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Climate Change

U.S. Tropical Islands

Adaptation Examples in the U.S. Islands

Map of the Hawaii and Puerto Rico islands.

Adaptation Examples in Islands

Key Points
  • Maui and Kauai Counties in Hawaii updated coastal construction rules to account for rates of erosion. New construction has to be located farther from the coast to better protect property from a migrating coastline and sea level rise.
  • In 2009, Hawaii released a framework to guide local-, county-, and state-level climate change adaptation planning.
  • Federal agencies, NOAA and EPA, are supporting workshops, assessing vulnerabilities, and developing evacuation plans for four communities in Puerto Rico.

Efforts to prepare for climate change are underway in the U.S. tropical islands — both in the Caribbean and in the Pacific. The islands will likely face varied impacts ranging from warmer and more acidic oceans to droughts, flooding, and sea level rise. Learn more about climate change impacts on U.S. tropical islands.

Below are case studies that describe some of the ongoing efforts to adapt to climate change impacts in U.S. tropical islands. Links to adaptation plans, reports, and studies specific to the region are also included at the bottom of the page. Both the case studies and links are intended to be illustrative — they are not intended to be comprehensive.

Maui and Kauai Counties, Hawaii adapt to sea level rise and coastal erosion

Sea level rise, more intense storms, and near-shore development will likely accelerate the rate of coastal erosion in Hawaii. With help from partners, such as the University of Hawaii Sea Grant College Program and Coastal Geology Group and Hawaii's Coastal Zone Management Program, some counties in Hawaii have decided to take action to reduce shoreline impacts from future erosion. [4] The state of Hawaii mandates that developments are built 20 to 40 feet away from the shoreline. Maui and Kauai counties adopted new rules that expand the required setbacks (distance between the ocean and development) based on measured rates of erosion. Erosion-based setback rules are calculated by multiplying the current rate of erosion by a number of years. In Kauai County, the number of years used for buildings on large lots is 70 or 100, depending on the size of the building footprint. These setback requirements are some of the most restrictive in the region and are designed to help protect life, property, and coastal resources. [2]

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Hawaii develops a Climate Change Adaptation Framework

To address climate change and coastal hazards in more detail as part of the Ocean Resources Management Plan (ORMP) (PDF) Exit EPA Disclaimer , the Hawaii Coastal Zone Management (CZM) Program Exit EPA Disclaimer working group produced a "Framework for Climate Change Adaptation in Hawaii." (PDF) Exit EPA Disclaimer The framework offers specific steps for Hawaii to assess potential climate change impacts and determine effective adaptation strategies for the state. The working group proposed that the state form a climate change adaptation team to coordinate adaptation activities among multiple departments and levels of government. The adaptation team would identify planning sectors (such as water, health, and emergency management) that would likely be affected by climate. After conducting vulnerability and risk assessments, preparedness plans would be developed and implemented, including steps such as upgrading existing infrastructure and improving community awareness on health issues. [3]

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Puerto Rico collaborates with National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and EPA to develop adaptation strategies

Puerto Rico is working with NOAA and EPA to develop adaptation strategies and promote climate change awareness in the Caribbean.

  • The Puerto Rico Coastal Zone Management Program (PRCZMP) is collaborating with numerous stakeholders to conduct a Coastal Adaptation Project (PDF).
  • Sea Grant Puerto Rico Exit EPA Disclaimer — a program sponsored by NOAA at the University of Puerto Rico — is dedicated to the conservation and sustainable use of coastal and marine resources in Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and the Caribbean region. Sea Grant Puerto Rico is conducting rapid response, community-based, climate adaptation demonstration projects in Guanajibo, San Jose, el Maní, and el Seco; providing climate change information to decision makers; and assisting communities directly in preparing or revising plans that include climate adaptation measures. [4]
  • In November 2011, EPA co-sponsored a two-day public climate change conference in San Juan, Puerto Rico, entitled "Climate Change in the Caribbean 2011: Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands." Exit EPA Disclaimer The conference brought together many experts in the field of climate change to discuss impacts and projections for the U.S. Caribbean, strategies for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and steps that can be taken in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands to increase resilience in the face of a changing climate.

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[1] Conger, C. L. (2008). Sea Grant's Role in Improving Coastal Management in Hawaii (PDF). Exit EPA Disclaimer Hawaii Sea Grant.

[2] NOAA (2011). Ocean & Coastal Resource Management: Construction Setbacks . Exit EPA Disclaimer National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

[3] ORMP Working Group and ICAP (2009). A Framework for Climate Change Adaptation in Hawaii (PDF). Exit EPA Disclaimer State of Hawaii's Ocean Resources Management Plan Working Group and University of Hawaii Center for Island Climate Adaptation and Policy.

[4] NOAA( 2010). NOAA Sea Grant Initiates $1.2 Million Community Climate Change Adaptation Initiative . Exit EPA Disclaimer National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Accessed 3/15/2012.

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