Cuba girds for climate change by reclaiming coasts

Jun 12, 2013 by Andrea Rodriguez
In this May 24, 2013 photo, a girl walks her dog near the remains of a destroyed school on the shores of Havana, Cuba. Cuban scientists have studied this island nation's coastline, calculating what would happen under the continued pressure of climate change. What they discovered was so alarming that more than a year later, officials still haven't released them widely to avoid causing panic. (AP Photo/Franklin Reyes)

After Cuban scientists studied the effects of climate change on this island's 3,500 miles (5,630 kilometers) of coastline, their discoveries were so alarming that officials didn't share the results with the public to avoid causing panic.

The scientists projected that would seriously damage 122 Cuban towns or even wipe them off the map. Beaches would be submerged, they found, while freshwater sources would be tainted and croplands rendered infertile. In all, would penetrate up to 1.2 miles (2 kilometers) inland in low-lying areas, as oceans rose nearly three feet (85 centimeters) by 2100.

Climate change may be a matter of on Capitol Hill, but for low-lying Cuba, those frightening calculations have spurred systemic action. Cuba's government has changed course on decades of haphazard , which threatens and that provide the best natural protection against rising seas.

In recent months, inspectors and demolition crews have begun fanning out across the island with plans to raze thousands of houses, restaurants, hotels and improvised docks in a race to restore much of the coast to something approaching its natural state.

"The government ... realized that for an island like Cuba, long and thin, protecting the coasts is a matter of national security," said Jorge Alvarez, director of Cuba's government-run Center for and Inspection.

At the same time, Cuba has had to take into account the needs of families living in endangered homes and a $2.5 billion-a-year that is its No. 1 source of foreign income.

It's a predicament challenging the entire Caribbean, where resorts and private homes often have popped up in many places without any forethought. Enforcement of planning and environmental laws is also often spotty.

With its coastal towns and cities, the Caribbean is one of the regions most at risk from a . Hundreds of villages are threatened by rising seas, and more frequent and stronger hurricanes have devastated agriculture in Haiti and elsewhere.

In Cuba, the report predicted sea levels would rise nearly three feet by century's end.

In this May 21, 2013 photo, flamingos walk in a lake in Cayo Coco, in Ciego de Avila, Cuba. Scientists project that rising sea levels would seriously damage or wipe dozens of Cuban towns off the map. Beaches would be submerged, they found, while freshwater sources would be tainted and croplands rendered infertile. (AP Photo/Franklin Reyes)

"Different countries are vulnerable depending on a number of factors, the coastline and what coastal development looks like," said Dan Whittle, Cuba program director for the New York-based nonprofit Environmental Defense Fund. He said the Cuban study's numbers seem consistent with other scientists' forecasts for the region. The Associated Press was given exclusive access to the report, but not permitted to keep a copy.

Cuba's preparations were on clear display on a recent morning tour of Guanabo, a popular getaway for Havana residents known for its soft sand and gentle waves 15 miles (25 kilometers) east of the capital.

Where a military barracks had been demolished, a reintroduced sand-stabilizing creeper vine known as beach morning glory is reasserting itself on the dunes, one lavender blossom at a time.

The demolition nearby of a former swimming school was halted due to the lack of planning, with the building's rubble left as it lay. Now inspectors have to figure out how to fix the mess without doing further environmental damage.

Alvarez said the government has learned from such early mistakes and is proceeding more cautiously. Officials also are also considering engineering solutions, and even determining whether it would be better to simply leave some buildings alone.

For three decades Guanabo resident Felix Rodriguez has lived the dream of any traveler to the Caribbean: waking up with waves softly lapping at the sand just steps away, a salty breeze blowing through the window and seagulls cawing as they glide through the crisp blue sky. Now that paradise may be no more.

"The sea has been creeping ever closer," said Rodriguez, a 63-year-old retiree, pointing to the water line steps from his apartment building. "Thirty years ago it was 30 meters (33 yards) farther out."

In this May 24, 2013 photo, people walk on the beach behind a sign that reads in Spanish "Dune Restoration Project, CITMA" in Havana, Cuba. In recent months, inspectors and demolition crews have begun fanning out across the island with plans to raze thousands of houses, restaurants, hotels and improvised docks in a race to restore much of the coast to something approaching its natural state. (AP Photo/Franklin Reyes)

"We'd all like to live next to the sea, but it's dangerous ... very dangerous," Rodriguez said. "When a hurricane comes, everyone here will just disappear."

