The Caribbean Island of Mayreau Could be Split in Two Thanks to Erosion

On the other side of Windward Carenage Bay is Salt Whistle Bay
on the Caribbean Sea coast. The world famous beach attracts
visitors to the Mayreau, where tourism is a main stay of the
economy. Credit: Kenton X. Chance/IPS

By Kenton X. Chance
KINGSTOWN, Nov 6 2018 (IPS)

As a child growing up in Mayreau four decades ago, Filius
“Philman” Ollivierre remembers a 70-foot-wide span of land,
with the sea on either side that made the rest of the 1.5-square
mile island one with Mount Carbuit. 

But now, after years of erosion by the waves, he, and the other
300 or so persons living on Mayreau, are confronted with the real
possibility that the sea will split their island in two, and
destroy its world famous Salt Whistle Bay.

At its widest part, the sliver of land that separates the placid
waters of the Caribbean Sea at Salt Whistle Bay from the choppy
Atlantic Ocean, on Windward Carenage Bay, is now just about 20
feet.

“There is a rise in the sea level with climate change. You can
see that happening, and not just in that area alone,” Ollivierre
told IPS of the situation in Mayreau, an island in the southern
Grenadines.

The sliver of land near Salt Whistle Bay once had a grove of
lush sea grape trees.

“As the sea eroded the land, it washed out the roots and as it
washed out the roots, the plant could no longer survive, so they
dried up,” Ollivierre said.

Beneath the waves, the destruction is as evident.

“On the ocean bed in that area, it doesn’t have any coral.
It is just a mossy bottom. It doesn’t have anything there,”
Ollivierre told IPS.

If the land separating both bays were to be totally eroded, St.
Vincent and the Grenadines, an archipelagic nation, would see its
number of islands, islets and cays increase from 32 to 33.

But this could be potentially devastating for Salt Whistle Bay,
which Flight Network, Canada’s largest travel agency, ranked 16
out of 1,800 beaches worldwide last November.

A major part of the economy on Mayreau is the sale of t-shirts
and beachwear to the tourists that Salt Whistle Bay attracts. If
the beach is compromised, the islands might not be as attractive to
visitors and its economy would suffer.

“My fear is that if the windward side breaks through onto the
other side, it can actually erode that whole area… All of that
area is sand and it not so much sand separating both sides so we
really have to be careful and take the necessary measures to
prevent that from happening,” Ollivierre said.

Ollivierre’s fear is shared by tour operator Captain Wayne
Halbich, who has been conducting sea tours among the islands of St.
Vincent and the Grenadines for almost three decades.

Halbich has witnessed the impact of rising sea level on Mayreau
and he often tells his guests, light-heartedly, that Mayreau has
the shortest distance between the Atlantic Ocean and the Caribbean
Sea.

“That was actually a lot wider, and it was covered almost
entirely by the sea island grape trees. It is going slowly,” he
told IPS.

“This is a serious problem. This is what I always say to
people. We are seeing really concrete signs in relation to global
warming. It is also from the fact that the reef is dying. The reef
cannot produce sand and any sand you lose is not coming back. That
is the other story,” he says.

And, unless something is done quickly, one cyclone — which is
now more frequent and intense in the Caribbean — could cause the
worst to happen in Mayreau.

“If we have a storm this year, it would break away,” Halbick
told IPS, as he reiterated his fears that Mayreau could lose its
famous Salt Whistle Bay.

The situation in Mayreau has captured the attention the national
assembly in the nation’s capital, with Terrance Ollivierre,
Member of Parliament, for the Southern Grenadines asking Prime
Minister Ralph Gonsalves what can be done quickly to remedy the
situation.

Gonsalves said that his government has been working with a
private sector operator who has the resources and equipment nearby
to be able to do some remedial work.

He said there have been a number of suggestions by technical
experts, including a quick fix of putting some boulders at the
beach at Windward Carenage as a kind of mitigation.

“But much more is required than that and it is going to be a
larger project. So, the long and short of it, the fight which we
are having on climate change, is a fight which relates to what is
happening at Salt Whistle Bay. Rising sea levels, wave action, and
then, of course, people moving away a lot of natural barriers,
which have been there.

“When we talk about climate change and some people deny it and
many of our own people scoff at it and when our people are not
sufficiently alert and have not been in respect of the sea grapes
and the manchineel, the mangrove, the coconut trees, even sand, we
are paying for it.”

The prime minister told lawmakers that some persons have
suggested that nothing be done at Mayreau and that the sea would
return the land in the natural course of things.

“That’s not a scientific approach. We have a difficulty and
we are trying to help.”

The lawmaker who called the situation to the attention of the
parliament also agreed that doing nothing is not an option.

He pointed out that some persons had
suggested that approach at Big Sand Beach in Union Island
,
another southern Grenadine island.

Residents are still waiting for the sea to return the sand to
the once-famous beach, which has been reduced from 50 feet to less
than 10 feet wide.

Among those who are taking action are Orisha Joseph and her team
at Sustainable Grenadines Inc., a non-governmental organisation,
which over the last year has been restoring the largest mangrove
forest and lagoon in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, located in
Ashton, Union island.

The work will create breaches in strategic areas of an abandoned
marina to create water circulation in the area, which has been
almost stagnant for the last 20 years.

As part of the project, the group has planted 500 mangroves
trees in Union Island.

“Wherever you have those types of mangroves, you would not
have erosion as the roots help to filter silt and it also breaks
the energy of the wave, like around 70 percent.

“So you have your first line of defence, which is your
seagrass, then your coral reef, then your mangrove. So, by the time
you have really strong impact then you have a lot of buffer zones
to break down that,” Joseph told IPS.

“All in all, as we go into the blue economy, what we need to
do is to see how NGO and climate change organisations could really
work with government and let everybody know that we shouldn’t be
on opposite side,” she said, adding that government must insist
that no construction takes place less than 40 metres away from the
coastline.

“Everything in the environment is there for a particular
reason and we have to be careful,” Joseph said, adding that coast
vegetation prevents soil erosion.

To illustrate, she said there is a vine that grows on the sand
on some beaches and people remove them to expose more of the
beach.

“But when you remove that which is causing the sand to stay in
place, then you are creating a bigger problem. We have this problem
where people just go cutting down mangroves because they just want
beachfront land and not really understanding that this vegetation
is there for a reason,” she told IPS.

The post
The Caribbean Island of Mayreau Could be Split in Two Thanks to
Erosion
appeared first on Inter Press Service.

Source: FS – All – Ecology – News
The Caribbean Island of Mayreau Could be Split in Two Thanks to Erosion