The government is seeking to improve coastal resilience across The Bahamas, beginning with pilot programs to replenish natural ecosystems on Andros, Grand Bahama, Long Island and New Providence, Minister of Public Works Desmond Bannister said yesterday.
The announcement comes over two months after Hurricane Dorian devastated parts of Abaco and Grand Bahama, with some areas experiencing storm surge in excess of 20 feet.
“There are several challenges that we face as an island nation that could be underwater in a few years,” he said.
“So, the government signed a loan with the IDB for $35 million to begin to address the issue of coastal resilience in four islands. The first is East Grand Bahama, Long Island, Junkanoo Beach on New Providence and in Andros.
“We have a number of challenges, not only with the fact that we are a low lying island nation, but we have a number of challenges because in many areas where mangroves and natural vegetation provide some type of protection, we removed them and we put these man-made structures, seawalls, etc. And as a result, we have had many, many challenges. And so, we’re seeking to address these challenges.”
He added, “It’s a start on what has to be a very large effort in this country to seek to ensure that we create more of a resilient coastline in our country.”
Last week, a Stanford University-led report stated that The Bahamas could face a tripling of hurricane-related damage if surrounding ecosystems such as coral reefs and mangroves are lost or degraded.
The report found that the island at the highest risk to coastal impacts are Abaco, Acklins, Andros and Crooked Island, followed by New Providence. It also found that the most susceptible coastlines in the country are those on the side of islands that “sit on extensive shallow banks, where the potential for significant storm surge is high”.
Asked whether he is concerned that the efforts to protect the coastline won’t be sufficient, Bannister said the government can only try its best.
“One of the things, I don’t get to choose [is] where people live, because if I did there would be a number of places that I suggest we don’t live,” he said.
“You’ve seen it in Acklins for example, a place like Salina Point that keeps getting hit hurricane after hurricane.
“But these are traditional settlements where people are historically settled in our country, and they have been there for a long time and they are tied to those communities, so we have to appreciate that as a government,” he said.
“We’re not going to be able to force people to move from those areas. And so the next step that we have to take is to protect the areas so that persons living there can survive some of the threats that we’re going to face on an annual basis, on a regular basis.”