Cuban officials agree, and have notified him and 11 other families in the building that they will be relocated, though no date has been set. Rodriguez and several other residents said they didn't mind, given the danger.

Since 2000, Cuba has had a coastal protection law on the books that prohibits construction on top of sand and mandates a 130-foot-wide (40-meter) buffer zone from dunes. Structures that predate the measure have been granted a stay of execution, but are not to be maintained and ultimately will be torn down once they're uninhabitable.

Serious enforcement only began in earnest in recent months, as officials came armed with the risk assessment.

Some 10,000 sanctions and fines have been handed down for illegal development, according to Alvarez. Demolitions have so far been limited to vacation rentals, hotel annexes, social clubs, military installations and other public buildings rather than private homes.

"Less strict measures have been taken with the people," Alvarez said, acknowledging that relocating communities is tough in a country with a critical lack of adequate housing.

One flashpoint is the powdery-white-sand resort of Varadero, a two-hour's drive east of the capital, where lucrative hotels attract hundreds of thousands of visitors each year from Canada, Europe and Latin America.

Some 900 coastal structures have been contributing to an average of about 4 feet (1.2 meters) of annual coastline erosion, according to geologist Adan Zuniga of Cuba's Center for Coastal Ecosystems Research, a government body. Building solid structures on top of dunes makes them more vulnerable to the waves.

In this May 23, 2013 photo, a woman stands in what remains of a destroyed school as she watches a fisherman on the shores of Havana, Cuba. With its coastal towns and cities, the Caribbean is one of the most vulnerable regions to a changing climate. Hundreds of villages are threatened by rising seas, and more frequent and stronger hurricanes have devastated agriculture in Haiti and elsewhere. (AP Photo/Franklin Reyes)

"These are violent processes of erosion," Zuniga said about regional development. "In many places the beaches are receding 16 feet (5 meters) a year."

Varadero symbolizes Cuba's dilemma: Tearing down seaside restaurants, picturesque pools and air-conditioned hotels threatens millions of dollars in yearly tourism revenue, but allowing them to stay puts at risk the very beaches that were the draws in the first place.

Cuban officials have tried to get around that choice by replenishing lost sand in Varadero, with plans to do the same next year at the Cayo Coco resort. But beach replenishment is an expensive remedy that Cuba can little afford to carry out nationwide. Zuniga said it costs $3 to $8 per cubic meter, and a single beach might contain up to 1 million cubic meters of sand.

The measure will still be necessary at Cayo Coco although the resort was developed with environmental mitigations such as keeping hotels behind the tree line and running a hydraulic system that keeps water circulating properly in an inland lagoon.

There are no publicly available figures on how many structures have been or will be razed across Cuba. Alvarez and Zuniga said officials are evaluating problem buildings on a case-by-case basis, taking into account the needs of local economic development.

They say nothing is off-limits; even the emblematic Hotel Internacional, a four-story resort built in 1950 as a sibling to the Fontainebleau in Miami, has been doomed to demolition in Varadero at an unspecified date.

Other installations are gradually being moved inland, and government officials are applying stricter oversight on new construction, they said. In May, authorities unveiled the near-completed Hotel Melia Marina Varadero and yacht club, which lies at a safe remove from the sea.

Cuba's Communist government wields a unique advantage, one no other country in the region claims: The government and its subsidiaries control the island's entire hotel stock, sometimes teaming with minority foreign partners on management. Cuba's military-run Gaviota Group alone controls more than three-dozen major hotels.

So when the government makes up its mind to tear down a hotel, it can do so without having to worry about fighting a lengthy court battle against a displaced owner.

On top of that, oversight of the coastal initiative happens at the highest level possible: Cuba's ruling Council of State, headed by President Raul Castro.

"He is leading this battle," Alvarez said of Castro.

Whittle said the island can learn some things from Costa Rica, where significant swaths of coastal and inland terrain have been protected even as tourism flourishes. For Cuba, there's a lot riding on striking the right balance.

"Will Cuba become a sustainable destination like Costa Rica?" Whittle asked. "Or will it go the way of Cancun and much of the rest of the Caribbean that has essentially sacrificed natural areas, marine and coastal ecosystems for economic development in the short run?"

Explore further: Cuba announces digital TV trials next month

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User comments : 26

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Neinsense99
3.8 / 5 (14) Jun 12, 2013
Cuba, climate change... It's like dangling a bloody seal corpse over a shark frenzy. Deniers must be watching the NHL playoffs or something.
Howhot
4.6 / 5 (11) Jun 13, 2013
Cuba, climate change... It's like dangling a bloody seal corpse over a shark frenzy. Deniers must be watching the NHL playoffs or something.


