"I'm now ready to move up to the hills," George said in the trash-strewn eastern Grenadian village of Soubise, which is regularly swamped with seawater and debris at high tide. "Here, the waves will just keep getting closer and closer until we get swept away."
One response in the wealthier island of Barbados has been building a kilometer-long breakwater and waterfront promenade to help protect fragile coastlines. In most cases, international money is pouring in to kick-start "soft engineering" efforts restoring natural buffers such as mangroves, grasses and deep-rooted trees such as sea grape. Some call that the most effective and cheapest way to minimize the impact of rising seas.
But in the long run, "we need to move our centers of population, infrastructure, et cetera, out of the areas likely to become vulnerable to rising seas," said Anthony Clayton, a climate change expert and the director of a sustainability institute at Jamaica's campus of the University of the West Indies.
Where to rebuild will be yet another challenge, with the region's islands mostly rugged and mountainous with small areas of flat land in coastal areas.
Even with the Caribbean so threatened, many islands have been slow to adapt, and awareness of the problem has only recently grown. Last year, the European Investment Bank announced it would give $65 million in concessionary loans to help 18 Caribbean nations adapt, while conservation groups try, among other projects, to restore buffering mangroves and set up fishing sanctuaries to help fringing reefs recover. The Caribbean Community Climate Change Center in Belize is managing the regional response.
Yet not everyone is convinced that climate change is as dire as forecast.
Peter De Savary, a British entrepreneur and major property developer on Grenada's famed Grande Anse Beach, said the availability of capital, energy costs and the health of the global economy are far more imminent concerns than rising sea levels. He notes that most existing beach resorts will have to be rebuilt anyway in coming decades due to normal wear and tear so projected climate change impacts won't require much attention.
"If the sea level rises a foot or two it really doesn't make any difference here in Grenada because we have beaches that have a reasonably aggressive falloff," De Savary said. "If the water gets a few degrees warmer, well, that's what people come to the Caribbean for, warm water, so that's not an issue."
Shyn Nokta, who heads Guyana's office of climate change, said there's ample evidence the impacts will be less benign. Warming ocean waters have helped to significantly degrade the region's protective reefs, and threats to Caribbean coral are only expected to intensify as a result of ocean acidification due to greenhouse gases. Rainfall also has become increasingly erratic.
Many are also girding for climate change's impacts on an already fragile agriculture sector and drinking water quality and availability.
"The weather and climate system in the region is changing," Nokta said from Guyana's capital of Georgetown, which sits below sea level behind a complicated system of dikes and is extremely vulnerable to flooding.
Inequalities in income will play a big role in determining how the suffering is meted out island to island, said Ramon Bueno, a Massachusetts-based analyst who has researched and modeled climate change economic impacts for years.
"A low-income family living by the shoreline, with limited access to clean fresh water and earning a living from tourism, fishing or agriculture is vulnerable in a way that a middle- or high-income professional living in good air-conditioned housing at higher elevation inland is not," Bueno said.
That portends a dire future for people such as Allison Charles, a subsistence farmer in Grenada's coastal village of Telescope, a fact she said she's well aware of.
"It's hard now. Already our plants are getting burned by the salt water coming up the river," Charles said in her village, framed by Grenada's rugged hills. "I can't really imagine what the future will hold."