When we picture the Commonwealth of the Bahamas, much of what we envisage is a luxurious sun, sea and sand getaway, especially since the country has one of the highest GDPs in the Latin American and Caribbean (LAC) region. Given this imagery, it easy to assume that there are little to no challenges faced by a population of less than 400,000 people. Upon closer observation of its geographic locale, one realizes that the Bahamas is fragmented over 700 islands and cays which are frequented by storms and hurricanes. Additionally, these islands are very low lying and therefore highly susceptible to the effects of sea level rise. As such, the IDB has recognized the islands vulnerability and has taken proactive measures by financing Integrated Coastal Zone Management (ICZM) initiatives within recent time.
In many Small Island Developing States (SIDS) much of the guidance that informs decision making for disaster risk management is based on a top-down approach. Due to the immediate need for action in times of extreme events, reactive decisions tend to be made in vacuum separate to an awareness of ecosystem services.One reason for this may be that there is no digestible information readily on hand to inform policy development.
Since each island in the archipelagic chain of the Bahamas has a unique combination of culture, socio-economics and coastal capital, a preferred method of management has been to undertake a multi-stakeholder approach. Indeed, this is a best practice method that is currently being used to guide coastal policy along with the advent of ecosystem models that may be able to support the need for immediate decisions.
[vimeo 254568900 w=640 h=360]
Earlier this month I attended a workshop developed by the Natural Capital project which was aimed at improving multi stakeholder capacity building. This was a component of the IDB backed Ecosystem-based Development Plan for Andros Island in the Bahamas. The University of Stanford in collaboration with the Government of the Bahamas carried out an intensive four day training program which integrated the participation of policy makers, technical audiences and students. A delightful outcome of the activity was seeing participants’ avid interest concerning the valuation of ecosystem services related to coral reefs, seagrass beds and mangroves.
We were treated to a mixture of theory and hands on exercises meant to model areas prone to coastal risk via a combination of anthropogenic factors and natural features. This was accomplished with the use of the InVEST (Integrated Valuation of Ecosystem Services and Tradeoffs) software. The workshop was fun, engaging and most importantly, thought provoking because the software combined the use of a visually appealing GIS interface. Here I could see how information could quickly be used to assist decision makers in order to facilitate proactive hazard risk reduction via the identification of ecosystem services.
However, it is important to note that the input information used with the InVEST suite of services is dependent on a robust and up to date inventory of coastal data. From marine traffic routes to coastal structures, from land cover to substrate type; localized efforts need to be made in order to source, digitize and manage information in a manner that is consistent with the changes occurring in the real world. For instance, a recorded coastal protection structure that might have been standing for decades may simply collapse in a few hours with the passing of a Hurricane; a seagrass bed may become smothered after unexpected sedimentation from dredging.
This is why data management is an important aspect of capacity building in many SIDS. With the right foundation, not only will visual tools like InVEST serve inform decisions, but they can also be used to guide stakeholders towards standardized data collection and management – which is integral to sustainability across the long term.
At the workshop, I saw that many Bahamians were mindful and open about these data needs and intrigued about the application of the software within the real world. Once the momentum is maintained, there is no doubt that a promising future is in store for ecosystem based decision making across this aquamarine island chain.
If you are interested in Natural Capital and Biodiversity, follow us on Twitter @BIDecosistemas.