Environment and development
in coastal regions and in small islands

Bequia's Sandwatch Programme

by Galeine Gordon*

In 1994, science teachers throughout the Caribbean region met in Trinidad and discussed, with a sense of urgency, the problems facing coastal regions washed by the Caribbean Sea. Growing from that meeting was what is known today as the UNESCO Associated Schools Programme Caribbean Sea Project (ASP/CSP), which involves students of regional schools ranging from Belize and Cuba in the north to Guyana in the south. The thrust of the programme involves taking a serious look at our marine environment with emphasis on our beaches, and also the waterways and drains that eventually lead to the marine environment; in short, everything terrestrial that would have an impact on our marine world.

At the third regional meeting of students and teachers of the ASP/CSP, it was decided to adopt the following strategies:

1) The creation of systems for educational and cultural exchanges.

2) The production of learning materials which do not duplicate what already exists.

3) The contribution of CSP schools to the International Year of the Reef in 1997 and to the International Year of the Ocean in 1998.

4) The establishment of linkages between the CSP and the Caribbean Environmental Programme.

With these strategies in mind, Dr. Gillian Cambers of the University of Puerto Rico developed a regional programme of beach monitoring called Sandwatch, which is made available to all participating ASP/CSP territories. Sandwatch incorporates a variety of skills and involves students, NGOs and governmental organizations as well as the general public directly in problems facing the beaches and the marine environment.

The Young Leaders Group of the Bequia Community High School have embarked on the setting up of monitoring stations on all the beaches here in Bequia, and they will monitor and retrieve data about the beaches for a period of at least three years. The data collected involves measuring the rate of erosion or accretion of sand on each beach, and plotting the changes on a chart, which is saved both in hard copy and on a computer database that can be transmitted to regional schools for comparison and analysis. With this information to hand, the local Planning Authorities can make decisions about the location of any construction on beachfront properties, how far they should be built from the sea, and what possible problems they may face from rising sea levels, both locally and regionally. Road construction engineers in the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) territories may also find this information very useful.

The Young Leaders also monitor beach debris, sand mining, causes of erosion and the waterways that affect the beaches. They have begun a programme of cleaning a number of the gutters and large drains that are so often neglected by the relevant authorities. 

An attempt has been made to sensitize the local population to the importance of protecting and preserving Bequia’s beaches, and the Young Leaders hosted a meeting last year, under the patronage of Dr. Cambers, to which all hoteliers and restaurant operators were invited. The participants at this interactive session, which was held at the Rotary Community Centre in Lower Bay, were sufficiently impressed by the data presented to have a number of them volunteer to be participants in the activities of the Young Leaders. Now, the Bequia Tourism Association will be approached with a similar purpose in mind, and with the long-term goal of making them protectors of our marine environment.

The following is a nutshell view of how beach monitoring is done. On arrival at the beach, a reference point is chosen. It is marked with coloured spray paint for later use. The reference point should be any permanent or semi-permanent structure in the area such as trees that are likely to withstand a storm, large rocks, cliffs, sturdy sea walls, or the side of the road. The vertical distance is measured from the painted spot or reference point, down to the sand. The person who will be reading the Abney level has to mark their height up to their eye level on the ranging poles, in order to create a constant. This point is marked with masking tape. The first drop-off point (change in the gradient of the beach) is then selected and the distance from the reference point is measured with a measuring tape. The angle of the slope is calculated in degrees and minutes. The Abney level has two sides; they are labelled negative and positive. If the reading of the Abney level is negative, we know right away that that particular area has experienced a decrease in sand, and vice versa if it is positive. The whole process is repeated until the end point is reached. This is the first offshore step, near the wave breaking point. With this information and the graphs we plot, we can determine how much our beaches have increased or decreased over the months or years. 

From observations already made, we have seen some of the obstacles that can cause the beach landscape to change. Some of these are: soil erosion, the effects of hurricanes, electricity poles left on the beach for later use, boats pulled up on the sand, garbage, activities of animals such as dogs, erosion from drain outlets from business places as well as from public drains.

We believe that our beaches are extremely important to the tourist industry and our economic survival. It is up to every Vincentian, every Caribbean person, and every visitor to do our fair share to protect them. Please support the Young Leaders in this effort.

Mr. Herman Belmar is the local coordinator of the CSP programme and Mrs. Elaine Ollivierre is the coordinator of the Young Leaders’ environment project, “Bequia: Another Day in Paradise”.

* Galeine Gordon, aged 16, is the President of the Bequia Community High School’s Young Leaders Group.

Published in Caribbean Compass, March 2001, p. 23.

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