Have you ever wondered why after a long and torrential downpour, Punta Gorda, or PG for short, suffers little from heavy flooding? PG remains relatively unspoiled, its landscape scrubbed clean and pristine, and with a glorious pageantry of color. Its citizens ought to be grateful for such beautiful view, even more so for the topographical features which are responsible for keeping the land relatively unspoiled.
PG is proven to be a treasure-trove of interesting history. Some of those treasures are found hidden in its architecture, its people, and in its geography. Among its geographical treasures is a network of drainage channels, called “The Magoons,” or simply “Magoons.” The magoons are responsible for channeling the excess rain water from the immediate land to the sea, while enough water is useful for vegetation on this relatively moist and comfortable coastal town.
To begin with, what are the magoons? And why are they called “magoons”? The magoons are man-made water channels, designed to convey surface water from land to sea. They are one of the most intriguing man-made features in PG. Yet very little is known about their history. Little is written about their functions, even less so about their origins and importance to the town.
A bit of history is useful. The magoons were built by an American civil engineer named Estus H. Magoon, whence we got the name “magoon.” Estus worked on several health and drainage projects from the mid-1920s to mid-1950s. He worked in Latin America and the Caribbean, namely Cuba, Nicaragua, Guatemala, Panama, Colombia, El Salvador, Costa Rica, Venezuela, Brazil, Jamaica, Haiti, Puerto Rico, and even Belize, then called British Honduras. Some of his engineering projects in British Honduras were in the Belize River, Benque Viejo, Corozal, Cayo, New River, Stann Creek, Seine Bight, and, of course, Punta Gorda.
To many people in Punta Gorda, the magoons are unattractive, often overgrown by bushes, altered, eradicated, or replaced by sterile concrete. But the magoons have a very interesting history and function. For decades, they have been an effective mechanism for surface water drainage in PG. Torrents of rains, which typically arrived as early as June, found their way into the magoons to reduce flooding. In recent years, however, human activities associated with home construction and development have had considerable impact on the magoons. People living in or near the drainage courses have re-channeled or built over them, restricting the flow of water from rain to the magoons, and from the magoons to the sea. Others have been cluttered with overgrown bushes, junk, and debris. By accident or on purpose, by carelessness or disruptive behavior, the people have threatened the orderly flow of water in the magoons. The magoons can no longer withstand this constant assault of human encroachment. The challenge of the Town authorities is to clean, manage, and sustain the integrity of the magoons as important channels for the movement of storm water from the hinterland of PG to the sea.
How does this movement of water occur in PG? To answer this question, let’s consider the general lie or topography of PG. The town sits on the eastern seaboard of the Toledo District, facing the Gulf of Honduras. The approximate area of PG is 563 acres; that’s a little less than one square mile. Where the far edge of the land meets the sea, it gives way to a meandering coastline, extending in a north-easterly direction for about a mile and a half. The southern part of the town (by Cemetery) is about 25-45 feet above sea level. Here the waves are aggressive. Wave after wave, in an endless procession, they come in from great distances to slam and break against the base of the cliff, creating gullies at several points, where huge chunks of land drop away and crumple into the sea. As one proceeds north, the land rises and falls to about 30 feet (by Heraldo) with a precipitous drop into the sea. The coast continues to fall to about 24 feet above sea level with steep, lonely-looking shelves, which are constantly under attacked by the sea (by Roman Catholic Church). As a digression, I recall the words of a native of PG, who lived near the sea-beach. One day he was asked how he managed to sleep so soundly, despite living so close to the sea. His response was, “Esquire, it’s all because of the merry tintinnabulation of the waves.”
Indeed, where the land drops sharply to the sea, common along most of the coast of PG, there is a constant interruption of wave action. Wave after wave in an endless procession, they come crashing and breaking against the shore with tremendous power.
From the Roman Catholic Church, the land gradually begins to fall to about 15 feet above sea level. Then, it rises gradually, peaking at about 30 feet above sea level (Espat to Nazarene Church area). Along this small stretch of coastline, the constant surge and swell of the sea is threatening to eat away portions of Front Street. Where wave-surges are common, coastal erosion is a major problem. The land continues to rise to a steep gradient, about 36 feet above sea level (Market Area), and then falls gradually, as the coastline curves in and out, forming more open areas.
As one moves farther north, the coast becomes strikingly different from the southern part of the town. The land is predominantly low, gradually dropping to a shallow gradient. A restless surf fringes the coast. The meandering coastline pushes forward and retreats. Where the sea bites into the land, it creates sand-bottom beaches, thoroughly wetted by wind-driven waves (by the “Y”). Stony points, pebble beach, and mangrove are common features. At low tide, one can easily catch a glimpse of the blue-green, purple or dark brown algae, or seaweed, moving back and forth at the seafloor A coarse growth of vegetation clutters the edge of the roadway. Tides rearrange the beach debris. Along a curvy shore are castaway soda cans, discarded litter, and untidy masses of decaying seaweed (By Beya Suites & Waluko). Despite the debris, there’s no place more suited to picnics and swimming, or merely for rest and relaxation, particularly during the hot, sweltering dog days of summer.
The topography of PG is predominantly flat, sloping from south to north and from west to east. Some people would think that in a district with several rivers and creeks, flooding would be a major problem in PG. It’s not. The rivers generally flow in a southeasterly direction to the sea, following the gradient of the terrain. Moreover, PG is blessed with a network of magoons, which drains water from the hinterlands to the sea.
So right after the next rainstorm in PG, don’t worry about the streets being flooded and impassable. Grab your cellphones. Venture outside and take pictures of this spectacular town with its meandering coastline and a silhouette of Cero Hill, bearded in green, in the background. If you are lucky, and standing or stooping by the beach, you may even catch a glimpse of a flock of long-throated pelicans as they curve and circle past, searching for a meal.
Writings from A-Baan De