At the Water’s Edge: The Nature Conservancy works with the Grenada Red Cross Society on environmental resilience

Published: 9 April 2016 1:48 CET

Many communities found in the Eastern Caribbean are prone to hazards such as storms, flooding, rising waters, coastal erosion, saltwater intrusion of coastal aquifers and the subsequent risks posed to safety, livelihoods and marine resource.  Facing increasing vulnerabilities brought on by climate change, the common solutions to these issues are not always available to these communities; constructing sea walls, levees and dams are often financially unfeasible as well as destructive to the very systems of natural resources that they are trying to protect.

Grenville is one of these many communities.  Located on Grenville Bay, it is the second largest town in Grenada and has an active role in the country’s economy through its busy fishing industry.  In order to mitigate the impact of rising coastlines that threaten the natural reefs and marine ecosystems, as well as the community’s safety, social development and economic capacities, The Nature Conservancy (TNC), a global non-profit organization that specializes in protecting the natural environment that sustains life, undertook an innovative reef engineering initiative to restore the wave-breaking function of degraded reefs in Northern Grenville Bay.  This initiative is part of a larger integrated effort of ecosystem-based adaptations (EBA) towards Disaster Risk Reduction called “At the Water’s Edge”, a TNC project that seeks to build coastal resilience in Grenada and St. Vincent & the Grenadines.

Understanding that taking the community’s needs into account would be as vital to the project as any data on wave height and frequency, TNC partnered with the Grenada Red Cross Society (GRCS) to carry out community assessments on the ground in Grenville to obtain first-hand accounts and experiences with the reefs of Grenville Bay.  This participation process was welcome by the community and the results informed the project to best suit the community going forward.

Sitting with the fishermen gave us a great sense of belonging and also appreciate more what we’ve been doing, as well as great knowledge and information that they brought to the table” states Mr. Terry Charles, Director General of the GRCS.

Firstly, they were quite enthused to be engaged to the level where we sat with them to hear from them, tell us what’s going on down the reef, because you are out there fishing, tell us what you observe when you’re fishing, tell us what changes you have observed over the years.  They were quite happy to be able to share that, because in the past, what they said is that people came and told them what to expect, but nobody genuinely engaged them in discussion, so when Red Cross and TNC came and began to have that sort of open discussion, it meant quite a lot to them” continued Mr. Charles.

Using the first-hand knowledge of the fishermen communities in conjunction with the necessary scientific data, the building of a total of 30 meters of submerged breakwater on the Grenville reefs was formally launched in early January 2015, using local community labour, at lower cost and with higher ecosystem benefits than the traditional solutions involving concrete seawalls.  This breakwater was designed to reduce 80-90% of the wave energy passing over it, and do so over the next 30 years.

The fruits of the partnership between GRCS and TNC have left a lasting impact on both organizations.  The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) has used the success of GRCS partnership with TNC to explore similar opportunities of joint work at more regional and global scales. At Water’s Edge was already discussed at the 3rd International Conference on Small Island Developing States in Samoa in 2014, where countries from the Pacific Ocean and South Pacific who face similar climate change issues, as well as various United Nations offices, development and civil society actors present, could learn about initiatives and experiences in the Caribbean.

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