Tourists flock to the Dominican Republic to savor its crystal white beaches, lush tropical reefs, and meticulously manicured golf courses. But they may not realize that further inland, a climate disaster is growing: an enormous lake is expanding by three feet a year, swallowing whole towns and leaving a farming society with no land left to cultivate.
In this short documentary, host Vikram Ghandi takes us on a tour of the devastation caused by Lake Enriquillo, the largest body of fresh water in the Caribbean. Increased rainfall fueled by warming ocean waters has submerged 40,000 acres of farmland and forests in a watery grave and sent communities scrambling for a new way of life.
As gully-washing extreme rainfall events pour into Lake Enriquillo, displaced residents have turned to less sustainable occupations, such as the illegal charcoal trade (and in some cases, cockfighting). Desperate Dominicans have been heading into the region’s woodlands, slashing and burning trees for charcoal production. Once forested mountains have transformed into barren, eroding wastelands. So now when rain falls, it washes life-sustaining topsoil into flooded fields, streams, and lakes.
“Everything will die. There will be no wood left, no bushes,” says a local conservationist working to save Jaragua National Park. “All species will die … and when the reptiles die, the birds die, we are going with them as well.”
According to the U.S. National Climate Assessment released in the spring, the Caribbean can expect more extreme weather patterns, including storms of greater intensity and heavier downpours. Making matters worse for the Dominican Republic and coastal communities across the globe, a recent United Nations report found that rising sea levels are set to swamp as many as 52 small island nations, costing trillions of dollars and putting millions of people at risk.
“Seemingly insignificant changes in the climate can have implications beyond anything we could have imagined,” narrates Ghandi. “What will be next climate change chain reaction? Where will we see the next Lake Enriquillo?”
That’s a question we all need to be asking—because it may be closer to home than we realize.
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