What is climate change?
The effects of climate change are felt across the world and with increasing intensity. The greenhouse effect is a natural phenomenon that traps gasses in the atmosphere, and results in the warming of planet. Without this process life on Earth would not be able to survive. Humans have had the greatest influence on climate change by releasing large amount of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere. These excess gasses are trapped in the atmosphere and lead to the increased warming of the planet, as well as other phenomena. These include sea level rise, sea surface temperature rise, ocean acidification, decreased precipitation, and increased frequency and intensity of storms.
How is it affecting Corozal Bay Wildlife Sanctuary?
CBWS and its key stakeholder communities have been classified as highly vulnerable to climate change, and in order to increase resilience and plan for adaptation, it is necessary to have sound knowledge of the natural resources on which to base conservation efforts. The most pressing climate change impacts for CBWS and surrounding communities are more frequent heat waves and droughts, less predictable, more intense rainfall leading to increased flooding, and rising sea levels with associated saline intrusion.
Sarteneja, Chunox, and Copper Bank are the three key stakeholder communities that will feel the greatest effects of climate change. These communities are almost entirely reliant on fishing and small-scale agriculture production – both industries predicted to face significant challenges in the future. They also rely heavily on the ecosystem services provided by CBWS. In 2014 SACD engaged stakeholders to build awareness about climate change and the need for adaptation. As temperatures increase, the local fishermen predict an increase in large-scale fish deaths from reduced dissolved oxygen, movement of fish into deeper, cooler waters, resulting in lower catches in the traditional beach traps. Also, changing weather patterns could alter the way and times that fish move in and out of the estuary. Sea level rise and subsequent change in salinity could cause a change in the species composition, which hold both cultural and dietary significance in these communities.
It is possible that some of CBWS’s conservation targets are able to adapt as long as conditions do not become too severe. For example, seagrass could potentially see benefits from climate change, with increasing water depths and warmer waters allowing for better growth. On the other hand, sea level rise would negatively impact mangroves by inundating aerial roots and lowing the oxygen concentrations. The migration of mangroves inland could occur naturally, but only if saline mud flats of the low coastal plain remain undeveloped. Identifying the potential threats is the first step in planning for the future health of these systems.
What do we do?
In recognition of the urgent need for the development of climate change adaptation strategies for both the communities and for CBWS itself, SACD engaged its stakeholders through a series of activities to build awareness of the value of the Wildlife Sanctuary and its coastal mangroves in protecting and assisting in adapting to climate change. These activities also focused on increasing awareness of climate change in these communities, its predicted impacts and potential adaptation mechanisms, and the development of participatory community adaptation plans. The importance of building climate change resilience in the highly vulnerable local artisanal fishing industry was also addressed.
By maintaining ecosystem integrity, CBWS can assist in buffering local climate, and reduce risks and impacts from extreme events such as storms, droughts and sea-level rise, with mangroves stabilizing shorelines and seagrass stabilizing estuarine sediments. In CBWS, there has been ongoing monitoring across the conservation targets. Through these monitoring activities SACD is able to track changes and impacts to these systems in order to produce targeted management strategies.
SACD has developed and Community Climate Change Adaptation Plan.