Protecting Our Heritage: Caring for the Beaches

Protecting Our Environment

Although, clearly, we are always concerned with preserving our past heritage – at the same time we must constantly be aware of our future.  We all know that times have changed and Grenada no longer survives on its Gold-Spices (nutmeg etc) as it did in its past – nowt the new gold is tourism and information-technology.

beaches_01

Visitors to our beautiful island don’t expect too much but one thing is true they dream of a fantasy island – under a constant calypso-rhythm our hills must roll with lush exotic flowers not too far from bright opal-green seas and magical crisp-white sandy beaches.  However our beaches are a living-ever-changing thing, nature reminds us of this fact frequently (remember Lenny in 1999 and Ivan in 2004).

What’s Happening To Our Beaches?

In order to manage these changes, Grenada’s beaches have been monitored since 1985 by the National Science and Technology Council (NSTC), together with the Fisheries Division, Lands and Surveys Division, and the Land and Water Resource Unit. The Hillsborough Secondary School and the Fisheries Division have measured Carriacou’s beaches since 1997. They measure the beach slope and width every 3 months at numerous sites around the islands.

Coast and Beach Stability is always a issue and this November 1998 the COSALC (Coast and Beach Stability in the Caribbean Islands) had a sponsored workshop in Grenada where officials of government and non-government agencies met with private entrepreneurs to discuss issues related to beach management. Topics such as sand mining, the destruction of coastal vegetation, reduction of beach access for locals and the loss of small cays were on the agenda, but participants had discussed these very issues at other such meetings. Several expressed frustration as they voiced:

‘We all know what the problems are, and we have identified a variety of solutions. But our governments do not implement these solutions. Why?’

After a period of heated exchange, this question was answered: Our environmental agenda is a long term process, but political agendas are all too often designed for the short term. Elected officials with the power to create public policy respond to pressures wielded by voters. So if we want to influence political action, we must make these environmental issues relevant — and urgent — for the general public, whose voting power can determine politicians’ choices.

As a result of this statement, the 1997 COSALC workshop on beach management turned into a brainstorming session as to how to educate the public; specifically, ‘how to get environmental messages into the living room.

In Grenada, which has its own broadcast channel, television is clearly the best way to reach people with messages about the importance of local resource conservation and wise development. Peter Thomas, assistant director of the National Science and Technology Council, comments:

‘We’ve tried reaching the general public through radio announcements and the press, but it’s hard to compete with the visual impact of television. With TV, people watch while sitting at home eating their peanuts and popcorn, and the message gets digested along with the snacks!’

Participants considered the idea of creating 30-minute documentaries, but a consensus was soon reached in support of the proposal that:

‘Few people will sit through an entire documentary, and those that do will see it only once. It is far more effective to expose people to a short 1-5 minute clip, because it may be shown over and over again like an ad. And each time it’s viewed, the message is reinforced.’

The next step was to design a training course that would put their vision into action with the support of technical experts as well as representatives of environmental agencies and government information services. Dr. Gillian Cambers of COSALC and Sea Grant presented the group’s ideas in a proposal to UNESCO’s Coast and Small Islands unit in Paris, and the proposal was implemented through the Communications section of UNESCO in Jamaica.

Eleven professionals (nine from Grenada and one each from St. Lucia and Anguilla) participated in this two-week training course in Grenada. The course was facilitated by Christopher Laird, who runs a video production company in Trinidad and Tobago. After identifying the most important environmental problems facing Grenada and the region, participants focused on learning technical skills including video camera work, editing techniques and ways of getting ideas across without a script. As Laird stressed,

‘Don’t depend on words! Visualize how to get the message across in pictures!’

Christopher Laird demonstrating the use of a video camera to participants at the UNESCO COSALC subregional workshop in video production for broadcast and exchange, Grenada, 16-27th November, 1998.

 

 

 

Participants were then divided into three groups, including representatives of environmental agencies and experts in the fields of video technology and public broadcasting. Each group worked to create a 1-minute video. (UNESCO provided three digital video camera recorders, tripods and microphones to be used on a permanent basis in Grenada, Anguilla and St. Lucia.) During a closing ceremony two weeks later, the video clips on sand mining, beach ecology and coastal construction and vegetation were shown. Explains Dr. Gillian Cambers:

‘We focused on coastal resources, particularly beaches. But the skills learned during this training can be applied to any aspect of the environment, from forestry and fisheries to disaster preparedness.’

Participating countries are now expected to create at least two additional video shorts before April when, during a follow-up course, all such programs will be shown and critiqued. Finally, local surveys will be conducted in order to glean public opinion and the impact of the videos on attitudes and behavior. According to Crafton Isaac, biologist with Grenada’s Fisheries Division:

This was money well spent! It was one of the most useful, practical workshops I’ve ever attended. Now we have the tools and skills to do a far better job at public education.’

Dr. Gillian Cambers adds:

‘This training was especially important because it helped to develop links between video production people and environmentalists. As local people collaborate to implement their ideas for environmental education, there’s less dependence upon outsiders.’

Depending upon this project’s success, it may be extended to other islands. UNESCO will be seeking partners in this effort.

Gail Gilchrist of the Grenada National Science and Technology Council measures the slope of a southwestern beach, where erosion and nearby coastal construction have contributed to the loss of lush vegetation.

Here Today, Gone Tomorrow

Hurricanes wreak havoc and Grenada’s Grand Anse beach, popular among island residents and well known to our many visitors and tourists, was also severely eroded during Hurricanes Lenny and Ivan. However, luckily, sand started to come back in the weeks following the hurricane.

In Grenada, most of the west coast beaches have shown erosion, while in Carriacou, the picture is more varied. Many of the beaches show erosion along one part of the beach and accretion (or build-up) at adjacent sections, thus these figures must be treated as average trends. The tri-island state has only been impacted by one severe hurricane during the period of measurement.

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 Unit before under- taking 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. (Additional development controls are required in the fragile offshore cays).
  • 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 Physical Planning Unit.
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