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Plage d'Anse Couleuvre, nord-Martinique
With rising sea levels and the chipping away of their coastlines, islands like Martinique are already bearing the brunt of climate change. Thirteen municipalities are on the list of regions vulnerable to coastal recession. Now, urgent changes are under way, from the planting of coastal vegetation to radically different approaches to urban planning.

Along the beaches of Martinique, each year, the ocean advances by one more meter. While coastal erosion is a natural phenomenon, human activity has accelerated the process, with sand removal, deforestation of protective mangroves and rapid development and urbanization along the coast. On the island, some beaches have literally shrunk, narrowing by as much as 120 meters.

See also: Training the Caribbean’s Next Generation in Climate Change Resilience

Documents from the 18th and 19th centuries describe links between La Trinité, to the east of the island and Le Carbet, in the west, which could be followed along the northern coast - a route that no longer exists today. Coastal inhabitants have been forced to retreat inland as tracts of land along the coast disappear.

Sea levels are also rising, and ever deeper waters exacerbate marine soil erosion, damaging coral reefs, which are essential protective barriers against waves, storms and coastal erosion. 

All of this has an impact on the coastal fishing industry, a key economic sector in the region.

Building a seawall

Martinique may be surrounded by colossal challenges posed by climate change, but it is taking significant measures to adapt. Municipalities like Schœlcher where AFD has financed actions to revitalize and protect the region’s coastline, are investing in protective infrastructure. A seawall has been built, as well as a command post, to provide a coordinated response to natural disasters.

It's called a "Port Development of Territorial Interest," and is part of a broader plan to protect fishing, tourism and the “French Nautical Station.” The city owes much of its appeal to the certified sports area, which is struck by increasingly frequent hurricanes.  

Roots, branches and vegetation to protect the coastlines 

While local authorities have continued to hone their skills in risk prevention and urban planning, AFD has granted €119,000 from the Overseas Fund to finance a scientific and strategic support plan for the city of La Trinité.

This project has given a group of experts a mandate to deepen the municipality’s knowledge of the coastal dynamics in the area and define a management process to prevent the degradation of the coastline at five identified sites. Community inclusion and a collective drive to protect its natural heritage are two of the city’s key objectives.

See also: Climate Change: 5 Actions to Turn the Tide in the next 3 Years

Others are adopting radical strategies. In the northwest of the island, the municipality of Le Prêcheur has relocated the town center to higher ground (article in French).

Alongside the government and local actors, AFD is working on the Habitat Renewal Actions in the French Overseas Territories, which promotes architectural initiatives that use traditional materials suited to the West Indies' climate. 

What’s more, the city is looking to restore the original balance that once characterized its environment by planting endemic species along the coastline. Because of their high density and expansive root system, these plants effectively retain sand and could be vibrant and valuable allies in combating coastal erosion.