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TTC Special: Caribbean beaches, tourist diamonds under threat of erosion

TTC Special: Caribbean beaches, tourist diamonds under threat of erosion

Climate change impacts will increase both the level and temperature of the sea. Photo: rambleon/123RF

By F. Martin

TTC Service.- Beaches are Caribbean tourism diamonds.

But it seems that these diamonds are not “forever” because of erosion, one of the great dangers of climate change. If ever the region misses its beaches, not only tourism but human life is likely to become very complicate.

Studies published by the United Nations Caribbean Environment Program it has recently been estimated that 70% of Caribbean beaches are eroding at rates of between 0.25 and 9 meters per year.

Experts believe that beach erosion is manifested in the whole Caribbean region, and causes are related to a higher frequency and intensity of tropical storms, sea level rise, the deficit in the sand inputs, and tectonic phenomena.

Anthropogenic causes include sand mining, destruction and occupation of dunes by tourist facilities, construction of marinas, incorrect location of coastal protection infrastructure, and the damage to coral reefs and sea grass beds, important sources of production of marine carbonated sand. All tourist areas of the Caribbean show direct relationship between erosion and human activities which demonstrates the unsustainable character of tourist development.

Sand mining and beach erosion are issues of great concern in countries such as St. Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, and St. Vincent and the Grenadines among others.

Global warming has made things worse. According to UN Environment digital page latest report on this subject suggests that it is likely the frequency of heavy precipitation events will increase, meaning greater likelihood of erosion and sediment runoff. These experts assert that climate change impacts will increase both the level and temperature of the sea.

“The effect of this will be increased damage from storm surges, increased erosion on small islands and impacts on coastal ecosystems such as mangroves, salt marshes and coral reefs” Is the warning of the study released by the UN entity.

Other sources specializing in the phenomenon claim that due to rising sea levels and recurring storms, most Caribbean nations have been seeing their beaches disappear. In some areas of St. Vincent, for instance, an estimated 18-30 meters of beach have been lost over the last nine years.

The highly vulnerable coastal strand and adjacent towns are fighting against increased flood risk from rainfall and storm surge. The sources added that Caribbean ports are also at risk from rising sea levels. “Built in colonial times, many sea ports, such as Castries, St. Lucia; St. Georges, Grenada; Kingstown, St Vincent, are suffering from the increasing threat of flooding, in part due to rising sea level. In island states, ports are the economic heart of the country, typically the capital and the island center of commerce”, stressed in an article Jerry Meier a World Bank Climate Change Expert.

He added that airports are also affected. “Typically built in flat coastal areas, airports such as Melville Hall, Dominica; Maurice Bishop, Grenada; and Hewannorrah, St Lucia, are dealing with increased flood risk and sea level rise”, warned.

Seventy percent of the Caribbean population lives on the coast. Almost all the Caribbean’s main cities, with their millions of inhabitants and their essentials infrastructures, are less than a mile from the coast – including highly vulnerable cities such as Port-au-Prince, Haiti and Havana, Cuba.

Meier cited recommendations from the World Bank which could mitigate the catastrophe that would be the disappearance of Caribbean diamonds.

Social: Poor and vulnerable people will be the most affected by a global sea level rise. Land planning needs to be incorporated more into social programs to tackle how exposed they are to risk.

Economic: Any preventive system needs to establish an economic recovery and diversification plan following a disaster.

Environmental: More investment in scientific data collection and flood controls, which don’t damage the environment, are needed as preparation for changes in rainfall volume and frequency.

Risks: Land planning and watershed management have the potential to contribute to risk management in coastal cities and promote more compact cities, something that could reduce the emission of greenhouse gasses, as well as protecting people who live in high-risk areas.