US$25m needed to restore Negril's beaches
Janet Silvera, Senior Gleaner Writer
It has long been famous for having some of the best beaches in the world, but Negril could lose its most important natural resource within 10 years if urgent action is not taken to cauterise creeping erosion.
"In 10 years, we will lose the beach and it will be the end of the industry as we know it," says hotelier, Lee Issa, who, like the majority of investors in the resort town, has watched the Negril shoreline retreating at a rate of between one and two metres per year. This trend appears to have started some two to three decades ago, says a 2008 report from coastal environmental company, Smith Warner International Limited.
Over the last seven years, the actual volume of sand on the beach has been reduced, according to cross-sectional measurements made, the organisation said.
With the situation worsening, Smith Warner has recommended immediate restorative work, which will cost between US$19.4 million and US$25.5 million, money which the stakeholders reportedly don't have. Issa is suggesting that the project be funded from the hotel room tax being collected by the Government.
30 metres more sand
It is estimated that the reseeding of the beach would give the town an average 30 metres of sand along the Long Bay Beach, putting it back to where it was in the 1970s.
Negril contributed approximately 25 per cent (or US$500 million) of the US$2 billion gross earnings that the country boasted last year.
But the restoration of the beach is just one of the two equally urgent needs now besetting the resort town. The morass, which was drained some decades ago for developmental purposes, has dried up, causing havoc to the town's ecology. "This has resulted in the perennial occurrence of surface fires in hot spot areas, burning extensively and uncontrollably," said the Negril Environmental Protection Trust (NEPT) in a letter dated June 15, 2011, to Prime Minister Bruce Golding.
According to the NEPT, a massive fire recently burned for days, resulting in residents and guests suffering with upper respiratory ailments. "A number of the visitors checked out and were transferred to Montego Bay hotels," Issa confirmed.
The morass, which is an extensive area of 6,000 acres of wetlands, plays a crucial role in the filtration sediments that normally would have been deposited on to seagrasses and coral reefs which maintain the pristine "seven-mile" Negril beach, says the NEPT.
The organisation says the wetlands also function as a flood control mechanism; protect low-lying communities from natural disasters like hurricanes and tropical storms; and serve as a habitat for terrestrial animals and marine creatures such as juvenile fishes.
The stakeholders have called a meeting with new Minister of Environment Dr Horace Chang for Saturday, but in the meantime, concerns heighten as tourism and sugar are the big employers of people in Westmoreland and Hanover, and there has been significant decline in the latter.
"The vast majority of Westmore-land and Hanover would suffer severe economic loss and informal communities of Whitehall and Red Ground would suffer social degradation," said Evelyn Smith, president of the Jamaica Hotel and Tourist Association.
Both Whitehall and Red Ground have mushroomed as a result of the tourist industry, while other districts such as Little London, Grange Hill, Green Island, Logwood, Savanna-la-Mar and Lucea, are among the communities dependent on the resort town's activities.
- HOW TO FIX THE PROBLEM
Smith Warner has suggested an integrated solution adopted for the project. This would be implemented in four phases.
Nourishment of the beach in both Long Bay and Bloody Bay are recommended in the implementation of phase 1; phase 2 - nearshore breakwaters in Southern Long Bay; phase 3 - reef extension structures in Central Long Bay; phase 4 - reef extension structures in Northern Long Bay.
The first aspect of the work would include dredging and beach nourishment. It is recommended that dredging be carried out offshore Negril Beach between the 20m and 50m water depth contours.
Long Bay - US$7,500,000
Bloody Bay - US$360,000
Total for both bays - US$7,860,000
This involves the construction of four nearshore breakwaters at the southern end of Long Bay. Each breakwater is designed to be approximately 300-400 metres long, and is to be positioned between 300 and 400 metres offshore.
Four structures - US$5,600,000
In this phase, three reef extension structures are to be provided offshore the central section of Long Bay. Structures are to be built further offshore and positioned in water depths of approximately four metres. These reef extension structures are to be submerged and will vary in length from 350 to 500 metres.
Three structures - US$7,200,000
In this phase, two reef extension structures are to be provided offshore the northern section of Long Bay. Structures are to be further offshore and to be positioned in water depths of approximately 4 metres.
Two structures - US$4,800,000