Host of threats faces Guam, ecosystem

By | November 10, 2020

Hotter weather, risks to freshwater supplies, coral reef death and stronger typhoons are among the major challenges detailed in a new report on climate change in Guam.

Threatened resources include high-value coastal infrastructure and the millions of dollars that ocean ecosystems add to Guam’s economy annually, based on A report by the Pacific Islands Regional Climate Assessment, a consortium of government, nonprofit and research organizations.

Authors from the University of Guam and the East-West Center in Hawaii, along with more than 30 technical contributors, developed the Guam report, , according to a news release from the East-West Center.  

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“Climate change is one of the greatest issues this generation is facing, and how we adapt as an island should be based on the best available information and sound science,” said Gov. Lou Leon Guerrero.

“We are pleased to have this resource to better inform policy and decision-making, so that we may safeguard our critical infrastructure, protect our economy, improve food security, and prepare for increased droughts and wildfires,” Leon Guerrero said. “That is why I have created a Climate Change and Resiliency Commission.”

The proposed bill will add an additional prohibited action under Guam’s arson statute.

Key messages

The report lays out changes Guam already is experiencing, as well as what lies ahead. The key messages for decision-makers include:

  • Temperatures have risen on Guam, and hotter days and nights affect human health. Heat waves can exacerbate a range of pre-existing health issues, and hot weather poses a particular threat to children and elderly people.  
  • Stronger tropical storms and typhoons are expected globally and around Guam. More intense tropical cyclones that pack higher wind speeds and more rainfall mean a greater potential for loss of life and damage from these storms. 
  • Freshwater supplies are at risk. Already, droughts periodically deplete water sources in southern Guam.
  • The combination of possible increased demand for water in hotter weather, more frequent drought, and sea level rise threaten to bring saltwater contamination into wells in northern Guam that supply drinking water. 
  • Sea level rise threatens infrastructure, including housing and transportation, as well as ecosystems and cultural sites. A 2019 vulnerability assessment forecast that rising sea levels will expose at least 58% of Guam’s infrastructure to periodic flooding this century. Guam and other Pacific Islands will experience sea level rise higher than the global average.   
  • Oceans are warming, causing coral bleaching that is already widespread and severe. Extensive coral loss is possible within the next few decades if current trends in rising ocean temperatures continue. Coral reefs provide habitat for fish, coastal protection from storms, and inject hundreds of millions of dollars annually into the local economy.
  • Fire ignitions happen easier, and fires spread faster, in hotter weather. Beyond the direct threat to safety, fires also produce fine particles and smoke that have health consequences.  
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