Islets in the south of Haiti are disappearing due to sea level rise

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Two specialists contacted by AyiboPost call on the State to act to help the population become aware of the risks

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The sea is rising.

One by one, the islets are disappearing, followed by the fish.

« Help! » shout the inhabitants of the Cayemite Islands.

Six of the nine islets from the pair of islands located in Grand’Anse, Grande Cayemite to the east and Petite Cayemite to the west, have gradually been submerged in recent years, Lisma Saint-Jean, a 50-year-old fisherman in the area, told AyiboPost.

Locals shelter on these small tracts of land around the Cayemites, sometimes for several weeks, to trap fish and ensure their survival.

But with each rising tide, the water continues to swell. It flooded houses on the mainland of the Cayemite Islands, and attempts at dams failed, according to witnesses.

« We are really worried about the future of the island in the face of this situation, » says Niclerce Lindor, a native of Pointe Sable in Grande Cayemite.

« So far, » says the man, « no authority has looked into the problem. »

Corail Haiti et un îlo

A coral islet threatened with disappearance due to rising sea levels in 2021. Residents used to go to this islet to fish. | © William Cinéa

After the earthquake on August 14, 2021, a rise of 10 to 15cm in sea level was observed over nearly 250m at Pointe Sable – a locality of the Cayemites, according to a report by the Directorate General of Civil Protection (DGPC).

The institution estimated that the « temporary » alternation of rising and falling tides on the island should not last beyond three months after the earthquake.

But today, the problem persists, causing the loss of livelihoods and the displacement of many families.

In 2015, the research team at the Cayes Botanical Garden visited an islet near the Cayemites Islands as part of a project dubbed the Conservatoire des îles d’Haïti (Conservatory for Haitian Islands).

When the team returned to the area in 2023, the islet had disappeared, William Cinéa, founder of the Cayes Botanical Garden, told AyiboPost.

Other islands in Haiti are suffering from the effects of rising sea levels, linked to climate change.

Read also: Haïti sous les griffes des changements climatiques

After Hurricane Matthew in 2016, the two mangrove areas located on Île-à-Vache, which were protected by several hills, were affected by sea level rise, destroying the vegetation and fauna of the ecosystem, according to Cinéa.

The seas advances endangers Îles des Anglais, located a few kilometers from Saint-Louis du Sud, notes Cinéa. The island is home to the historic remains of Fort Saint-Louis.

The phenomenon of sea level rise is global.

« Island countries like Haiti are particularly affected, » Paul Judex Edouarzin, an ecologist and specialist in environmental governance, told AyiboPost.

Rising water levels on Île-à-Vache affected the coastline in 2015.

According to a press release issued by the World Meteorological Organization in November 2023, sea level rise between 2013 and 2022 is twice as high as in the first decade of satellite observation (1993-2002) due to the continued warming of the oceans and melting glaciers and ice sheets.

These warmings are due to the release of large quantities of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, mainly by rich countries, since the beginning of the industrial revolution in the 18th century.

According to Edouarzin, rising sea levels will have significant economic and environmental impacts on Haiti.

Economically, it could cause the destruction of coastal infrastructure essential to the tourism sector, alter agricultural areas and cause the salinization of coastal plains, thus compromising agriculture.

Read also : Gonaïves risque de perdre une importante mine de sel

In terms of environmental impact, climate change and sea level rise can affect marine coastal ecosystems, causing coral bleaching and the obstruction or destruction of turtle nesting areas and other natural habitats, among other things.

In addition to the influence of global climatic phenomena, Haiti’s islands are confronted with the impact of the actions of their inhabitants.

These impacts include deforestation, unregulated extraction of sand and rocks for construction, and coastal erosion which leaves soils extremely fragile.

Deforestation of mangroves on Île-à-Vache for the production of charcoal by residents.

An agro-forestry engineer and botanist, Cinéa reports that « topsoil is almost non-existstant on Île-à-Vache. »

Crops commonly grown on the island, such as groundnuts, cassava and potatoes, are  not suitable, increasing the vulnerability of the soil to winds.

The situation is similar on Île des Anglais, where the plant ecosystem, which still protected this space, is disappearing, according to Cinéa.

Read also : Des Haïtiens repoussent la mer à Carrefour pour «fè tè»

Two specialists contacted by AyiboPost call on the State to act to help to inform the population of the risks.

Public institutions must put in place ecosystem restoration initiatives to help save flora and fauna.

« If nothing is done, we can expect our ecosystem’s resilience resources to disappear, » warns Cinéa.

Bags of charcoal made from the deforestation of mangroves on Île-à-Vache.

In the Cayemites Islands, sea levels continue to rise, increasing the risk of extensive damage. « We live here in great uncertainty, » says Vladimir Cangas, a fisherman and resident of Anse du Nord, a town in Grande Cayemite.

When the tide rises, « I sleep with one eye open and one eye closed to remain vigilant in case of a possible flooding, » explains the father of four, worried about his family’s future on the island.

Île-à-Vache

A hill on the coast of Île-à-Vache is affected by rising waters, threatening the mangroves.

 Île-à-Vâche

A turtle victim of wild fishing on Île-à-Vache.

By Lucnise Duquereste

Cover image: Rising water levels on Île-à-Vache affect the coastline in 2015.

Photos by William Cinéa


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