Haha. Good one Neinster dude. All I could figure is either one of the propaganda corps didn't pay their minions this month, or there off trolling the important issue of the day, like Obama may wear a topee.
djr
4.7 / 5 (12) Jun 13, 2013
Don't knock it guys - this may never happen again - perhaps it is the calm before the storm - what ever the reason - it is refreshing.
Sigh
4.6 / 5 (10) Jun 13, 2013
Cuba, climate change... It's like dangling a bloody seal corpse over a shark frenzy. Deniers must be watching the NHL playoffs or something.

I vote for cognitive dissonance. The people who doubt climate change seem more likely to believe that the Cuban government would deceive its population. Trouble is that believing in this conspiracy requires at the very least accepting that the Cuban government considers climate change to be a real risk. That makes it harder to claim that climate change is a giant conspiracy.
ScooterG
1.3 / 5 (15) Jun 13, 2013
"He (Castro) is leading this battle," Alvarez said of Castro.

A dictator heading-up a land grab based on that dictators' pet scientists findings - LMAO. But since it's being conducted in the name of climate change, his actions are noble.

Whatta'ya bet the noble dictator will someday (soon) release a revised scientific finding refuting the first study, then build himself some world-class tourism facilities? - for the benefit of his people, of course!
antigoracle
1.3 / 5 (16) Jun 13, 2013
Cuba has been in desperate need of a cause to rally its people around.
Who cares if it's the biggest lie in centuries.
Neinsense99
3.3 / 5 (12) Jun 13, 2013
"He (Castro) is leading this battle," Alvarez said of Castro.

A dictator heading-up a land grab based on that dictators' pet scientists findings - LMAO.!


Who knew Castro controlled the IPCC and scientists all over the world too!
Sigh
4.5 / 5 (8) Jun 13, 2013
Cuba has been in desperate need of a cause to rally its people around.
Who cares if it's the biggest lie in centuries.

Could it be cognitive dissonance which made you forget that the Cuban government tried to hide this? You have to develop a more sophisticated conspiracy theory to be logically consistent. I am sure you can.
djr
4.9 / 5 (8) Jun 13, 2013
It was nice for a while!!!
deepsand
3.6 / 5 (14) Jun 14, 2013
Cuba has been in desperate need of a cause to rally its people around.
Who cares if it's the biggest lie in centuries.

You are like an insane woodpecker looking for a grub in a block of concrete.
antigoracle
1.3 / 5 (14) Jun 14, 2013
Cuba has been in desperate need of a cause to rally its people around.
Who cares if it's the biggest lie in centuries.

You are like an insane woodpecker looking for a grub in a block of concrete.

You are an AGW Alarmist Turd feeding at the bottom of your cesspool of ignorance, only surfacing long enough to regurgitate the filth you fed on.
Howhot
4.1 / 5 (10) Jun 14, 2013
When the crevice opened up and ooze poured out, the beanie boy @anti stands up and shouts
You are an AGW Alarmist Turd...
to @deep.

Free speech an all, but damn anti your an idiot. I've yet to hear on skeptical post that isn't some ad-hominem. So at best your on the edge of being a troll.

Neinsense99
3.4 / 5 (10) Jun 14, 2013
When the crevice opened up and ooze poured out, the beanie boy @anti stands up and shouts
You are an AGW Alarmist Turd...
to @deep.

Free speech an all, but damn anti your an idiot. I've yet to hear on skeptical post that isn't some ad-hominem. So at best your on the edge of being a troll.


Most trolls are less repetitive.
deepsand
3.1 / 5 (13) Jun 15, 2013
Cuba has been in desperate need of a cause to rally its people around.
Who cares if it's the biggest lie in centuries.

You are like an insane woodpecker looking for a grub in a block of concrete.

You are an AGW Alarmist Turd feeding at the bottom of your cesspool of ignorance, only surfacing long enough to regurgitate the filth you fed on.

You lack the humour to be entertaining, the knowledge to be informative, and have all the charm and attraction of a deceased rat which suffered from leprosy and incontinence.
antigoracle
1.5 / 5 (14) Jun 15, 2013
So at best your on the edge of being a troll.

Try to learn the difference between you're and your.
Neinsense99
3.3 / 5 (10) Jun 15, 2013
So at best your on the edge of being a troll.

