Though coral reefs cover about one percent of the ocean floor, they are extremely important as they support the socio-economic development of island nations such as St. Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG). These organisms come in diverse shapes and sizes from sponges, brains, mushrooms, and hard textures. Corals are primarily found in shallow tropical waters. They mainly survive in a warm climate and depend on natural light to obtain energy.
Coral reefs comprise colonies of hundreds to thousands of tiny individual corals, called polyps. Coral reefs are not only aesthetically pleasing from their colours and preternatural ability to settle on inanimate objects, they are also beneficial as they serve as protective barriers, breeding grounds for animals, and provide food and job security. But while the importance of coral reefs is recognised, they remain under threat because of the effects of Climate change.
In SVG corals are seen on the windward and leeward sides of the island. While the government and private institutions may try mitigation methods, the damage is still prevalent and reoccurring. Proven by researchers from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), advanced countries may need to reduce greenhouse and carbon dioxide emissions between 80% and 95% by 2050 in order to keep global warming below 2 °C. Within the past few years, the instability of the weather patterns through hurricanes and tropical waves has been affecting the frequency of rainfall. The constant rain has also led to runoff of topsoil from rivers, which produces more algae and chemicals. Algae are known to block the corals from getting necessary sunlight which leads to corals being stressed. In 2022, a series of events occurred on the windward side of the island where many rivers washed away sediments from the banks which may also have volcanic sediments.
But who does the blame fall on?
Regional leaders continue to point out that the effects of Climate change are caused by ‘developed’ countries such which hold the biggest factories “by volume” in the world and which contribute to the fleeting and deflating of the weather patterns. While SVG may have sponsors and incentives from developed countries the damage is still prevalent.
On January 22nd One News SVG met with Vaughn Martin who is a certified diver and instructor. He quit his job as an accountant to “freelance”. He stated that after diving for the first time he realized diving was his “calling”. He is now the owner of a dive shop called “Serenity Dive” and he also takes his time to establish nurseries for coral reefs. Martin is dedicated to his passion and offers education to divers from basic level to master’s level. The all-around businessman of 9 years spoke to us about the factors that contribute to climate change.
When asked about the drastic changes that have occurred over time with the corals, Martin said:
“On the Windward side, it is more open to surges, so when diving you won’t find as much reefs on the windward side as you would on the leeward course because that’s always ponded by the surging waves where you see more like sand and maybe grass. You have some reefs in between but it would be more from the land coming down, you won’t see it out there and then of course that would get pounded. The majority of the damage I’ve seen is more from mariners going down to Indian Bay to LaVue. That whole beachfront that’s what we’re focusing on trying to replant corals there. That’s our main spot that we’re focusing on.”
How is the nursery going?
“It’s going pretty good. We only do the maintenance like once a week; we go out on a Saturday and do cleaning and stuff but even then sometimes with the cruise ship season it’s hard to balance, but we are monitoring so that they are good. So we’re actually at a point where we are transplanting again. We have 800 pieces of fragments from 10 different sites. Once they get big enough we are going to snip them.”
How important are coral reefs to SVG and the Caribbean?
“It’s very important to us as it forms a habitat. It’s a nice tourist attraction when you see an area that is quite vibrant with corals where people can come and snorkel and see life. It also creates wave breaks and tries to prevent a lot of erosion from the beaches especially when we have a lot of surges.
Do you think bigger responsible countries are responsible for climate change?
“We are more responsible for what is occurring in our waters. However, the pollution from other nations and the depletion of the ozone layer and everything going on with climate change, yes, they would have obviously had an impact and responsibility.”
Although Saint Vincent and the Grenadines may not have as much damage now, the repetitive actions of the developed countries will soon cause heavy damage to our marine life.
This story was originally published by One News St. Vincent, with the support of the Caribbean Climate Justice Journalism Fellowship, which is a joint venture between Climate Tracker and Open Society Foundations.