Dr. Katie Medcalf, the environment director at Environmental Systems Ltd., explains how climate change is already impacting the Virgin Islands as National Parks Trust Director Dr. Cassander Titley-O’Neal and Natural Resources and Labour Minister Mitch Turnbull look on. (Photo: SARIAH LAKE)

Experts say the Virgin Islands is already feeling the effects of climate change, which includes warming oceans, prolonged droughts, and more intense storms such as the hurricanes of 2017.

A grant-funded project launched Friday will collect data that will help build resilience into the design and management of the territory’s protected areas, National Parks Trust officials said during a Friday press conference.

The two-year initiative, which NPT Director Dr. Cas- sander Titley-O’Neal described as “timely,” is a partnership between the NPT, which will act as the lead partner, and Environment Systems Ltd, a Wales-based environmental and agricultural data consultancy which has collaborated with the NPT in the past.

Funding of £175,195 (about $204,000) will be provided by Darwin Plus, a UK government grant scheme that supports projects designed to protect biodiversity and improve resilience to climate change in the UK overseas territories.

During the press conference, Environment Systems Ltd Director Dr. Katie Medcalf said project partners will collaborate on the collection of climate change data in the territory to “inform decisions and raise public awareness and build resilience to the national parks.”

Dr. Titley-O’Neal added, “The trust will build resilience in the BVI protected area network by identifying sites that provide ecosystem services to the community, the BVI economy, and contain biodiversity value in the face of a changing climate.”

The partners plan to make their data freely accessible on a public web dashboard, they said.

VI impacts

Dr. Medcalf also explained how climate change is already impacting the VI.

“Climate change is actually real, and the temperature is rising, and rainfall is changing,” she said. “Overall, it is getting dryer, but storms and wettest months might be getting wetter.” he also explained the consultancy’s role in the project.

“We started by sourcing the most detailed and up-to-date climate predictions available for the islands,” she explained. “We’re going to use our SENCE [Spatial Evidence for Natural Capital Evaluation] methodology to model the effect of climate change on protected sites, and we’re going to look at vulnerability maps to show where the protected sites might need additional management, care, or even expanding.

“We also identify the ecosystem services that the areas provide.”

Also in attendance at the event were Natural Resources and Labour Minister Mitch Turnbull, NPT Deputy Director and project leader Nancy Woodfield-Pascoe, and Samuel Pike, the remote sensing consultant at Environmental Systems Ltd.