Environment and development
in coastal regions and in small islands
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Hurricane impact on beaches in the eastern Caribbean Islands 1989 - 1995


The year 1995 was recorded as the second most active year for hurricanes after 1933.  There were nineteen named storms, eight tropical storms and eleven hurricanes.  On several occasions in September and October two or three named storms occurred simultaneously in the Atlantic Ocean.  During a three week period from August 24th to September 16th, three storms swept through the Eastern Caribbean Islands.  The damage was catastrophic, several lives were lost; property and infrastructure were destroyed; and the environment, from the forests to the beaches to the coral reefs was severely impacted.

1995 provided the Caribbean Islands with many important lessons about disaster preparedness, mitigation and recovery.  In terms of recovery, buildings and infrastructure were repaired, and in some cases rebuilt, in the months following the storms.  However, in the case of the environment, the damage was often difficult to assess in quantitative and economic terms and recovery was much slower.   In the case of a cash crop such as bananas, the loss could be fairly easily quantified.  However, in the case of a beach, the damage was often difficult to determine for there were so many variables affecting the assessment e.g. how would it affect tourism, would the beach return naturally and how soon, where had the sand gone.

In some islands it was possible to provide an answer to at least some of these questions.  Since 1985 a regional project, COSALC (Coast and Beach Stability in the Lesser Antilles), initiated by UNESCO and co-sponsored by the University of Puerto Rico Sea Grant College Program (UPR/SGCP), had been assisting the small Caribbean Islands with the management of their beach resources.  In particular, monitoring programmes had been established in the smaller islands whereby beaches were measured on a regular basis to determine the rates of erosion and accretion.  Thus using this database it has been possible to assess quantitatively the effects of the 1995 storms on the beach resources.

It is the purpose of this report is to provide a quantitative record of the effects of the hurricanes between 1989 and 1995 on the beaches of the eastern Caribbean Islands, also to assess the extent of the damage and the recovery.  This report is directed towards the technical reader, a non-technical summary will be prepared in 1997.  In light of predictions that the next twenty years will see more hurricane activity than the last two decades, recommendations will be made regarding the future management of beaches. 

The islands covered by this report extend from Dominica to the British Virgin Islands and are limited to the hurricane impacted islands where beach change databases predate the hurricanes.  These islands are : Anguilla, Antigua-Barbuda, British Virgin Islands, Dominica, Montserrat, Nevis and St. Kitts.  (Other islands were also severely impacted, e.g. St. Maarten and St. Thomas, but no beach change data are available for these islands)

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