Atlantic hurricane activity during the last millennium

Summary of our new research paper published in Scientific Reports

Atlantic tropical cyclones are a persistent threat to Countries surrounding the tropical Atlantic Ocean and Caribbean Sea. The recent devastation on the Island of Dominica is a case in point where Tropical Storm Erica caused flooding and landslides and killed at least 20 people and left more than 50 missing. While these storms are often perceived as a threat to the economies of the Small Island Developing States of the Caribbean Region (primarily because of their potential devastating impacts on life, agricultural productivity and food security), hurricanes also contribute significantly to the water budget across the region by replenishing water reserves and buffering national economies from the threat of drought.

Despite recent advances in our understanding of how climatic change may control tropical cyclone activity on a global scale, there is still no consensus on the extent to which activity in the Atlantic basin is influenced by human activity. Indeed, the Fifth Assessment Report (AR5) of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC; Christensen et al. 2013) concluded that there is low confidence in region-specific projections of tropical cyclone activity and that it remains uncertain whether recent changes in Atlantic tropical cyclone activity lie outside the range of natural variability. In order to determine the long-term variability of hurricane activity over the last 1000 years, we have developed an index of long-term hurricane activity known as the Extended Hurricane Activity (EHA) index.

We present the new reconstruction of hurricane activity in a recent paper published by the Nature Publishing Group in the Open Access journal Scientific Reports and show that a strong correlation exists between the EHA index (developed from the published Jamaican lake level record), the Accumulated Cyclone Energy index (ACE) and sea surface temperature variability within the Main Development Region (MDR) of tropical cyclone activity for the modern historical period (Fig. 1).

When extended further back in time (Figure 4 (original article)) hurricane activity appears muted during the Medieval Climate Anomaly (~900–1350 CE) and becomes more variable (and extreme) during the so-called Little Ice Age (~1450–1850 CE), a period of cooler temperatures recorded in the Northern Hemisphere and thought to be associated with a combination of lower solar and enhanced volcanic activity. The index supports evidence for a gradual increase in Atlantic hurricane activity during the industrial period (ca. 1870-present), however, we show that contemporary activity has not exceeded its longer-term natural variability exhibited over last 1000 years.

Please visit the Scientific Reports Website for further details or alternatively download a pdf copy of our paper here.

References:

Burn, M.J. and Palmer, S.E. (2015): Atlantic hurricane activity during the last millennium. Scientfic Reports 5, 12838; doi: 10.1038/srep12838

Christensen, J. H. et al. in Climate Change 2013: The Physical Science Basis. Contribution of Working Group I to the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (eds. Stocker, T.F., Qin, D., Plattner, G.-K., Tignor, M., Allen, S.K., Boschung, J., Nauels, A., Xia, Y., V., B. & P. M., M.) (Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, United Kingdom and New York, NY, USA, 2013) Chapter 14.

2015 Annual Fisherman’s Day Conference

Suzanne, Achsah and Kimani present at the 2015 Jamaica International Fisherman’s Day Conference

Fishermans conference - program cover

On Wednesday 1st July 2015, Dr Suzanne Palmer, Kimani Kitson-Walters, and Achsah Mitchell presented at The Annual Jamaica International Fisherman’s Day Conference. The meeting was hosted by the Caribbean Coastal Area Management Foundation (C-CAM), The Jamaica Fishermen Cooperative Union Limited, and the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries and held in Clarendon.

C-CAM reported that over 160 people registered, of which there were 131 fishermen and women from 15 different fishing beaches across Jamaica.

 

Theme of the Conference – “the Future of Fisheries is in our Hands”

The conference was chaired by Ms Ingrid Parchment (Executive Director of CCAM) with a panel that included Mr Andre Kong, Director, Fisheries Division, Mr Dermon Spence (Chief Technical Director, Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries), Shawn Taylor (Chairman, Jamaica Fisherman Coop Union), and Sydney Francis (Chairman, The All Island Fisheries Development Alliance) (see photo below).

Fishermans conference 2015_3

The conference gave the opportunity for fishermen and women to ask questions or make comments to the panel – this was not about presenting and defending science like many conferences but people discussing and defending their livelihoods. The many questions that were fired at the panel (and Suzanne!) revealed their knowledgeable insight into Jamaica’s Fisheries. They expressed passionate often aggravated concern that their standpoint should form and influence the decisions and policies underpinning Fisheries Management in Jamaica.

Our Presentation and Discussion – reef health and possible solutions (PBPA and Jamaica)

cover slide

Fishermans conference 2015
Suzanne at the Fisherman’s Conference (Photo: CCAM)

Suzanne was invited to present at the Conference to share the findings of the 2014 coral reef assessment of the Portland Bight Protected Area (south coast of Jamaica) which was funded by a Waitt Foundation Rapid Ocean Conservation Grant.  Previous presentations of this recent assessment have focused on presenting the science, and providing extensive scientific evidence as to why the PBPA is an important marine area and needs to continue to be protected and not developed as a transhipment hub/port. However, here there was the opportunity to discuss the importance of the findings to fishermen and their livelihoods, and how the results can be used to inform Fisheries Management in Jamaica.

The Achilles heel in Jamaica’s reef fisheries?

Some of our key findings highlighted the extremely low fish biomass that is characteristic of many Jamaican reefs – continuing as we are is clearly not sustainable. Parrotfish and surgeonfish graze on algae and therefore have an important role on the reef by helping to maintain the balance between coral and algae. The targeted overfishing of parrotfish and surgeonfish has been identified as a key issue in the decline off Caribbean coral reef health, and over the last couple of years many countries in the region have implemented fishing bans and policies on the catch of parrotfish.

What about Jamaica? Well, Jamaican’s love to eat parrotfish! Our suggestions to enforce the catch of parrotfish (anything from bans, to size of catch, to zoning, etc.) proved controversial and were met with strong resistance. Two key issues: (1) If they don’t catch parrotfish what do they catch? (2) The strong market demand for parrotfish. A fishermen at the Conference commented that recent rough seas resulted in less parrot and so they only caught snapper, however he seriously struggled to sell them as people only wanted parrot.

Kimani Kitson Walters (PhD candidate in Marine Biology and Biotechnology at The University of the West Indies), describes his thoughts & experience:

“Attending the 2015 International Fisherman’s Conference in May Pen, Clarendon for me was an eye opening experience. It provided a journey into the mind of a Jamaican fisherman and their perception on the future of the Jamaican Fishing Industry. I found them to be very passionate with an immense desire to improve their financial situation. They are very protective of their livelihood but aren’t willing to recognize that fish populations and consequently their source of income are under threat due to the lack of suitable habitat. The Fishermen are all for implementing practices that secure sustainable fishing however those methods which they are not able to comprehend or interfere with their potential income such as the banning of the the fishing of Parrotfish is met with a lot of resistance. If they are made to fully understand the reasons for implementing these methods which have been proven to work, we are a lot closer to restoring our reefs habitats and mature fish populations. Doing it holistically and not just from one perspective.”

This was an excellent opportunity for us to share our findings of the PBPA reef assessment, but we also hope that they offered food for thought and a different perspective to thinking about some of the serious challenges that Jamaica’s Fisheries are experiencing. In doing so we are playing our part in strengthening the link between science, fisheries livelihoods, and fisheries management/policy in Jamaica.

Many thanks to Achsah and Kimani for their excellent presentation at the Conference, and their commitment and dedication as team members throughout this project.