By Lucy-Claire Saunders
UNITED NATIONS, Nov. 10 (Xinhua) -- Something unusual is happening off the coast of Grenada. Tiny, silver fish are flocking to shallow waters by the million and filling fishermen's buckets by the ton.
It could be climate change, said local fisherman Eldmond Mitchell. But he doesn't buy it.
"I believe the good Lord sent the jacks," he said as he proudly held up his catch for the day. "Good blessing comes, you have to accept it."
Good times today, but what about tomorrow? A treasure trove of fish could be a blessing in disguise.
The problem here is warming waters, Crofton Isaac, an assistant biologist at Grenada's Fisheries Department, later told Xinhua. It has created abnormal fish behavior, similar to when millions of fish were found dead along Grenada's coastlines in 2005.
Isaac cautioned against singling out climate change, stressing that it might be a result of el Nino -- the warm phase of an atmospheric cycle in the Southern Pacific.
But what is unusual, said Crofton, are such high temperatures over a sustained amount of time, leaving open the possibility that climate change could be exacerbating a natural phenomenon.
And that's often the trick with scoping out the effects of climate change. Sometimes it's not clear cut. Sometimes the changes are subtle leaving more questions than answers. For a developing island nation like Grenada, the stakes of answering those questions are extremely high.
JUST MORE TALKING
As chair of the 43-member Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS), a coalition pushing for internationally binding cuts in carbon emissions, Grenada's negotiators have been vocal about the lack of progress made at climate talks before the planned deadline in December.
"Many states put forward their proposed treaty texts nearly six months ago," Leon Charles, chairman of the AOSIS Climate Change Negotiating Team, told Xinhua in October. "There are no practical obstacles whatsoever. All that's lacking now is the political will to finish the job."
Both meetings in Bangkok in early October and in Barcelona, which ended on Nov. 6, have disappointed members of AOSIS, who have called for global warming to be limited to 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial temperatures.
Scientists say anything higher exceeds safe thresholds necessary for the protection and survival of small islands. However, industrial nations are aiming for a limit of 2 degrees Celsius by 2050.
It also appears as if a climate deal won't be signed for another six to 12 months, according to negotiators from developed countries -- extra time that increases the costs of curbing carbon emissions and implementing adaptation measures.
"We know that the possibility of a rare agreement seems to be difficult for some people, but it's a question of survival," said Grenada's Foreign Minister Peter David. "Not only our survival, but the survival of humanity one may argue."
CHANGES ON SPICE ISLE
From his office balcony overlooking the historic capital of St. George's, David spoke about how climate change has affected Grenada, which he affectionately called "this little rock."
"In the past, the seasons were distinct," he told Xinhua. "Now it's difficult to distinguish when you have a rainy (season) and when you have a dry season because you'll have long spells of dry weather in the rainy season and long spells of rain in the dry season."
"So people have become aware that something has changed," he said.
Changes in rain patterns don't make for exciting headlines but they disrupt the agricultural sector in a country that prides itself as being the "Spice Isle" for its production of exotic spices like nutmeg, clove, and cinnamon.
But more than the slight change in precipitation is the repeated onslaught of powerful hurricanes that concerns David.
"Hurricanes traditionally went much further north," he said. "Only five years ago, we had Hurricane Ivan."
In 2004, Grenada was devastated by the Category Three hurricane. The financial cost of the disaster was estimated at more than 900 million U.S. dollars, roughly 204 percent of Grenada's gross domestic product (GDP).
"I think the whole world must have been aware of the devastating effect it had on our economy," said David. "But I think more importantly (was) the impact of the hurricane on the people at the time. I think we've become much more sensitive to the issue of climate change since that."
While the world hums and haws on a climate deal, the government of Grenada has been trying to adapt to environmental challenges.
On the coastal town of Soubise, residents have been told they must move inland as part of a government relocation project funded by the Chinese government, according to Kem Jones, a community projects officer for the National Disaster Management Agency, and Betty Ann Lazarus, communications director for the Department of Foreign Affairs.
Wedged in between the ocean and the road, homes there sit practically on the shoreline. They are protected only by a thin wall of mounted rocks and pieces of scrap metal.
Oliver Noel, a fisherman who lives in Soubise with his wife and eight children, said after some delay, he has heard of more talk about moving.
But Lazarus said residents don't want to leave their homes because of the convenient location near the ocean, to fish, and the road, to catch the bus.
Meanwhile, further inland, Aden Fouteau, acting chief forestry officer form the Forestry and National Parks Department, is busy overseeing a major reforestation projection. With winds from 111 to 130 miles per hour, Hurricane Ivan destroyed about 90 percent of the forest, causing a a series of problems in soil erosion, biodiversity, and ecotourism.
Limited resources and a small staff has made progress slow, said Aden as he walked through the Grand Etang Forest Nursery.
"What we are doing here is just a drop in the bucket compared to what is needed in Grenada," he said.
Back in St. George's, David said what his country needs is a bottom line arrangement on carbon emissions that ensures Grenada's survival.
"I have children and as young as I look I have grandchildren and I do wish to leave in a better place than I came in, not a place worse off when I came to this land," he said. "We look around and we see the seasonal changes, we look around and we see the impact it's having on our environment, we look around and see what its having on our fishing industry."
"Certainly as an individual I believe that we as small states must play our parts. So for me personally, it's a major issue. Forus as policymakers, it's a major issue, and for us as a people it's a major issue."