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University of Miami: Hurricane Mathew Impacts on The Bahamas

Young Marine Explorers (YME), a Bahamian marine conservation organization based on New Providence will work with Coastal Ecology Lab (UM-CEL) at the University of Miami to document the impacts of Hurricane Matthew on coastal and marine resources. YME works with high school students primarily from under-served communities throughout the school year. Over the next eight-months these YME student teams will now study the impact that Hurricane Matthew has had on the shorelines and coral reefs of New Providence. The passing of Hurricane Matthew coming up from the south to the north of the country has had unprecedented impacts on the people and communities of many islands. This Rapid Impact Assessment proposal will document and communicate the loss of natural capital (for example, fish, spiny lobster and mangroves that protect the coasts) from hurricane waves and winds to one island, New Providence.

New Providence is home to 80% of the Bahamian population, and four major protected areas. This assessment will evaluate the hurricane impacts on coastal water quality and biological diversity inside and outside protected areas along the southern and western coasts of the island to determine what the potential long-term changes might be to mangroves, beaches and coral reefs. The passing of a second major hurricane in two years, and has prompted the CEL and YME partnership to develop a community-based rapid ecological assessment protocol. The severity and extent of this hurricane damage is unprecedented; this hurricane offers an opportunity to re-develop and mitigate hurricane damage to improve resilience and resistant to damage from future storms. This will be the first project of its kind in The Bahamas to engage high school students in applied conservation science that will document the natural resource cost of a major storm event.

The proposed research has six components:

Task 1 is to write and implement a communications plan that will archive hurricane damage in a spatial database. This plan will train students to document coastal impacts of erosion, loss of vegetation, destruction of built structures (e.g. roads and buildings) and flooding. The communication plan will reach out to three communities on New Providence to share their hurricane experiences, and review the constructed maps of coastal impacts.

Tasks 2 and 3 involves targets coastal field assessments with scientists and students to quantify coastal erosion and near shore water quality changes after the storm. Students will communicate these findings to the local communities.

Task 4 is to create summary maps showing the extent and severity of hurricane damage, with analysis of areas most likely to experience post-storm algal blooms or hypoxic events.

Based on the spatial analysis of impacts, Task 5 will select coral reef sites to survey four months after the storm to assess physical damage, sponge or coral die-offs and changes in benthic algae diversity. Past reef surveys and marine habitat mapping datasets will be used as reference conditions.

Task 6 will summarize the results from the entire project, and present findings at a community workshop hosted by YME.

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