Coastal erosion is a natural process and also man made. Some 40 years ago when I was a kid and wandered around Belize when tourism was not much in existence coastal erosion was mostly due to storms or hurricanes. Ambergris Caye at that time had about 2 small hotels and Placencia had one very small hotel. Caye caulker had none. We practically had to use sailboats or big dugout canoes with a small engine as the only means to access these islands. I wondered why there is so much erosion lately, so much coast disappearing or being washed away so I decided to wander around the country. I went from north to south and everywhere they are fighting erosion. All sorts of methods being used, some work and some create more erosion. We found out that perpendicular groins to the coastline creates more problems than benefits. It usually benefits the property to the north of the groin but damages the property to the south. You see our sea currents inside the barrier reef are mainly from north to south and the sand shifts usually in this direction. The sand is caught on the northern section benefitting this property but usually creates damages to the property next door even if it has vegetation. Not a good idea. Useless idea in Belize.
About 3 decades ago the northern tip of Caye Chapel had minor erosion problem so the owners decided to place perpendicular groins along their entire coastline. Erosion was more rampant than ever. They started losing the island more by natural process. Then I wondered why they took the wonderful idea of bringing in a clamshell equipment to dredge a canal about some 20-30 feet offshore around the island especially on the northern section. Are you wondering what happened? They enjoyed the white beautiful sand that was piled on the island, to be used for their golf course. Well, when Mother Nature decided to fill back the offshore channel around the island it all came from the island shoreline and erosion was worse than ever. They were losing the island so fast that they decided to sheet pile the island along the entire west side and parts of the east side. The island was not natural anymore thanks to man’s interference with nature.
The Caye Caulker Island split also has its story. Have you ever wondered if it is natural? Well it was caused by the old fishermen who once dug a small channel for their canoes, then their sailing boats through the wetlands and mangrove. Finally Hattie came and really made a mess and it’s been getting larger ever since. Hurricanes play a large role in changing the coastal shape but its worst when the human touch has been there first. Do you remember when Hurricane Mitch chased us all to Belmopan! Thank God it did not come this side, but we felt the effects of it. The entire coastline of Ambergris Caye and Caye Caulker was affected. All piers and beaches were gone. Beach areas were washed away up to the wall of homes. Thank God the government of the day realized it could affect the tourism industry and hurriedly sent dredging equipment to replenish the beaches. Caye Caulker got more beach than they originally had, but recently it had to be replenished again. This process of replenishment will be forever. San Pedro Town also needs some urgent replenishment. Have you wandered along the east coast of Ambergris Caye, north and south of the town? The owners are basically removing all the vegetation and erosion is rampant and seawalls of different methods, material type and shapes are being experimented. Some work at the end, but most don’t. North and south of Caye Caulker and the entire Placencia peninsula is no different. The whole country’s coastline in fact.
Did you know that Foreign Coastal Engineers did the study for the Harvest Caye beautiful beach project? Today as you wonder around reading this article their beach has completely been washed away by natural forces. They removed all vegetation, they reshaped the beach but Mama Nature took it away. They are presently scrambling to find solutions. They are going back to groins! They are excavating some beautiful Dead Reefs (?)…what a mess! I wonder if NEAC and DOE know about this mess at Harvest Caye….What happen to the Placencia NGOs? Are they alive! I wonder!
The image below shows a land subdivision where the entire mangrove vegetation was removed. The beach looked beautiful at the beginning but 10 years later the erosion was rampant. Look at the coast beside with no human touch, it’s still there. Following are some photographs around the country of various erosion problems and remedies. In the last photo can anyone guess where (In Belize) is this house that sits partially in water due to erosion, climate change and sea level rise? Please wander around.
Erosion is a natural process. Look at the photograph of Placencia peninsula near Riversdale. It’s basically all natural vegetation. But erosion and accretion changes the coastline gradually, and when the human touch is there it compounds the problem. The authorities should take more precaution when issuing licenses for development. They should have guidelines as to how much human touch can occur and if the human touch is going to be much then a coastal specialist(s) should undertake the required studies. Hurricanes, currents, wave action, vegetation, climate change, sea level rise, etc. should be considered during these studies. Perhaps we need to do a National Study. I hope I have you Belizeans wondering today! You can send comments or questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Belize Times