KINGSTON — “All of this was mangroves,” says marine scientist Mona Webber, pointing toward a line of ghostly gray boulders separating the road from the sea.

We’re standing on the side of Norman Manley Highway, a raised road that squiggles along a spit of sand known as the Palisadoes and connects Jamaica’s Norman Manley International Airport with the capital of Kingston. Webber — tall, animated, and wearing a polo shirt emblazoned with the logo of her workplace, the University of the West Indies (UWI) — speaks with zest as she explains how developers took out about 6,000 mangrove trees while reconstructing the road several years ago.

A succession of hurricanes, including Ivan in 2004, Dean in 2007, and Gustav in 2008, left the road covered in sand and impassable. “So, after those hurricanes, they raised the road by 2 meters [6 feet] and put boulders on both sides,” Webber says, “and they decided we didn’t need the mangroves.”

But according to Webber, mangroves are necessary to protect the Palisadoes and the broader area of Kingston. Without them, she says, the sea will eat away at the land, especially as sea levels rise and storms grow stronger in response to human-induced climate change. As we walk along the highway, she shows me a mangrove-less place where the water has already eaten away at the concrete. The new road’s edge here is crumbling into the sea […]

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