Countries around the world are at increasing risk from coastal hazards, such as Hurricane Dorian, which wreaked havoc in The Bahamas in 2019. Degraded seawalls and coastal structures flattened in the wake of the storm highlight the challenge of investing in traditional approaches to coastal protection and other infrastructure that requires regular maintenance, especially for small island developing states on the front lines of climate change. Instead, a new approach — building with and investing in nature — is needed.
In and around Andros Island, a small island in The Bahamas, vast mangrove and coppice forests, the third largest coral reef in the world, seagrass beds, sand flats, and hundreds of blue holes support the country’s commercial and sport-fishing industries and nature-based tourism activities. However, many parts of Andros still lack essential infrastructure such as piped water supplies and modern educational and healthcare facilities to support livelihoods of Androsians and those of generations to come. The central challenge confronting the Government of The Bahamas is to make investments that support sustainable economic development and promote education while also sustaining the island’s wealth of natural assets – especially those assets such as coral reefs and mangroves forests that help to shield communities from flooding and loss of land.
In a participatory process, the Office of the Prime Minister brought in the Natural Capital Project to design an island-wide future scenario that supports environmental, social, and economic objectives. The planning process delivered a community-supported vision that will guide development projects, policies, and investments for the next 25 years. The Natural Capital Project’s assessment of fisheries, tourism, and coastal protection benefits also helped pave the way for an innovative loan from the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) to the Government of The Bahamas to invest in mangroves restoration for coastal resilience now and into the future. Building on the work in The Bahamas, the Natural Capital Project (through support from the IDB) is now expanding throughout the Mesoamerican Reef area to help several countries build nature-based strategies into national development and coastal resilience planning.