THE rhythmic battering of the Atlantic Ocean that once helped shape the charm of Trinidad’s eastern coastline now threatens to claim the very land, leaving communities and conservationists calling for immediate action to manage increased coastal erosion.
As coastal walls fall and the land sinks, Manzanilla/Mayaro has, in recent years, begun to experience massive flooding that has exacerbated property loss due to erosion. Following heavy rains last week, the Manzanilla/Mayaro Road was under flood water and remained impassable for close to a week, resulting in stress to communities and losses to businesses and farmers.
If not addressed, more businesses and homes will be lost, as climate change and coastal development have impacted accretion rates along Trinidad’s east coast, causing disappearing beaches and shorelines in Mayaro, Manzanilla and Guayaguayare.
As resort owners and those who rent beach homes attempt to recover from losses under the Covid-19 pandemic, while facing more operating costs, many are wondering whether it makes sense to stay in business.
They also face increased security costs and massive expenses to keep their properties from falling into the sea.
A legendary beach limers’ destination, the roads of Manzanilla/Mayaro are iconic for their long stretches of coconut trees—but along Mayaro’s 17-mile stretch of beach, these trees have become sparse.
Nature seekers go further into areas like Guayaguayare, where rain forests and swamps are home to some of the region’s most intense and unique ecosystems. These also face threats from climate change and encroachment.
The erosion and accretion impacting a coastline are governed by the geology of the area, as well as the direction and strength of the “wave attack”, and the south-eastern coast’s exposure to the Atlantic Ocean makes for a more dynamic wave environment.
In November 2014, unprecedented flooding was met with the collapse of part of the Manzanilla/Mayaro Road and several homes with it, as well as the Manzanilla Fishing Depot. It was rebuilt at a cost of $35 million and reopened in February 2015.
In July 2015, the 800-foot Manzanilla Boardwalk was built to mitigate erosion from the Atlantic’s high-energy waves, while also providing recreational space for the public. The south-eastern coastline is prone to predominantly large swells, and Mayaro Bay is now visibly eroded.
The Coastal Protection Unit (CPU) also constructed a retaining wall in Manzanilla and offers assistance to people affected by coastal erosion.
The eastern shoreline is impacted by the hydrodynamic activities of the Atlantic Ocean, which have also affected river formations on the coast, causing severe coastal erosion and inundation issues. Small-island Caribbean states, like Trinidad and Tobago, are also under threat from rising sea levels as global warming continues to trigger climate change.
While some work was impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic in the last year and a half, the State’s plans to mitigate land loss include the installation, where possible, of rock revetments, offshore breakwaters and possible beach-recharge campaigns.
Global entities such as the United Nations have created diversity funds to help Small Island Developing States (SIDS) combat climate change through resilience building. It has been recognised that SIDS are more vulnerable to changes in weather patterns and sea levels, while their coastlines are critical to their economies.
Policy to save coast
The Institute of Marine Affairs has continued to advocate for the approval and adaptation of an Integrated Coastal Zone Management (ICZM) Policy Framework, which addresses infrastructure to mitigate erosion and policy to cope with climate change.
Deputy director of research at the IMA Dr Rahanna Juman said the framework is yet to be approved by Cabinet, but should be addressed urgently.
She said the State must also implement a national development policy, which would also address unchecked and poor development that contributes to flooding.
The IMA had stated in a previous study that the rate of sea level rise at Port of Spain from the Lands and Surveys Division Tide Gauge from 1984 to 1992 was calculated to be 1mm per year, increasing from 2009 to 2014 to 2.41mm per year, and this had further increased to 6.7mm per year by 2016.
The IMA has continued to lead community workshops in the eastern coastal areas, raising awareness about climate change, coastal erosion and helping communities build resilience. It also advocates a “multi-stakeholder approach” that integrates the State, non-governmental organisations and communities to combat climate change.
The ICZM policy document stated that, “It is estimated that almost 80 per cent of all socio-economic activities and 70 per cent of Trinidad and Tobago’s population are located along the coast (CSO, 2010).”
About eight per cent of all public and private infrastructure, by value, is located immediately on the coastline, while 89 per cent of the total value of physical assets lies within the broader coastal zone.
The ICZM, according to a revised edition of September 2020, stated that “the country has always relied on its coastal and ocean resources for economic prosperity primarily from oil and gas exploration, tourism and fisheries”.
The policy stated that “new economic policies, aimed at diversifying the economy and developing the blue economy, would see investments in the tourism, agriculture, aquaculture and maritime sectors, all of which depend on a healthy coastal environment.
“Policies to reduce greenhouse gases would lead to the development of alternative renewable energy sources, some of which could be generated along the coast from tides, waves or wind. Notwithstanding this, Trinidad and Tobago faces challenges in the management and sustainable use of its coastal and ocean space and resources.”
The ICZM framework aims to “facilitate an integrated approach to coastal zone management aimed at maintaining and, where necessary, enhancing the functional integrity of the coastal resource systems while enabling sustainable economic development through rational, inclusive decision-making and planning”.
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