Landscape Ecology of Tropical Coasts: Drivers of Coastal Erosion in the Cuban Sabana-Camaguey Archipelago Coastline

Olivia Pineiro Ramirez

This study will be the first in utilizing a Social Ecological Model to understand how interactions between society (demographic factors and anthropogenic changes in the coastal zone) and the environment (ecological factors, hurricane impacts, and sea level rise) influence the coastal erosion process in the Sabana-Camaguey Archipelago system, Cuba. Therefore, the general objective of this study is to examine the complex processes by which the Sabana-Camaguey Archipelago coastline is being modified to derive opportunities and strategies for coping more effectively with this coastline modification. Essentially, this project will create a foundation of novel information regarding drivers of coastal erosion in an ecologically complex region of the insular Caribbean with contrasting areas of development and national park protection. Additionally, this project will target the capacitation of local communities, specifically primary school children, on the importance of protecting the coastal ecosystems in the archipelago.

The Sabana-Camaguey Archipelago stretches along the north-central coast of Cuba; this chain of small islands is significant for both economic resources for tourism and diverse marine life. The islands are remarkable in ecological diversity and are considered as hotspots for species endemic to Cuba or depleted in their occurrences on other islands of the Wider Caribbean. Coastal ecosystems play a key role in stabilizing shorelines as well as supporting wildlife biodiversity. Increased human development along with natural storm events can cause coastal erosion, a threat exacerbated by sea-level rise (SLR). Of particular concern is the unprecedented rapid population growth in the Sabana-Camaguey Archipelago which is linked to increased tourism development. Anthropogenic changes in this area are thought to be related to increased exposure and vulnerability to hurricanes, and coastal erosion processes. However, poor attempts have been made to understand the drivers of coastal erosion in this archipelago.

The goal of this study is to develop a multidisciplinary Social Ecological Model to understand how interactions between society and the environment influence the coastal erosion process in the archipelago. Therefore, the general objective is to examine the complex processes by which the Sabana-Camaguey Archipelago coastline is being modified as well as to derive opportunities and strategies for coping more effectively with this coastline modification.

First, a qualitative approach will be undertaken to obtain in-depth information about main economic activities, anthropogenic changes and current status of managing policies in the Sabana-Camaguey Archipelago. Second, a quantitative approach will range from extensive fieldwork to the analysis of satellite images. We will sample in 10 representative sites along the archipelago to assess the coastal ecosystems’ health. These sites will incorporate different coastal types such as beaches, mangroves and rocky shores, and different degree of human development from conserved regions to areas with large touristic resorts.

This project will allow developing coastal management methods that could also be applied to other more developed islands. Findings will contribute to the broader discussion in which the significance of this coastline resource can be recognized and planning for its resilience and proper use achieved. Essentially, this project will create a foundation of novel information regarding drivers of coastal erosion in an ecologically complex region of the insular Caribbean with contrasting areas of development and national park protection. Additionally, this project will target the capacitation of local communities on the importance of protecting the coastal ecosystems in the archipelago.