Managing Adaptation to Environmental Change in Coastal Communities: Canada and the Caribbean


The global climate is changing. Impacts are increasingly visible, and the trends are undeniable. Rising temperatures are melting polar ice and together with thermal expansion of water are contributing to: sea level rise, changing precipitation patterns, more frequent intense weather events, storm surges and flooding, coastal erosion, increased sedimentation of coastal waters, and, especially worrisome, pollution from flooded or destroyed infrastructure and storm runoff. Recent reports declare that “all countries” will be affected, especially small island states and developing economies with populations in low-lying and coastal regions being most at risk from sea-level rises, increased average global temperatures affecting the normal seasonal cycles, increased incidences and intensity of storms and hurricanes along with the consequent increased risks of storm surges, and increased incidences of droughts and floods. Vulnerable coastal communities can increase their adaptive capacity to climate change by linking national and regional institutional resources and services with local community knowledge, know-how, and response networks. Together, they can better anticipate and cope with potential impacts, and strategically apply limited resources to priority areas. Mitigation and adaptation strategies for the impending climate change threats to vulnerable coastal communities in developing countries are therefore socially significant research pursuits.

This project examines coastal communities in the Caribbean region and coastal communities in Canada’s Atlantic, Pacific and Arctic regions whose livelihoods will be most affected by rising sea levels. The Caribbean coastal communities are located in a Trinidad spawning ground for leatherback turtles; the Belize Barrier Reef; Bequia in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, and the city of Georgetown, the capital of Guyana, which is below sea-level. The invited Canadian communities include Charlottetown, P.E.I.; Isle Madame, Nova Scotia; Iqaluit, Nunavut; and Gibsons, British Columbia. We know of no existing research that links these communities of interest with the intent of creating a synergy in preparing local coastal communities for the impacts of pending climate change.

This research will develop community awareness, proposals for new infrastructure, and decision support tools for developing adaptation and mitigation strategies for the impacts of sea-level rise and storm surges on the selected regional coastal communities. Alliances will be forged between the coastal communities, researchers in the University of the West Indies, the University of Ottawa and partner universities including the University of New Brunswick, the University of Western Ontario, The University of British Columbia, and Simon Fraser University. The partnership alliances will assess and evaluate adaptation and mitigation tools collaboratively by presenting methods, best practices, and community-based policy recommendations for the expressed use of local and regional governments. New knowledge will be generated through local, regional and international community-university workshops and will be communicated to decision makers and the public via the Internet that will be designed to foster commentary and provide updated information and new knowledge. Communities will benefit through building capacity for dealing with threats from sea-level rise and storm surges. Participating universities will incorporate comparative research results and community knowledge into the development of explicit and interdisciplinary climate change related course curricula. The results will be increased academic, community and public capacities to serve and protect threatened regions. Leveraging the results of previous research and using a multidisciplinary approach, this research will incorporate aspects of sociology, economics, management science, and geomatics engineering.  Sea-level rise will be modeled spatially to identify potentially impacted community socioeconomic infrastructure. The models will provide support for socioeconomic impact assessment, increase policy effectiveness in meeting community needs, evaluate and assess mitigation and adaptation strategies, and will develop appropriate policy recommendations for government leaders.