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Exposing Anguilla’s coastline: Hurricane Omar and coastal development - photos included.

October 21, 2008.

(Anguilla National Trust, The Valley Anguilla) - It has been just over one week since Hurricane Omar swept by Anguilla, unleashing its Category 3 level winds and soaking the soil, trees, and grass with a potent mix of rain and sea water. Today, power to most areas has been restored. Old majestic trees that had been uprooted and battered down by strong winds have, for the most part, been cleared away. Most of the extra water, left behind as small ponds, has drained away and filtered through the land.

The scars of the hurricane can still be seen though – tracts of land once covered with shrubs and trees are open fields, trees have been burned brown by salt, and the road is littered with dusty dirt, gravel, and leaves. Soon enough, though, the land will recover. What may take a little longer, though, are the beaches.

Hurricanes and other strong storm systems have long put pressure on Anguilla’s beaches and coastal habitats. In the past, these areas have been able to recover relatively quickly. Lately, though, recovery has been much slower and far more limited. This is partly because of how we have impacted the natural environment.

When it comes to coastal development, we have tended to strip away the protective vegetation that lines the island’s beaches (and that would have otherwise helped to hold the sand in place) and this has allowed for an incredible amount of beach erosion. After this hurricane, while some beaches have been lucky and have actually seen an increase in the amount of sand on their shores, others have seen their sand washed away or displaced – either out to sea or to other beaches down-current. Property damage to beach-front villas and resorts could have been substantially worse had Anguilla been hit directly by the hurricane. In an effort to minimise damage to coastal properties, owners sometimes build walls and barriers. While they may, to some extent, protect buildings, they do not necessarily offer a long-term or sustainable solution. At times, in fact, they make natural recovery of the shoreline that much more difficult. Moreover, mechanically moving sand back onto the beach is not always appropriate, affordable, or realistic.

So what may work better? Letting nature take its course is almost always the best option.
  • When constructing buildings close to the coastline, leave coastal vegetation to hold sand in place and to promote beach growth;
  • Set properties back from the sandy beach line and the vegetation line;
  • Avoid building on sand dunes and sand bars;
  • Build with the environment in mind – avoid trying to manipulate and dominate it;
  • Conduct environmental impact assessments (EIAs) that objectively look at coastal development and its impacts on the environment and the potential impacts the environment may have on it;
  • Implement EIA recommendations on how to make coastal development less intrusive and more environmentally-sound.
    The now-exposed wall that lines Cap Juluca, Maunday’s Bay

    Fresh tracks from trucks removing sand, Windward Point. The chance for sand to be naturally displaced from Windward Point to other beaches around Anguilla has been lost. The sand that was mined may have come from currents that took it from Scrub Island.

    Beach erosion by The Dune Preserve, Rendezvous Bay

    Boats grounded by strong seas, Sandy Ground

    Nature’s way of reclaiming an in-filled section of pond, Rendezvous Bay Pond

    Beach erosion, Merrywing
    Natural beach nourishment, Mead’s Bay

    Dolphin Discovery, Blowing Point

    Mechanical beach “nourishment” happening by Cuisinart Resort and Spa, Rendezvous Bay
    Beach erosion by Cuisinart Resort and Spa, Rendezvous Bay

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