Aside from the usual economic and social losses and disruptions caused by weather disasters, SIDS experience amplified hardships in the recovery process as a result of widespread debris left behind in their coastal and marine ecosystems. Because of their limited land area and often limited resources, as well as their reliance of pristine coastal areas for their tourism industry, SIDS are particularly vulnerable to the impacts of ocean debris. This marine debris can kill marine wildlife, ruin habitats, obstruct navigation and evacuations, endanger human health, and harm the livelihoods of those who rely on the ocean. Concerningly, it also destroys essential habitats like coral reefs and mangroves, reducing the natural measure of protection provided from the effects of extreme weather events, and climate change externalities. SIDS also face unique difficulties in disposing of debris because of their geographical isolation, reliance on imported goods, high number of boats, and the necessity of waste exportation As a result, this is a problem that requires the swift and concerted effort of the global community, as well as an eye toward the future in terms of the application of technology. Alarmingly, an estimated 10 million tons of debris enters our oceans annually. As the world moves toward synchronized action to develop an international legally binding instrument on plastic pollution at the Second session of the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee in May, SIDS like Abaco have been adopting their own solutions.
Abaco, the second-largest economy in the Bahamas, has been working diligently to overcome the sheer magnitude of the problem. Following the destruction of 60 percent of the island's infrastructure by Hurricane Dorian in 2019, the next three years were spent retrieving 936 tons of debris across the 800 km survey area. Due to the innovative IDEA-supported Rapid Marine Debris Assessment, the collaborative efforts of NGO's, Agencies, and local residents were streamlined to optimize recovery efforts. The Quick Marine Debris Assessment combines new data collecting powered by pictures to detect, categorize, and locate debris before integrating it into a graphical map using GIS software. In the aftermath of a disaster, it is essential to prioritize conducting debris assessments, producing baseline analyses that can be disseminated, to coordinate recovery efforts as soon as possible so that they don't obstruct evacuation, or impact recovery operations.
Abaco's innovative initiatives present the potential to scale towards widely disseminated smart-enabled solutions, which can enhance resilience throughout SIDS. Several other studies are investigating into the usage of satellite imagery as an additional collection technique. Furthermore, new technology like drones and underwater robots are increasingly being employed to find and remove debris from the ocean. These technologies can be especially beneficial in remote areas difficult to reach via traditional means. There is no single comprehensive measure to eradicate the impact of debris, but collaborative partnerships, and prioritizing circular economies, and digital applications can help to expedite clean-up and removal efforts, conserving the natural assets of island communities whose livelihoods depend on them.
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