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NEPA tests new technology for beach restoration - New beach licences on hold

Published:Friday | January 18, 2013 | 1:00 AM

Avia Collinder, Business Writer

Jamaica's environmental watchdog is about to test a biological product called ShoreLock that promises to restore shorelines by replenishing sand.

In the meantime, it has put a hold on new beach licences while the technology developed by an American company is being tested.

Subject to Cabinet approval, the National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA) plans to hire Hydros Coastal Solutions, the developer of the ShoreLock product, to restore 750 metres of beach along Long Bay Beach Park in Negril and at Font Hill, St Elizabeth.

The ShoreLock product is being pilot-tested in St Ann under the direct supervision of the University of the West Indies' Discovery Bay Marine Laboratory.

The Natural Resources Conservation Authority, which is a division of NEPA, requested the pilot, and has put additional beach licences on hold in the interim.

The resumption date for permits is to be decided by the NRCA board.

NEPA conducted a preliminary assessment of marine waters and organisms in November ahead of the ShoreLock project.

Application of the bio-product to the targeted beaches will last four months, from the end of January to April 2013. Post-application monitoring will occur over six months, from May to November.

Hydros Coastal, which operates out of Florida, focuses on coastal restoration using soft and hard engineering solutions and includes its proprietary biological product, ShoreLock.

NEPA plans to pay Hydros US$132,000 (J$12.3m) for the beach restoration job.

"The product was developed by a team of engineers and biologists and contains non-toxic ingredients in the form of a powder with the main constituents being polysaccharides and proteins. It is water soluble and from all indications leaves no residue," NEPA told the Financial Gleaner.

The project is being funded under the EU/UNEP Climate Change Adaptation and Disaster Risk Reduction Project.

According to Shorelock's website, the chemical process works by promoting an interaction between sand and water molecules.

"The result is a beach that retains a microscopic layer of fresh water so that better cohesiveness is maintained. The beach will 'grow' over time through a natural accretion of sand. However, there are some instances where it is practical to import sand and pre-treat that sand with ShoreLock."

ShoreLock in powdered form is mixed with water onsite, and then distributed throughout the beach by means of covered trenches, directional boring equipment, or direct-push machinery.

The wave action and tidal fluctuation mixes the product with the sand. Applications are typically spread 30-45 days apart and spaced over a four- to five-month period, depending on the environment and desired results, the website notes.

Favourable results

NEPA said the ShoreLock technology has been used regionally in places such as Turks and Caicos and The Bahamas, as well as Florida to assist with beach restoration.

"A review of documentation and assessment of sites where ShoreLock has been employed has indicated that the technology has yielded favourable results in terms of beach stabilisation," said NEPA.

The environmental body said that if the results of pilot are favourable in the Jamaican context, the EU, UNEP and NRCA will promote ShoreLock as one of the technological tools to be used under climate-change initiatives.

As such, the Jamaican project will act as a test for 'beach and dune restoration' as one of the four nature/ecosystem-based approaches to adaptation to climate change.

NEPA hopes the ShoreLock application will allow for sediment accretion to improve beach and dune stabilisation over time.

"The actual work is based on manual application methods - generally used for smaller beaches - and involves digging holes along the foreshore of the beach to a depth of approximately four feet," the agency told the Financial Gleaner.

"The ShoreLock material is placed in the hole which is then in-filled and covered with excavated sand. Disruption to beach use for this method is short-term and there is no visible physical impact on the environment."