Launched by UNESCO in the Caribbean in 1999, the Sandwatch program is a non-profit volunteer network of children, adolescents and adults working together to monitor, enhance and analyze changes in their beach environment using a standardized approach. It has become an international program involving islands as widespread as the Cook Islands in the Pacific, Seychelles in the Indian Ocean, and the Bahamas in the Caribbean, as well as countries in Europe, Africa, Asia and South America.
The Sandwatch program receives support from UNESCO and the University of Puerto Rico through the Sea Grant College Program .Both organisations were involved in Sandwatch from its early beginnings. Many national organizations, both governmental and non-governmental, also provide support.
Coastal communities everywhere, particularly small island nations, are extremely vulnerable to climate change. Rising sea levels, warmer sea temperatures and natural disasters such as cyclones and tropical storms pose a risk to the environment as well as to homes and livelihoods. The Sandwatch project helps coastal communities to work together to evaluate and address the problems and conflicts facing their beaches, and to become more resilient to the effects of climate change.
For example, students at the Hope Town Primary School in the Bahamas have, every year since 2004, monitored their local beach using the Sandwatch approach. In 2005, the beach was badly damaged by several devastating hurricanes. The government used heavy equipment to scrape sand from the sea bottom to restore the sand dunes. Assisted by the community, the Hope Town Primary Sandwatchers worked tirelessly to plant the newly constructed dunes with “sea oats”, a hardy dune grass. Six years later, in 2011, the area was again impacted by a hurricane, but this time the dune stood firm – the roots of the sea oats did their job and held the sand in place.
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Ms. Khalissa Ikhlef