Trouble in paradise – it’s time to protect islands like Bermuda

Deborah 'Debbie' Kelly Spillane
Deborah Kelly Spillane
23 April 2021

SailGP is officially back – and the rival national teams are ready to battle it out on the water at the Bermuda Sail Grand Prix. It’s difficult to imagine a more picture-perfect tropical backdrop for the competing catamarans. But the almost pink sandy beaches and coral reefs are in danger, with the impacts of global climate change becoming clearer each year.

Bermuda Grand Prix, SailGP, 2021, Bermuda

It is estimated that 143 million people will be displaced by weather-related events by 2050[1].  Already, the evidence of the growing climate crisis is apparent on island nations like Bermuda. From rising sea levels to heat waves and hurricanes, the potential effects could impact many aspects of life on the island. But just how is the island impacted and is there still time to save this island paradise?

How climate change is affecting Bermuda

Whilst climate change is becoming apparent across the globe, island nations like Bermuda are especially vulnerable to the effects of rising temperatures. Three of the most visible effects of climate change on the island include:

1. Rising temperatures

Thanks to the Gulf Stream and the Bermuda-Azores high-pressure system, Bermuda enjoys a sub-tropical climate. The average temperatures range from 18.5°C (65.3°F) in February to 29.6°C (85°F) in August, giving it a comfortable climate all year round.

However, due to climate change the average global temperature could to continue to increase within an average range of 1.8 to 4.0°C until 2100, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). If we use the model offered by the IPCC, this means that the temperature on Bermuda could increase by an average of 3.6°C by the end of the century if we continue with business as usual.

2. Rising sea levels

Climate change causes the sea levels to rise in two different ways. Water generally expands when heated (in fact, it’s at its most dense at around 4°C). As temperatures rise, the water in the ocean expands causing the sea levels to rise. According to a report commissioned by the Bermuda National Trust[2],  the expansion of the oceans alone could cause sea levels to rise by 0.59 metres by the end of the century, resulting in approximately 462 acres of Bermuda being submerged under water.

On top of that comes  the melt water from the world’s glaciers and icecaps adds to the amount of water in the oceans, causing sea levels to rise even further if the polar ice meltwater is also considered, the sea level could rise by as much as 2 metres by the end of the century, resulting in losing 2,026 acres of land in Bermuda to the sea, a full 14 percent of the island’s total land mass.

3. Extreme weather

The intensity of extreme weather is also increasing in Bermuda, as a result of hot, humid air being trapped in the atmosphere that leads to heavy rainfall, storms and hurricanes. Although rainfall is not occurring more frequently, downpours are heavier and these can lead to flash flooding as the ground is unable to absorb the water fast enough.

Recent research[3] shows that the maximum wind speeds of hurricanes in in the subtropical Atlantic around Bermuda increased significantly. In fact, the winds have more than doubled on average over the last 60 years due to rising ocean temperatures in the region. This is because hurricanes intensify by taking energy from the warm ocean surface.

20210407 SAILGP 217

Image: Denmark SailGP Team presented by ROCKWOOL cruising the crystal blue waters of Bermuda's Great Sound.
Credit: Brian Carlin/ROCKWOOL Group

What can we do to save this island paradise?

In Bermuda, many local groups are working to highlight the potential impact of climate change on the island, and what each inhabitant can do individually and as a country to make a difference.

Aran McKittrick from the Bermuda Government’s Department of Energy, explains that developing this local resilience can go hand in hand with taking steps to help mitigate climate change.

“As an island nation, we do rely a lot on outside jurisdictions for help, and it’s important that we understand how vulnerable we can be. This is something that many Bermudians have been living their whole lives – it plays a big part in who we are.

“It’s about reshaping how we think of ourselves as a country, and a people. If we aren’t going to continue relying on others, we need to think outside the box – how can we design for climate change?”

He added: “For example, as a government, we are encouraging the adoption of electric vehicles (EVs) and EV infrastructure. Anecdotally, we hear that those investing in EVs also tend to invest in sustainable solutions for their homes. The adoption of these greener technologies can help us to become more resilient as a nation, and less reliant on outside help.

“Having a global event like SailGP on the island is important as it showcases Bermuda, and what we’re doing well. The breadth of audience that international sporting events have can really help to spotlight places like Bermuda, and the challenges we face.”

It's time

In February, 2021, the UN Secretary-General, António Guterres, officially warned the Member States as part of an effort to secure greater commitment to averting climate catastrophe[4], and  referred to 2021 as “a crucial year in the fight against climate change”.

“The world remains way off target in staying within the 1.5-degree limit of the Paris Agreement,” Mr. Guterres told ambassadors.  “This is why we need more ambition, more ambition on mitigation, ambition on adaptation and ambition on finance.”

With the evidence of the climate crisis now undeniable – and visible on the beautiful island of Bermuda – it is time to make a difference, individually and collectively, to cut emissions and halt climate change. By reducing our own energy usage and opting for green energy whenever possible, we can help reduce carbon emissions and lead by example to protect our planet.

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