Environment and development
in coastal regions and in small islands
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Wise practices for coping with beach erosion:  St Vincent and the Grenadines

Bequia Community High School, Bequia, St Vincent and the Grenadines
Ministry of Agriculture, Lands and Fisheries, St Vincent and the Grenadines
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.

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, gravel and sand from the beaches, 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 roads, airports, buildings and tourism properties continue to be attracted towards the shores of St Vincent and the Grenadines. 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 during winter months 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
  • Removing sand and other materials from beaches and dunes for construction purposes causes erosion and the loss of beaches and dunes, 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 coastal areas destabilises beaches; and clearing sites inland results in increased soil and dirt particles being washed offshore and smothering coral reef systems.  

Garbage and plastic debris, seen here
on Bequia’s south
coast, is unsightly
and pollutes the
marine environment


                             ***********


Beach monitoring
in progress at
Hamilton, Bequia,
2000

   WHATS HAPPENING WITH  
ST VINCENT AND THE GRENADINES' BEACHES
?
 

In order to manage these changes, several beaches in Bequia and the Tobago Cays have been monitored since 2000 by students from the Bequia Community High School, who measure beach slope and width on a regular basis. Beaches in Mustique are also monitored by the Mustique Company.

St Vincent and the Grenadines

 

 


Location of monitored beaches
in Bequia

Tony Gibbons Bay
(Princess Margaret),
Bequia 2000

***********

SAND IN, SAND OUT

Tropical storms and hurricanes erode sand from the beaches in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, and while there is some beach recovery after the event, this is often not to pre-hurricane levels.

BEACH PROFILE
Port Elizabeth, Bequia. Beach erosion

 

Many beaches were
dramatically changed
by Hurricane Lenny in
1999. Here at Honor
Bay in Mustique, there
used to be a small sand
beach, which was
washed away during the
hurricane, leaving rocks

***********

DUNES AS RESERVOIRS OF SAND

Dunes function as reservoirs of sand, supplying beaches during
storms and protecting coastal land from flooding. 

The removal of
these substantial
dunes at
Brighton in St
Vincent in 1995,
destabilised the
beach, so the
coastline
retreated inland
a considerable
distance. In
addition, salt
pray now
penetrates much
further inland

These low, vegetated dunes at Macaroni Beach 
in Mustique help to stabilise the beach as well 
as protect the land behind the coast, 1995

***********

HERE TODAY, GONE TOMORROW

Besides damaging infrastructure and eroding beaches, tropical storms and hurricanes impact coral reefs and seagrass beds, although often this damage is unseen, except by divers and fishers. Along the west coast of Mustique the waves from Hurricane Lenny in 1999 extended their full force on the offshore coral reefs, breaking off pieces of coral.The waves then piled up these broken coral fragments into ‘natural’ breakwaters at several places along the coast. These breakwaters attest to the underwater damage, where the coral reefs, which grow very slowly, may take decades to recover.

   

Piles of coral fragments
(above) seen here at Old
Plantation and Plantain
Bay in Mustique (left)
attest to the underwater
damage caused
by Hurricane Lenny in
1999

Hurricane Lenny caused
serious damage to the 
coastal road at Hamilton, 
Bequia in 1999

***********


These deep-rooting
manchineel trees at Lagoon Bay, Mustique,
help to stabilise the
beach...

...and warning visitors of their poisonous nature
is a wise practice

Keeping the natural
coastal vegetation such as here at Lower Bay, Bequia, helps to
conserve the beach,
2000

  

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 Physical Planning Department 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 beach areas beyond the reach of storm waves, and other coastal areas, with native vegetation, e.g. grasses, vines and salt resistant, deep-rooting trees, such as sea-grape.

Ensuring new
development is a
‘safe’ distance
from the dynamic
beach zone, helps
conserve the
beach and
the buildings

    Buildings close to the beach are vulnerable to erosion

Buildings at a safedistance from the beach are less 
vulnerable to erosion

  

Retaining wall at Port Elizabeth, Bequia, 2000

Replacing beach sand at Port Elizabeth, Bequia, after Hurricane Lenny, 2000

Groynes do not always succeed in promoting sand accretion as seen here at Indian Bay, St Vincent, 1995
 

  • Resorting to ‘hard’ engineering structures such as seawalls, retaining walls, 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 Physical Planning Department.

Students building stone barriers and planting cacti to prevent soil erosion, Park Bay, Bequia, 1997

***********

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 Planning for information on ‘safe’ distances).  
Ensure the physical planning process is fair, equitable and transparent.
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.
Coordinate an integrated approach to beach management, by ensuring that individuals, members of the general public, governmental and non-governmental organisations work together.
Promote the concept of coastal stewardship and civic pride.
Respect the rights of all beach users.
Provide for public access to all beaches, and where appropriate provide facilities for beach users (e.g. parking, safety measures, sanitary facilities).
Stop the mining of sand from beaches and dunes, ensure that inland mining sites are restored after use, and investigate alternative building practices.
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 the
ST VINCENT AND THE GRENADINES consult:  

Bequia Community High School
PO Box 75, Port Elizabeth, Bequia
St Vincent and the Grenadines

T: +1 784 458 3301
F: +1 784 458 3514
E: bahs@vincysurf.com

Ministry of Agriculture, Lands and Fisheries
Kingstown, St Vincent and the Grenadines

T: +1 784 456 1410
F: +1 784 457 1688
E: agrimin@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 
organizations in St Vincent 
and the Grenadines.

To view this booklet on-line, please see: www.unesco.org/csi/act/cosalc/brochvin.htm

Illustrations: Barbara Navi – Photographs: Herman Belmar and Gillian Cambers – Design: Eric Loddé

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