In light of the scientific concerns regarding the effects of climate change and what they entail, we conducted two sessions on May 18 and June 14, 2011. These two groups were mainly aimed at obtaining comments or feedback on the research and information needs associated with the topic of climate change, mostly applied to marine and coastal resources in Puerto Rico and the US Caribbean. We interviewed nine (9) representatives from the academic sector (researchers from UPR). In this particular group, we invited a specialist in public health associated with environmental issues to include other possible aspects that may not have been discussed in our previous group sessions.
We asked the following questions:
- What type of research or information is needed to manage or conserve our marine and coastal resources in light of the pertinent issues concerning climate change? What studies are needed to address possible scenarios of climate change that would affect our marine/coastal resources in Puerto Rico (including the US Caribbean)? Please consider answers on a short-term (5 years or less) and a long-term (at least 10 years) period.
- What obstacles are presently hindering research or assessments that could help address issues associated with climate change?
The responses to our questions were mostly based on the expertise of each participant, which varied from coastal monitoring, civil engineering, remote sensing, and public health:
- Two major themes should be explored: ocean/atmospheric temperature and ocean acidification. These areas have profound impacts on environment and ecosystem. Short and long term scales would be best defined for about 100 years since this is near the limit of historical temperature and precipitation data available from the National Weather Service. Climate change is mostly identified as a long term time scale.
- Research should define or identify the best refuge areas. Mapping of deep mesophotic reefs is needed. Identify sites with healthy coral and determine the reasons there are temperature-resistant corals. Studies on the sediments and a better understanding of its organic decomposition, its effect on O2 concentrations in coastal areas and on corals ecosystems.
- As population increases so do the impacts of urban development, deforestation, and soil erosion. These physical components need consistent monitoring and evaluation with sufficient detail. With regard to climate change, we expect changes in rainfall events, intensity, duration, and contribution to soil erosion and TSS (Total Suspended Solids) in coastal waters. These physical changes are creating harmful algae blooms, but increased TSS will also affect photosynthesis and benthic communities.
- Climate change affecting precipitation, salinity, wave climate and photosynthesis on insular shelf is largely unknown. Baseline information (such as bathymetry) is critical for developing physical models. Unfortunately, bathymetric data of most of the insular shelf does not have high resolution. Benthic habitats are also poorly known and delineated. The use of Multibeam Sonar may help up decrease gaps to about 30 meters.
- Studies that involve analyzing mesophotic reefs. Corals deeper than 100 meters may harbor commercially important fish communities and may consist of keystone species (such as the red snapper). Remotely operated underwater vehicles (ROVs) can be used to investigate these ecosystems. Large vessels are needed for this type of research.
- Coastal erosion is a major risk or hazard that is linked to climate change and global warming, which involves the rise of sea level. Where are the “hot spots”? New methods to measure sea level with greater precision would be very helpful in understanding physical models and gravitational field GPS geoid surveys needs completion. This includes efforts for high resolution data. Evaluating the loss of our beaches and showing the local authorities that these are real problems that need to be addressed.
- Develop scenarios that help establish conditions to test and determine potential obstacles that affect management and conservation goals.
- Studies need to be conducted on ecosystem resilience and identifying their productive capacities (Example: how much can be removed and is recovery possible (quotas) are important questions for fisheries).
- Establishing baseline data for various species and identifying trends in populations in both long and short term is critical information that should be collected and analyzed. Studies on phytoplankton population dynamics are needed to understand how these nutrients are used and how O2/CO2 is balanced.
- Climate change and human health issues need to be studied. A well-studied example is dengue fever, in which a direct correlation with ambient temperature increase and the number of patients with dengue has been reported. In 2007, 10,000 cases of dengue were reported in our region. These events needs constant monitoring along with other possible develops of human diseases or conditions associated with climate change such as:
- Skin cancer
- Asthma (example: increases in Sahara dust clouds)
- Human health conditions and its effect on the economy
Responses specific to the obstacles that are currently delaying the advancement of research and assessments that could improve marine and coastal management in relation to climate change were:
- The apathy or unwillingness of our authorities to take effective action to resolve the management problems that confront us.
- Permits to conduct public health-related surveys are complex and difficult to obtain. Much information critical to public health evaluation gets lost in the process.
- Institutions need to coordinate resources to support multidisciplinary efforts to resolve resource management problems. Greater effort needs to be made on how to share research findings, identify new problem areas and communicate the information to stakeholders in a usable form.
- Baseline information, all data being collected by the different agencies need to be placed on line and easily available to experts and stakeholders. At the present time, obtaining this information is extremely difficult.
- A recent obstacle in outreach and education efforts is obtaining permission to take children or youth to the beach and visit coastal environments. The administrative and bureaucratic process is extensive that teachers are discouraged.
In general, most of the participants agreed that long-term scenarios must be considered when evaluating the impacts of climate change, not only on our marine and coastal resources, but also on public health.