Environment and development
in coastal regions and in small islands
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Wise practices for coping with beach erosion: Nevis

Nevis Historical and Conservation Society
Department of Physical Planning, Natural Resources and Environment, Fisheries Division
University of Puerto Rico, Sea Grant College Program
Caribbean Development Bank
UNESCO Environment and Development in Coastal Regions and in Small Islands

FORCES TO BE RECKONED WITH

Beaches are continuously changing – from day to day, month to month and year to year – as the natural forces of wind and water meet the land. These changes, which have been taking place for millions of years, are linked to variations in wind, waves, currents and sea level height.

But it is not just natural forces that change the beach, humans have a big role to play in this process as well, through mining stones and sand from the beaches and dunes, polluting and damaging coral reefs, and constructing buildings and walls too close to the sea.

Changes in the beaches affect everyone. The coast is a place we are all attracted to for recreation, sports and simple enjoyment. This constantly changing and hazard-prone coastal environment is also where the greatest financial investment is concentrated, as large tourism properties and establishments continue to be attracted towards the shores of St Kitts and Nevis. Tourism is a driving force in country’s economy so the state of its beaches is of major importance.

Natural forces  

  • Hurricanes and tropical storms, occurring between June and November, cause dramatic beach changes usually resulting in serious beach erosion.
  • High waves in winter resulting from storms in the North Atlantic Ocean, and known as swell waves, or locally as ‘groundseas’.
  • Sea-level rise, which is a long-term factor, taking place very slowly over decades causes shorelines to retreat inland.  

Since 1995, the Atlantic Basin (including the Atlantic Ocean, the Caribbean Sea, and the Gulf of Mexico) has entered a more active hurricane cycle, which may continue for more than 20 years.  

Hurricane frequency between 1990 and 1999 in the Atlantic Basin

Source: Gray et al. http://typhoon.atmos.colostate.edu/forecasts/1999/nov99/ 

In the Atlantic Basin the number of really severe hurricanes (categories 3, 4 and 5) increased from one per year (1990 –1994) to four per year (1995 – 1999).

Human forces


Pipes discharging
onto the beach
and into the sea
cause pollution
and may harm
marine life,
Pinney’s Beach
  2000

  • Removing sand from beaches and dunes for construction purposes causes erosion and the loss of beaches and coastal lands, destroying the natural heritage of the coast and reducing the vibrancy of the tourism industry.
  • Building too close to the beach interferes with the natural sand movement and may impede beach recovery after a serious storm or hurricane.
  • Badly planned sea defences may cause the loss of the beach, and of neighbouring beaches.
  • Pollution from human activities on the land may damage coral reefs and seagrass beds; these biological systems protect, and provide sand to the beaches.
  • Removing vegetation from the dunes destabilises these protective sand barriers; and clearing sites inland results in increased soil and dirt particles being washed offshore and smothering coral reef systems.  

                             ***********

WHATS HAPPENING WITH NEVIS BEACHES?


In order to manage these changes, Nevis’ beaches have been monitored since 1988 by the Nevis Historical and Conservation Society, who measure the beach slope and width every three months at numerous sites around the island..  

Beach monitoring
in progress at
Hurricane Hill,1988

Location of monitored beaches

***********

SAND IN, SAND OUT

When Hurricane Hugo struck in 1989, much of the beach was lost at Pinney’s Beach on the west coast. In the months and years after the hurricane the beach recovered, but not to pre-hurricane levels. The beach was further eroded by successive hurricanes: Hurricane Luis in 1995, Hurricane Georges in 1998 and Hurricane Lenny in 1999. 

BEACH PROFILE
Pinney’s Cotton Ground. Beach erosion

  

Pinney’s Beach,
August 1995,
before Hurricane
Luis

 

 
Pinney’s Beach,
October 1995,
after Hurricane
Luis

***********

DUNES AS RESERVOIRS OF SAND

Dunes function as reservoirs of sand, available for supply to the beach during storms. In addition, they protect coastal land from flooding.

BEACH PROFILE
lndian Castle. Beach erosion

   

At Indian Castle, there used to be extensive sand dunes, several metres high. These were mined extensively for construction sand in the 1970s and 1980s, and the remnant dunes were eroded by the recent hurricanes.

Extensive mining in the ‘70s and
‘80s destabilised the dunes at
Indian Castle and left them
vulnerable to hurricanes, 1988

Low sand dunes, stabilised with
vegetation, as seen at White
Bay, play an important role in
maintaining the beach, 1996

***********

This restaurant at
Pinney’s Beach 
was 30 metres 
from the sea when
it was opened in
August 1995. One
month later it was
destroyed by 
Hurricane Luis. 
The greater the
distance from the
sea, the safer the
building

 
  

WISE PRACTICES FOR A HEALTHY BEACH  

The state of the beach affects everyone’s lives. There are no simple or universal solutions to shoreline erosion, since there are often several factors, both human and natural, contributing to the problem at a particular beach. Each beach behaves differently, so it is advisable to find out as much information as possible about a particular beach before taking any corrective action. It is necessary to consult the Department of Physical Planning, Natural Resources and Environment before undertaking any action at a beach.

