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BNT: We need a rapid response protocol to deal with disasters

DEVASTATION in Abaco after Hurricane Dorian. (NOAA via AP)

DEVASTATION in Abaco after Hurricane Dorian. (NOAA via AP)

By KHRISNA RUSSELL

Tribune Chief Reporter

krussell@tribunemedia.net

THE Bahamas National Trust has recommended the development of a rapid response protocol for responding to disasters in The Bahamas more than two years after Hurricane Dorian brought destruction to Abaco and Grand Bahama.

The recommendation was made in a report delving into the state of the environment as a result of the Category 5 storm.

A rapid response protocol, according to the report, would ensure officials conduct assessments of damage to marine and terrestrial systems and rapidly implement strategies to improve ecosystem recovery. It would include a database of current or previous studies to identify where pre-storm baseline data exist and facilitate collaborations to assess storm impacts.

An organised emergency plan will facilitate comprehensive, timely responses that will maximise the available resources and facilitate the most successful interventions possible, the report said.

Hurricane Dorian struck portions of Grand Bahama and Abaco in September 2019, impacting all aspects of marine and wildlife, including birds and forests, reef habitats, mangroves, marine mammals and seagrass communities at both islands.

The report, a collaboration of rapid assessments and input by various government and non-governmental agencies, called for the development of a national-level conservation horticulture programme that develops and manages ex-situ collections of native plants that are genetically diverse and representative of wild populations to be used for restoration and reforestation.

A significant portion of the pine forests on both islands were catastrophically damaged during the hurricane, with implications for bird species that depend on these habitats.

Species of particular concern are the critically endangered Bahama Nuthatch which is only found in the pine forests of Grand Bahama and has not been seen since 2018; the Bahama Parrot (a subspecies of the Cuban Amazon Parrot) whose largest breeding population is contained within the pine forests of Abaco and the Bahama Warbler, another endemic, is found exclusively in Pine Forests on Grand Bahama and Abaco.

In addition to the resident and endemic birds found in these pine forests, numerous migratory birds rely on these habitats for up to six months of the year. The Abaco Boa (Chilabothrus Exsul), an endemic snake, is also reliant on terrestrial habitats on Abaco although they mainly utilise coppice habitats.

Another recommendation was for the removal of debris from reefs, coastal areas, forests, and other sensitive systems to reduce the impact physical destruction these can cause during future storms and serve as fuel for uncontrolled wildfires through already compromised forests.

If large scale debris removal is not feasible, the report noted that there should be the creation of fire breaks to reduce fire impacts on recovering forests.

The report said it is also important for additional marine and terrestrial protected areas to build resilience. Marine and terrestrial organisms may relocate to safer areas during storms and return to recolonise damaged areas afterwards. In addition, the healthier reefs or forests there are, the more reserves there are to repopulate non-motile populations like corals or trees.

Another recommendation by the BNT’s report was that Casuarina and other invasive plants be removed from coastal and inland areas to improve coastal resilience.

The report said: “Casuarina trees blow over easily during storms, removing material from the coastline and becoming projectiles that damage reef structures once they enter the water. Inland Casuarinas replace native vegetation rapidly, reducing the chances that storm or fire damaged systems will return to their natural state.”

There was also a view that corals and mangroves in priority areas need to be restored to help “jump-start” the recovery process, including the use of nurseries and other propagation methods where appropriate and cost effective, while adhering to best practises to mitigate against unintended negative impacts such as the introduction of pests or diseases.

Rehabilitating and restoring severely damaged coral and mangrove habitats has the potential to increase their rate of recovery and the chance that these areas persist in the face of future storm events and other stressors, the report noted.

Comments

hrysippus 2 years, 7 months ago

So NEMA and all the State employed Workers who are on the government payroll do not actually address this very important issue? I thought that this waxs what NEMA was created for. Another sad waste of taxpayers money then.

ThisIsOurs 2 years, 7 months ago

I don't know if NEMA's mandate is looking after natural resources. It might be... but Darville is talking about a plan to protect the natural environment, since BNTs mandate is conservation it fits, and theyd have the human resources to develop that plan

WilliamHayes 2 years, 6 months ago

I sincerely hope that the general public and legislators in particular will pay attention to the very sound and urgent BNT recommendations. The Tribune should consider writing an article that describes the huge debacle implemented a year ago with the new research permit policies that chased away virtually all of the academic researchers the BNT, government, and nation have benefited from over many, many decades. Some of these researchers brought in external grant money to The Bahamas - often quite sizeable sums - and many others spent personal money to conduct research on a wide range of plant and animal species and important geological and environmental processes. Their contributions to our understanding of biodiversity and environmental issues have been immeasurable.

With the new policies, the researchers were to be charged exorbitant fees and sign on to absurd legal agreements their institutions simply could not accommodate. In short, the large majority of those researchers either postponed or abandoned their projects altogether. Many researchers moved on to projects elsewhere and may never return with their expertise, labor, and external funding. Without their money and efforts, which were unappreciated and even maligned by the former government, the BNT is severely constrained in any effort to implement a rapid response protocol. The nation simply lacks the expertise available at academic and other research institutions elsewhere.

By publicizing the policy debacle and its consequences, the Tribune could jump start discussion of the very important issues that the BNT wishes to address. I urge them to do so!

William Hayes, Ph.D. Loma Linda University Loma Linda, California, USA

WilliamHayes 2 years, 6 months ago

I sincerely hope that the general public and legislators in particular will pay attention to the very sound and urgent BNT recommendations. The Tribune should consider writing an article that describes the huge debacle implemented a year ago with the new research permit policies that chased away virtually all of the academic researchers the BNT, government, and nation have benefited from over many, many decades. Some of these researchers brought in external grant money to The Bahamas - often quite sizeable sums - and many others spent personal money to conduct research on a wide range of plant and animal species and important geological and environmental processes. Their contributions to our understanding of biodiversity and environmental issues have been immeasurable.

With the new policies, the researchers were to be charged exorbitant fees and sign on to absurd legal agreements their institutions simply could not accommodate. In short, the large majority of those researchers either postponed or abandoned their projects altogether. Many researchers moved on to projects elsewhere and may never return with their expertise, labor, and external funding. Without their money and efforts, which were unappreciated and even maligned by the former government, the BNT is severely constrained in any effort to implement a rapid response protocol. The nation simply lacks the expertise available at academic and other research institutions elsewhere.

By publicizing the policy debacle and its consequences, the Tribune could jump start discussion of the very important issues that the BNT wishes to address. I urge them to do so!

William Hayes, Ph.D. Loma Linda University Loma Linda, California, USA

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