The Commonwealth of Dominica is located in the Caribbean Sea, and was the last of the Caribbean islands to be colonized by Europe. Dominica is a mountainous volcanic island, with very rugged and steep terrain (John, Bellot and Parry, 2001). The island has rich biodiversity, a perennial river system, and extensive rainforests. 60% of the land area of the country is covered by vegetation, including scrub woodlands and lush tropical forest (John, Bellot and Parry, 2001). Dominica’s tropical maritime climate is influenced by the North East Trade Winds and its rugged topography results in micro-climate variability over small distances (John, Bellot and Parry, 2001). The country is located along the tropical Atlantic hurricane belt and has experienced approximately 15 extreme weather events since 1979.
Dominica’s population is approximately 72,000 people, 90% of whom live in coastal villages (John, Bellot and Parry, 2001; USDS, 2010). The country’s main economic sectors are rain-fed agriculture (with major crops including bananas, citrus and coconuts.), government services, banks and insurance, wholesale and retail trade, and transport (John, Bellot and Parry, 2001). Climate change is expected to impact on this sector in three ways:
(a) Temperature Changes affecting range of species, water flow in watersheds, reduced food availability for wildlife and increased forest pests, disease and vulnerability to extreme climate events.
(b) The threat presented by sea level rise to the coastal habitats (e.g. coastal freshwater ponds, brackish water systems, mangroves and arable floodplains) is substantial. Increasing pressure on forest reserves due to loss of coastal agricultural lands by salinization. Loss of coastal forests due to inundation and increasing storm events (e.g. mangroves and low lying tropical dry forests).
Migration or loss of wildlife species from altered habitats.
(c) There is also the potential for greater frequency and intensity of storms in the Caribbean leading to the risk of landfall. Terrestrial ecosystems are severely affected by tropical disasters.
Along side these effects, the coastal ecosystem faces additional stresses while the beaches also experience erosion and inundation. Elevated sea temperatures can also impair the coral reefs of Dominica through bleaching. Studies done by the Fisheries Development Division in 1998, reported that approximately 15% of the coral showed sign of bleaching (Guiste 2000, personal communication).Moreover, as sea levels rise, there will be destruction of mangroves reducing the availability of fresh water for keeping the Salinity balance. Dominica's fresh water supply is also vulnerable to major hurricane impacts as water quality is affected through landslides, gully erosion and flooding.
As much of Dominica's important infrustructure is located along the coastline, close to the present sea level, this makes them vulnerable to flooding and storms. Furthermore, 90% of the population is dispersed among coastal villages, with the main population center, Roseau, locaded along the leeward coast. Most settlements have very little room for expansion except through hillside residential development, or density increases in already built up areas. As a result, population increase in certain districts is leading to the increasing emergence of hillside developments on the fringes of the existing towns and on small coastal headlands. These areas are highly susceptible to the ravages of extreme events such as hurricanes.
While it is difficult to quantify the impacts of climate change on Dominica's agriculture, banana - as the most significant crop in Dominica - is very sensitive to levels of precipitation. A stark contrast in optimal productivity is observed when the above average rainfall production is compared to drought production levels. There was a 17- 37% difference in the 1970's and a staggering 53-60% difference in the 1980's. In addition, crops such as vegetables are extremely sensitive to the fluctuations in precipitation. Excess rainfall tends to increase the incidence of pest and diseases leading to declining productivity, whilst drought conditions lead to reduced yields. Extreme events inflict damage directly on food systems through the destruction of crops and livestock and the erosion of farmlands.