Some forces of change, such as hurricanes and winter swells are natural, and there is little we can do to stop them, yet there are ways we can help to slow down the rate of erosion:

  • Planning new development so that it is a ‘safe’ distance behind the beach will reduce the need for expensive sea defence measures in the future.
  • Revegetating dunes with native vegetation e.g. grasses and vines, and planting beach areas beyond the reach of storm waves with salt-resistant, deep-rooting trees, such as sea-grape.
Recommended coastal development setback distances in Nevis  

l
l

18m (60ft) FROM VEGETATION LINE  
24m (80ft) FROM VEGETATION LINE  

l
l
37m (120ft) FROM VEGETATION LINE
152m (500ft) FROM VEGETATION LINE

 

***********

After Hurricane Lenny, sand
was pumped from the seabed
onto the beach in front of this
hotel at Pinney’s Beach, 2000
 

  

Planning officials
inspecting a newly
constructed rock
revetment at
Pinney’s Cotton
Ground, 1999


  • Resorting to ‘hard’ engineering structures such as seawalls, revetments and bulkheads, only when there is a need to protect beachfront property from wave action. Such structures, even with careful design, result in the loss or narrowing of the beach over time.
  • Considering all other beach enhancement measures such as offshore breakwaters, groynes and beach nourishment (placing sand from the offshore zone or from an inland source on the beach) at a particular site. All such measures require careful design and environmental impact assessments, so always first consult the Department of Physical Planning, Natural Resources and Environment.  

Groynes built along the
north coast have
stabilised the beach in
some places
(Newcastle 1997)...

...but not in others
(Nisbett 1992)

   

In 1981, there was a small beach at Cherlestown

By 2000, the beach had disappeared and land has been
reclaimed and protected with a boulder revetment

***********

HERE TODAY, GONE TOMORROW

The table below shows generalised rates of change at the measured beaches in Nevis. During the decade of the 1990s most of the beaches showed erosion; a result, at least in part, of the impact of several severe hurricanes since 1989. The erosion was especially severe on the west coast beaches.

Beach change rates in Nevis (metres per year)

A negative rate of change () indicates erosion and retreat of the shoreline, a positive rate of
change (
) indicates accretion or advancement of the shoreline towards the sea

   

Damaged beach bar at Golden Rock, Pinney’s
Beach, after Hurricane Luis, 1995 

Measuring the
damage at 
Pinney’s 
Beach after 
Hurricane 
Luis, 1995. 
The fallen tree 
and piles of
washed-up 
seagrass 
point to the 
damage 
caused by the hurricane waves
 

***********

WISE PRACTICES CHECKLIST
Plan for existing and future coastline change by positioning all new development (large and small) a ‘safe’ distance landward of the vegetation line (consult the Department of Physical Planning, Natural Resources and Environment for information on ‘safe’ distances).  

Develop a proactive approach to coastal planning through the preparation of a coastal zone management plan.

Involve all stakeholders (e.g. government agencies, coastal communities, non-governmental organisations, coastal residents, beach users and others) in the preparation and implementation of the coastal zone management plan.  

Develop principles for coastal stewardship, so that everyone plays their role to the fullest.

Maintain regular dialogue among all stakeholders, enhanced by awareness and education about beach and coastal issues.
Review and carefully consider ALL options when planning ways to slow down the rate of coastline change, these should include planning, ecological and engineering measures.
Continue to monitor the rate of coastline change and share the findings with all other stakeholders.
Respect the rights of all beach users.
Provide and clearly mark public access to all beaches.
Conserve and restore vegetative cover, both adjacent to the beach in order to stabilise the sand, and further inland to reduce sediment reaching the reefs and sea grass beds.

For more information on shoreline 
change in
NEVIS consult:  

Nevis Historical and Conservation Society
PO Box 563, Charlestown, Nevis,
St Kitts & Nevis
T: +1 869 469 5786/0408; 
F: +1 869 469 0274

Department of Physical Planning,
Natural Resources and Environment
Cotton House, Market Street, Charlestown
Nevis, St Kitts & Nevis
T: +1 869 469 5521; 
F: +1 869 469 5485
E: planevis@caribsurf.com

  

For more information on shoreline 
change in the
CARIBBEAN consult:

Coping with Beach Erosion
by Gillian Cambers
UNESCO Publishing, 1998
ISBN 93-3-103561-4

 

This booklet is a result of 
co-operation between 
UNESCO, the Caribbean  
Development Bank and 
Nevis’  Government 
agencies  

Illustrations: Barbara Navi – Photographs: Gillian Cambers – Design: Eric Loddé

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