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Jamaica Needs Coastal Management Unit

Published:Tuesday | April 14, 2015 | 2:41 PM
Obvious signs of erosion on the Negril beach.

The lack of data on Jamaica's coastal environment is making it difficult to safeguard the island's beaches and shoreline.

This concern is being raised by noted coastal engineer Dr David Smith, who says that the road to successful implementation of coastal projects begins with proper data collection. He lamented the fact that Jamaica has a paucity of data on its coastal environment.

"What I'd like to see happen in Jamaica is the start of proper data collection for our beaches around the island, satellite imagery, beach profiles," he said.

He also noted that laser mapping of the seabed in Jamaica, although an expensive venture, is also a critical gap that needs to be filled in the data deficit.

According to Smith, this initiative could be spearheaded by a dedicated agency modelled on the Coastal Management Unit in Barbados, a country which, like Jamaica, has pursued a number of coastal developments to meet the needs of its tourism industry.

"We have worked extensively in Barbados, and I always think of what they have done. In 1984, they started a coastal zone unit. Since that time, they have been measuring beach profiles, which are surveys of what their beaches are doing all around the island. So that is about 31 years of data, and with that data, they can predict the impact of a particular coastal project based on the historical patterns of the beaches."

use up data satellite imagery

Smith is also urging the Government to tap into the available data satellite imagery which, he says, can be used to map shoreline changes.

This, he says, is important as he made the case for coastal engineering.

"Coastal engineering is important for all small island states by virtue of the fact that the ratio of land mass to coastal length is small, which means we all have big coastal areas. In our Caribbean context, most people live on the coast, and that exposes them to storm surges and other natural disasters. So it is important to get a handle on what processes are driving shoreline change," he said.