The degradation of coastal ecosystems increase the risk of storm surges

According to residents in Little Bay, more vegetation used to line their coastline, serving as a natural protective barrier against storm surges. © UNEP, 2010


In Negril, Jamaica, up to 55 metres of beach depth has been lost in some areas as a consequence of the degradation of coral reefs, the removal of sea grass meadows, the loss of mangroves, and increasing urban and agricultural pollution.

Coral reefs, for example, provide ecosystem services that include shoreline protection, supply of beach material, tourism revenue and local fishing. In Negril, coral reefs have been degraded in numerous ways: damage inflicted by major storms (such as Hurricane Ivan in 2004); coral bleaching through increased sea temperatures; pollution from sewage and agricultural run-off causing algal growth that suffocates coral; invasive predators such as lion fish; and destructive fishing practices.

Mangroves protect beaches and shorelines by dissipating near-shore waves and play a vital role as a breeding habitat for fish and shellfish, but they have been harvested for firewood and building materials. Sea grass meadows are also a significant natural source of beach material but are in decline mainly because of removal by the tourism industry. Other coastal ecosystems suffering degradation include wetlands and forests.

This degradation of coastal ecosystems has increased storm surge risk in Negril. A 1-in-50-year hurricane has the potential to produce storm waves of almost 7 metres, affecting around 2,500 local residents, more than 60 hotels and their guests, and water and sanitation infrastructure (UNEP, 2010).

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