Erika in 2015. In less than 48 hours, more than 200 mm of rain had fallen across the entire island. The heavy rains caused catastrophic flash flooding and mudslides which killed more than 30 people. The storm
also made nearly 900 homeless and caused US$482.8 million of damage. On the workshop’s fourth day, participants visited some of the worst impacted areas.

The workshop was designed to be as interactive and ‘real world’ as possible. Each participant had to prepare a case study, including a risk-hazard map based on the real life challenges of their own island nations. Each participant identified at least one opportunity that could benefit from an eco-DRR/CCA approach in their own country, some of which were proposed to decision-makers when they returned home.


The Caribbean region is one of the world’s most vulnerable regions to climate change, but nature and ecosystems may help to protect these small island nations from the worst impacts of climate change. Here are some facts about ecosystems and the ways that they could help to protect Caribbean nations.

  • Climate change impacts such as sea level rise are projected to cost the Caribbean region US$187 billion by 2080.
  • Coral reef and mangrove revival in Barbados could reduce the potential damage from climate change-related losses by 35 percent. In Jamaica, coral reefs and sea grasses were found to provide up to 40 percent shoreline protection against storm surges and beach erosion.
  • A healthy reef reduces wave energy by up to 97 percent, and just 100 meters of mangroves can reduce wave height by 66 percent.
  • The cost-benefit ratio of return on investment of appropriate restoration of ecosystems may be as high as 3:75, depending on the ecosystem context and the measures taken.
  • The most important coastal ecosystems for mitigating the consequences of climate change in the Caribbean are mangrove forests, seagrass meadows and coral reefs.