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The impacts of climate change on Bonaire (2022-present)

Small islands are particularly vulnerable to climate change because of their fragile ecosystems, small economies, and often extensive, low-lying coastal areas.

Therefore, small islands, such as present in the Caribbean Netherlands, are expected to suffer excessively from rising temperatures, changes in precipitation, sea level rise, coral bleaching, cyclones, droughts and floods. Yet, scientific evidence of these effects in the Caribbean Netherlands is scarce.

In this study, an analysis is conducted assessing the impacts of climate change for the island of Bonaire. A mix of methods is used to estimate the impacts of climate change, including climate and flood models, ecological-economic models, as well as social-science methods such as social media analysis and participatory mapping. Four sub-studies can be distinguished: the estimation of the biophysical impacts, the modelling of economic effects, the identification of socio-cultural effects, and the exploration for potential adaptation options.

The main findings of the study include the following:

  • Already by 2050, sea level rise will cause permanent inundation of parts of the low-lying nature reserves of the saliñas, Lac Bay and Klein Bonaire. The flooded surface area will increase further by 2150, threatening Bonaire's high-risk built-up areas such as Belnem and other areas in Kralendijk. The loss of coral reefs as a natural buffer will amplify these effects.
  • The economic impact of climate change is mainly felt through damage costs caused by floods as well as negative effects on tourism caused by the loss of corals. Storms and floods are expected to cause an estimated damage costs of US$317 million by 2050. The degradation of coral reefs leads to the degradation or loss of the majority of dive sites on Bonaire, which may cause a reduction in tourist arrivals of more than 100 thousand visitors.
  • Climate change is also expected to severely cause loss of cultural heritage and health impacts on Bonaire. Among others, this includes the permanent flooding of key locations with cultural significance for Bonaireans, such as the slave huts and the house at Boca Slagbaai. Additionally, climate change is expected to affect Bonaireans’ health, such as changes in vector-borne disease incidence and heat-related stress.
  • Potential adaptation strategies against climate change on Bonaire include nature-based solutions such as the conservation of coral reefs and the restoration of coastal vegetation, which contribute to the prevention of flooding. We conclude that, although the impacts of climate change necessitate immediate action, decision-makers should also focus on the longer term, such as 2150 and beyond, as the effects of climate change will worsen significantly over time.

For more information about the study or sub-studies, download the following reports: