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Warming Waters Threaten Caribbean

December 1, 2010

Pauline, Patrick, Ernest, John, and Gregory Hemingway with four marlins on the dock in Bimini, July 20, 1935. Ernest Hemingway Collection/John F. Kennedy Presidential Library, Boston.

Paris’s cafe culture is mobbed with tourists. The snows of Kilimanjaro are melting. But nowhere are the changes to Hemingway’s world more obvious than in the Caribbean, where global warming is changing the waterways he used to fish and threatening to drown the islands he used to explore.

Diplomats from 43 island nations are speaking out at the UN climate talks in Cancun, saying they face “the end of history” if stronger action isn’t taken to control rising temperatures.

According to a new UN report, every Caribbean nation faces huge economic losses due to rising sea levels in the upcoming decades.

The report by the Oxford University Centre for the Environment estimates the 15 Caribbean Community nations could see $4 billion to $6 billion in annual damages, with tens of billions of dollars in infrastructure damages, reports the Guardian.

Among the worst hit will be the Bahamas, home of tiny Bimini, one of Hemingway’s favorite fishing islands.

The study says a 1 meter rise in sea level would cut away an average of 100 meters of coastline in the region, the Guardian says, eroding beaches, forcing evacuations, contaminating fresh water supplies and harming tourism. (Click here to see an interactive look at what these shrinking coastlines would look like.)

And that’s not counting the possible increases in hurricane activity and the damages to coral reefs.

A recent USA Today story looked at the impacts to young coral due to rising acidification due to warming seas.

“We’re affecting the chemistry of the oceans at an unprecedented rate,” Rebecca Albright of theUniversity of Miami‘s Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science, tells USA Today. “It’s a rate that hasn’t been known to occur naturally for the last 60 million years.”

She’s the lead author of a study that appeared last month in The study appears in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Coral reefs provide $30 billion of economic benefit to the USA, and some $375 billion globally each year through tourism, diving, coastal protection, commercial fishing and fishing communities, Albright says.

Her study found recruitment of new corals could drop by as much as 73 percent over the next century.