From tropical to polar seas…how climate change is impacting the diverse UK Overseas Territories

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Pacific Crown © jfif

The Marine Climate Change Impacts Partnership (MCCIP), working closely with the UK Overseas Territories (UKOTs), has published the first comprehensive assessment of climate change impacts on coasts and seas across the UKOTs. In this crucial year of global climate action, it highlights the UKOTs climate challenges and showcases where they are working with nature to build resilience to climate change.

The UKOTs constitute a small land area with large marine provinces, which collectively represent the 5th largest marine estate in the world. Extending from the polar ocean to tropical seas, they reflect a highly diverse range of habitats and people, with strong cultural identities closely tied to the sea.

Focusing on six key regions (Polar, Pacific, South Atlantic, Mediterranean, Caribbean and North Atlantic, and Indian Ocean), more than 60 leading experts from all 14 UKOTs prioritised and highlighted their most important ecological and societal climate challenges.

Although each Territory is unique, and in many cases geographically isolated, they share some common climate change issues.

  • Many Territories, such as Ascension, Tristan Da Cunha, St. Helena, Falklands in the South Atlantic, and Pitcairn in the Pacific, are geographically isolated, and rely on the sea to transport people and goods, including food supplies. Changes in extreme weather and sea-level rise could impact on this important connection to the wider world.
  • Fish are locally important for food and recreation, and for many territories’ fisheries provide an important contribution to GDP. Many important species (e.g., Tristan Rock Lobster) and the habitats that support them could be at risk from climate driven changes.
  • Threats to communities and infrastructure from an increase in flooding and erosion are priority issues for many UKOTs, compounded by the loss and degradation of natural coastal protection. The human, economic and environmental consequences of severe storms were particularly highlighted for the Caribbean.
  • British Indian Ocean Territory and Pitcairn in the Pacific, as well as the Caribbean and North Atlantic UKOTs (covering Anguilla, Bermuda, the British Virgin Islands, the Cayman Islands, Montserrat, and the Turks and Caicos), expressed significant concerns about the effects of increasing sea temperature, ocean acidification and extreme weather events on their corals and reef communities. Reefs provide many important services such as coastal protection, fisheries and recreation, all of which are being impacted by climate change.
  • Some territories expressed concern about major shifts in marine ecosystems. For the Mediterranean UKOTs, the role of climate change in facilitating the spread of invasive species was a major focus. For Polar UKOTs, climate change effects on marine foodwebs and sea-ice habitats have repercussions for charismatic species, regional fisheries, and global climate regulation.
  • Across all the territories, a lack of local data hampers efforts to measure and predict the impacts from climate change and prepare for the major challenges that lie ahead.

Lord Goldsmith, Minister for the International Environment and Climate, states:

“The impacts of climate change pose a serious threat to the vital marine ecosystems of the UK Overseas Territories and the coastal communities that depend directly on them”.

“By undertaking research, such as the reports published today, we can close gaps in our understanding and gain valuable insights that will help us to meet the global challenge of protecting and restoring the health of our ocean.”

Matt Frost, MCCIP Chair, states:

Clear science on climate change and the marine environment has never been so important. It is a privilege for MCCIP to be able to work with a range of stakeholders and leading scientists from across the OTs, providing evidence to inform future actions and amplifying these messages on the international stage”.

Full detailed findings from the assessment are available at www.mccip.org.uk/uk-overseas-territories. A series of digital Report Cards summarise information from six individual, peer-reviewed scientific reports commissioned by MCCIP and written by scientists from across the UKOT regions, providing detailed evidence of observed and projected climate-change impacts on the UKOTs selected priority climate change issues.

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Jul 21, 2021 By rismay