When considering climate change as it relates to The Bahamas it is important to note that the country is an archipelago of small islands, most of them uninhabited, and that more than 80% of the land surface is only a meter or less above mean sea level. The natural resources of the country are very limited. The economy is built on tourism and services . Bahamians, like other island peoples, have historically had a close personal relationship with the land and the sea. Until the advent of modern tourism and banking industries, most Bahamians relied on the resources of both land and sea for survival.
Climate change presents new challenges due to the speed of the anticipated changes and the magnitude of the investments needed to adapt to predicted changes. In the case of some small islands the only option may be retreat and abandonment of property. The do nothing option or strategy is the one against which all other options may be compared. All too often, however, it is the default option because other options are either not available or are not known. Across The Bahamas no one option alone is likely to achieve the desired results of reducing vulnerability to climate change. Zoning practices based on vulnerability assessments, restricting types of development, prohibiting activities that exacerbate the impacts, and replacement and provision of increased security for settlements and infrastructure, are options that need to be considered. Costs associated with planned adaptation will be high but the cost of not acting will be measured directly in loss of life, loss of competitiveness in the tourism sector and often at the expense of the environment.
LOCATION AND POPULATION
The Commonwealth of The Bahamas comprises an archipelago of over 700 islands plus more than 200 cays, islets and rocks, spread over approximately 100,000 mi2 (260,000 km2) of the Atlantic Ocean. The Bahamas lies east of Florida (U.S.A.), and extends about 750 mi (1,200 km) southeastwards to within 50 mi (81 km) of Cuba and Haiti. Total land area is approximately 5,380 mi2 (13,934 km2). The islands have low relief and the highest point is only 206 ft (63 m) above mean sea level, in Cat Island. The potable freshwater resources of The Bahamas occur as three-dimensional lenses in the rock, overlying brackish and saline waters and most within five feet of the land surface. The 1990 census gave a total of 254,685 persons, with a growth rate of 1.9% per annum since 1980. The projection for 1997 was 288,862, and for 2000, 303,069. Some 60% of the population was under thirty years of age. Over 80% of the population resides on two islands: New Providence (where the capital, Nassau is located), and Grand Bahama.
CLIMATE AND WEATHER
The climate of The Bahamas is sub-tropical with fairly high mean temperatures and moderate rainfall. Mean annual rainfall varies from about 58 in (1470 mm) to about 34 in (865 mm). Mean daily temperatures fluctuate between 63°F and 90F (17°C and 32°C) with May to October considered the summer months. These are also the wetter months. Hurricanes are regular occurrences in The Bahamas during the Atlantic hurricane season (June 1 to November 30). Hurricane Andrew damaged several islands in 1992, and Floyd struck The Bahamas in September 1999, leaving major damage on a number of islands. Tropical storms and hurricanes occur most frequently in September, October, August and November, in that order. Storm surges may cause serious flooding.
HISTORY AND GOVERNMENT
The island of San Salvador is generally accepted as the site where Columbus landed in 1492. The islands remained uninhabited until the 1640’s, when Englishmen from Bermuda settled some of the islands with their African slaves. American Loyalists formed a second wave of settlers. There was prosperity during the American Civil War and during that time the first hotel in the Bahama Islands was opened.