Try to learn the difference between you're and your.

A good suggestion, though more than a bit off-topic.
ScooterG
1 / 5 (11) Jun 15, 2013
"He (Castro) is leading this battle," Alvarez said of Castro.

A dictator heading-up a land grab based on that dictators' pet scientists findings - LMAO.!


Who knew Castro controlled the IPCC and scientists all over the world too!


I didn't see IPCC mentioned in the article. And the only "scientists" mentioned work for the Cuban government. Perhaps you misread the article?

No doubt Castro will be sucking money out of the US taxpayer to fund this self-serving scam.

I'm not surprised you liberals are enthralled by Castro's actions - you're always eager to kiss a dictator's a$s.

djr
5 / 5 (10) Jun 15, 2013
"I'm not surprised you liberals are enthralled by Castro's actions - you're always eager to kiss a dictator's a$s."

I am not a history major or anything - but wasn't it more the right wing of the U.S. that supported a number of military dictators in S. America of the past century?

deepsand
3.2 / 5 (12) Jun 15, 2013
AO and Scooter are like insane woodpeckers looking for a grub in a block of concrete
semmsterr
4.3 / 5 (7) Jun 16, 2013
While the rest of the world's numbskulls are busy jawing, Cuba is busy fixing. Looks like there's something to said for Communism after all.
Irukanji
1.5 / 5 (10) Jun 16, 2013
ITT: People who think denying human-caused climate change and those who deny natural climate change are the same.

Protip: they aren't. I'd be surprised if anybody actually denied that the climate was changing, and any that do exist probably still think the earth is flat and bang their head against the floor 5 times a day.

Prove to me that humans are directly responsible for "climate change", and not that giant ball of plasma floating magically in the sky 8 minutes away.

What happens when you remove the sun?
deepsand
3.5 / 5 (11) Jun 16, 2013
I'd be surprised if anybody actually denied that the climate was changing, ... .

You needn't look very hard or long at all in order to find such people.

Prove to me that humans are directly responsible for "climate change", and not that giant ball of plasma floating magically in the sky 8 minutes away.

Asked and answered ad nauseum.

What happens when you remove the sun?

Denialists like you die.
Neinsense99
3.5 / 5 (8) Jun 21, 2013
"He (Castro) is leading this battle," Alvarez said of Castro.

A dictator heading-up a land grab based on that dictators' pet scientists findings - LMAO.!


Who knew Castro controlled the IPCC and scientists all over the world too!


I didn't see IPCC mentioned in the article. And the only "scientists" mentioned work for the Cuban government. Perhaps you misread the article?

No doubt Castro will be sucking money out of the US taxpayer to fund this self-serving scam.

I'm not surprised you liberals are enthralled by Castro's actions - you're always eager to kiss a dictator's a$s.


So climate science isn't a global conspiracy when it suits your immediate rhetorical goals, but otherwise it's a threat involving the UN, etc? When you and your ilk decide, let us know.
ScooterG
1 / 5 (9) Jun 21, 2013
"He (Castro) is leading this battle," Alvarez said of Castro.

A dictator heading-up a land grab based on that dictators' pet scientists findings - LMAO.!


Who knew Castro controlled the IPCC and scientists all over the world too!


I didn't see IPCC mentioned in the article. And the only "scientists" mentioned work for the Cuban government. Perhaps you misread the article?

No doubt Castro will be sucking money out of the US taxpayer to fund this self-serving scam.

I'm not surprised you liberals are enthralled by Castro's actions - you're always eager to kiss a dictator's a$s.


So climate science isn't a global conspiracy when it suits your immediate rhetorical goals, but otherwise it's a threat involving the UN, etc? When you and your ilk decide, let us know.


Where have I stated climate science is a global conspiracy? And where have I stated climate science is a UN threat?
antigoracle
1 / 5 (10) Jun 23, 2013
I'd be surprised if anybody actually denied that the climate was changing, ... .

You needn't look very hard or long at all in order to find such people.

Prove to me that humans are directly responsible for "climate change", and not that giant ball of plasma floating magically in the sky 8 minutes away.

Asked and answered ad nauseum.

What happens when you remove the sun?

Denialists like you die.

The AGW Alarmist turd's response, ad stupidum.
deepsand
3.3 / 5 (10) Jun 23, 2013
AO lacks the humour to be entertaining, the knowledge to be informative, and have all the charm and attraction of a deceased rat which suffered from leprosy and incontinence.

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