Theres nothing better than a palm beach with turquoise waters and a pina colada at Christmas in the Caribbean. A perfect combination. Well, you may not have the complete combo this holiday season, but at least with this image you get the palm beach and the turquoise waters. There is actually a serious message behind this image however. Taken in Shoal Bay East, one of Anguilla’s Marine Parks, this tree sadly no longer exists. Beach erosion is currently rife throughout the Caribbean, with losses happening at an alarming rate. Twenty years of study in Anguilla by the Department of Fisheries and Marine Resources showed an average erosion rate of over half a metre a year! This is truly scary as this is the average across the fifteen beaches monitored, so some were significantly higher than this. Only two showed a net increase, and these did not include those that underwent beach nourishment to replenish sand taken by the sea from important tourist beaches. Even these nourished beaches showed a net loss over the study period! If this trend continues, Anguilla, and other Caribbean islands could find that they have lost the key feature that has given them some kind of financial stability over recent decades – brought about by the tourist dollar. As beaches are one of the main reasons for tourists to visit the Caribbean, if the islands start to lack beaches the future does not look particularly rosey……and the cause of all this? Well, as with all natural processes it is a pretty complex situation, and no-one can say for sure exactly how it all works. Having said this, one factor will for sure be in play: increased hurricanes and a rise in year round storm surges due to global climate change and/or variability. Unfortunately this is not possible to manage for directly on a local level. Other factors though are, with the removal of beach flora for coastal developments a huge part (ironically developers do this to attract tourists, not realising long-term they are shooting themselves in the foot), as does sand mining (again, the want for cheap local sand to build with could end up being a significant factor in the ultimate downfall of these islands). However, what is often not mentioned is that this change in erosional regime could be a sign of a much deeper problem: coral reef decline (reduced reef structure through degradation increases wave action and therefore the potential for increased erosional pressure). The processes behind this hot topic are again complex and much disputed, but arguably the most significant root cause is a reduction in water quality by way of eutrophication. Although still being debated, this phenomenon has been sweeping though the Caribbean over recent years, as pointed at by other symptoms such as increased Sargassum inundations and periodic green water events.
Phew, thats all a bit depressing. But still, one can’t bury ones head in the sand about it (certainly not the way beach erosion is going anyway!). For a full report on the twenty years of beach monitoring in Anguilla see here > The Anguilla Beach Monitoring Program Report 1992-2014 (263 downloads)
Originally posted on Instagram @sea_anguilla with the text: Times gone by: Upper Shoal Bay East back in 2008 when erosion first started effecting the area. At the time I was enjoying some nice food, live music and a frosty beer at Gwens Reggae Grill. Since then the loss of sand has meant that Gwens has now had to move to Lower Shoal Bay East where the good vibes continue.