CELS Professor Highlights Implications of Hurricane Dorian Through Research

By Gabriella Placido, CELS Communications Fellow

When Hurricane Dorian struck the Bahamas in September 2019 leaving more than 60 people dead, over 1,000 people missing, and unprecedented destruction in its path, it hit hard for Dr. Amelia Moore. An assistant professor of sustainable coastal tourism and recreation in the University of Rhode Island’s College of the Environment and Life Sciences, Moore has been studying the region for 17 years and considers the Bahamas her second home.

“When you hear about a hurricane bearing down on a place you love, with all the people you know well and care for, and all the places that have meant something to you over the years, you are filled with a creeping sense of dread,” says Moore.

Moore, a cultural anthropologist, is an island studies specialist whose research spans the Bahamas, Indonesia, Block Island, and beyond. She analyzes tourism’s relationship with environmental science and ecology, and seeks to reveal the hidden ways in which science and tourism are connected.

Moore earned a B.A. in environmental biology from Columbia University and a PhD in sociocultural anthropology from the University of California Berkeley. Her passion for the environment was born in the state of Washington where she grew up enjoying the outdoors and experiencing the backcountry of the Pacific Northwest. She was drawn to the social science aspect of environmental conservation as an undergraduate. “I felt that harder science courses were very far removed from the messy-lived-reality of people and non-human things in the real world,” states Moore. “And I found that I had much more of an affinity for this messy reality.”

Moore realized that the majority of scientific research on environmental issues didn’t incorporate tourism, even in tourism-dependent places like the Bahamas where tourism is interwoven into every aspect of life: economically, politically, culturally, and ecologically.

“In the Bahamas, you can’t study the environment without understanding tourism,” explains Moore. “You can’t understand why the environment is economically or socially valuable, or valuable for scientific research, without understanding the centrality of tourism to life in that place.”

She recently published a book, Destination Anthropocene: Science and Tourism in the Bahamas, which examines the paradox this country faces. For example, the Bahamas are heavily reliant on tourism, yet exacerbate effects of climate change by contributing to global warming with the highly unsustainable tourism industry.

According to Moore, Bahamian government officials are resistant to taking measures that tackle these issues, including planning for disasters and implementing a comprehensive refugee relocation plan. As a result, when disasters like Dorian strike, the absence of an organized evacuation plan leaves residents to fend for themselves. “This is actually true most of the world over,” states Moore. “There aren’t great plans for figuring out what happens to all of these refugees.”

Other island regions are facing similar issues head-on, including Indonesia, where Moore is involved in a coral reef restoration project in the Spermonde archipelago analyzing community participation techniques around such efforts. The project and region are an important case study for Moore. They exemplify the ways in which the people of Indonesia deal with similar problems other vulnerable island countries are also facing, including restoration of coastal resources damaged by global warming or unsustainable practices. “I appreciate having the opportunity to see how a project like this affects the way people live in this region, and how they’re responding, especially as a community,” explains Moore. “I think we’re going to be seeing a great deal more of these scenarios in the future where problem-solving occurs through community building. This is particularly compelling to me as a researcher.”

With extreme weather events in island regions happening with more frequency and intensity, Moore says it’s a question of when, not if, the Bahamas will experience another catastrophic hurricane-like Dorian. “We must be more prepared for these disasters,” explains Moore.

But even in the face of future catastrophic events, Moore has reason to be optimistic. “There is a whole interestingly complex network of people who are trying to make sense of what’s happening and working towards solutions,” says Moore, referring to scientists, practitioners, conservationists, and others engaged in seeking long-term solutions to environmental challenges. “I see my research as trying to connect these various threads to help people gain a more accurate and empathetic sense of reality.”