A week is a long time in conservation. Just a few days after we shared some of the uplifting Caribbean success stories to which Fauna & Flora International (FFI) and partners have contributed, we find ourselves writing about a potential humanitarian and wildlife crisis that is threatening to unfold at the very heart of our programme in the region.
According to our local partners, the violent volcanic eruptions that have shaken St Vincent and the Grenadines since last Friday could have distressing consequences not only for the islanders themselves, but also for their forests and native wildlife. The St Vincent and the Grenadines Forestry Department, whose staff are hard-pressed even under normal circumstances, will be stretched to breaking point over the coming weeks. At this stage, they are not even in a position to assess the environmental impact of the eruptions, let alone deal with the fallout.
First and foremost, this is a humanitarian issue. At the time of writing, some 16,000 people have been evacuated from their homes. The potential impact on fragile ecosystems is also of significant concern. Local wildlife agencies are anxious to assess the damage and rescue endangered wildlife as soon as it is safe to do so.
Several countries have come forward with generous offers of support and getting aid to affected areas must be the first priority. In the past, aid supplies to Caribbean islands have led to the arrival of invasive species on cargo ships. This problem can be largely avoided by inspecting the cargo carefully for stowaways – and FFI would appeal to all those generously sending aid to take this small additional measure to help secure the islands’ natural heritage. Such arrivals can quickly become major additional threats to fragile island ecosystems in the wake of natural disasters, as was seen in Dominica following Hurricane Maria in 2017.
The volcanos of the Windward Islands are notoriously unpredictable and the volcanic activity shows no immediate sign of abating. In fact, the latest eruption, early on Monday, was the biggest yet – comparable, according to the University of the West Indies Seismic Research Centre as quoted by AP, to the explosion that occurred in 1902 and tragically left 1,600 people dead.
FFI is carefully monitoring the situation on a daily basis and we have now launched an urgent appeal. In the meantime our thoughts are with the affected communities and, in particular, our conservation partners on the ground who continue to work tirelessly for the benefit of St Vincent and the Grenadines.