Regional fish exodus looms

KINGSTON, Jamaica – Jamaica and other regional countries stand to lose many valuable species of fish because of warmer temperatures in the Caribbean Sea, according to one leading climate-change specialist in the region.

Kenrick Leslie, executive director of the Caribbean Community Climate Change Centre in Belmopan, Belize, is predicting that with a one-degree rise in sea temperature, the Caribbean’s fishing industry could virtually collapse.

This prediction is based on modelling of such scenarios, conducted by the Climate Change Centre.

“The coral reefs at this time are at the upper limits at which they can stay alive if no action is taken to increase the ability to withstand higher temperatures. That has negative feedback because reefs provide the habitats for all of our marine life, so if you destroy the reefs, the fish will migrate,” he explained.

Leslie, speaking in an interview with The Gleaner, likened the Caribbean Sea to “a big lake, because there are very few outlets in the Eastern Caribbean, coming round to Cuba, back into Central America and the northern part of South America”.

As a result, he said, once heating takes place, the sea is trapped. “The temperature right now is sustaining itself at a much higher level. The anomalies that we see are extremely high,” Leslie added.

The climate specialist cited three species of fish – parrot, tuna and dolphin – as only some examples of those that would not survive a one-degree rise in temperature and would, therefore, migrate to water bodies further north. They would be able to survive there, he said, because the temperature in formerly frigid waters would then be milder, because of the same climate-change phenomenon.

The implications of this development have not been lost on André Kong, one of Jamaica’s leading fisheries experts. “It would have a domino effect on the sea and our fishing industry and fishing culture,” he said.

In relation to the parrot fish, Kong pointed out that it plays a dual role, as it is one of the most effective cleaners of coral reefs.

“By foraging on the coral reef, it keeps algae growth in check, so that the algae do not overpower the coral reef and cause it to die,” he said.

The disappearance of the parrot fish would, therefore, be a loss not only to the palates of seafood lovers, but to the reefs, which would be even more vulnerable to attacks from various forms of algae, which are increasing due to other bad environmental practices, he added.

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