By Lily Orton:
Union island is a beautiful island with many treasures like the crystal-clear waters, beautiful forests, and their very own endemic gecko. These treasures make Union island’s income rely heavily on tourism. However, because Union Island is so difficult to get to and the cost of importing materials is so high no other industry has truly profited in Union. Although for a community relying on tourism for their daily revenue can really benefit when tourism is high, which for the islanders is the winter months. When tourism is low, during the summer months, people struggle to make ends meet. When I asked Vance, a local divemaster, how he thought tourism affected everyone on Union he told me during summer months businesses often shut down because no one is coming in, it is extremely hard for everyone on the island.
The summer months are rough for everyone when your entire community is reliant on tourism, now add the pandemic into the mix. For two years Union Island has been closed off due to the pandemic, within that time many individuals and businesses struggled to survive. And with a population of 2,000 people is it very easy for one person to get infected and the entire island then have COVID, which with the limited access to vaccines the disease can very quickly spread. Additionally, Union Island is not only more susceptible due to the small population but also because of the influx of tourists that can transmit the disease.
The increasing climate change problem that is spreading throughout the world has particularly affected Union Island and the influx of tourism. Union island is current plagued with massive amounts of sargassum around the beaches and shores of the island. As sargassum population increases because of climate change, which are warmer waters and increased nutrient levels due to fertilizer runoff and upwells, numbers soar. Furthermore, the Tradewinds push all the sargassum onto these pristine beaches that many tourists want to come to relax not to smell hydrogen sulfide which is being released by the rotting sargassum. Due to the hydrogen sulfide creating a rotting egg smell along the beaches this sargassum has also had an effect on the influx of tourists coming to Union which in turn decreases the revenue made.
As Union’s economy is based upon tourism, they have taken many hits the past couple years with the pandemic and the effects of climate change. With the world opening back up as we reach the tail end of COVID-19, travelers are more willing to travel to Union, the economy of Union is starting to get back on its feet. In terms of climate change Union Island is attacking the climate change problem with their organization Union Island Environmental Alliance. However, climate change is a problem that everyone no matter where you are from can work on and participate in making the world a better place for everyone to live.
The authors of this blog are students enrolled in Tropical Marine Ecology and Conservation, field courses run in the Caribbean by the University of South Florida. In 2019 and 2021, the course went to the Carmabi research station in Curaçao and dived around the island over a 10-day period, for training and to carry out research projects. In 2018, the group went to Soufriere, Saint Lucia, and took part in various projects in partnership with the Soufriere Marine Management Association. In this blog, students will document their activities and how they relate to course material.