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Click to read article on Cayman Islands' 'Erosion a Major Problem' from Hurricane Wilma

Erosion a major problem’

High waves and storm surge caused by the passing of
Wilma has made its mark on the beaches and other
areas around the Island

Tuesday,  November 1, 2005

Since Hurricane Wilma, there have been various reports of damage to the natural environment, mainly caused as a direct and indirect result of powerful wave action and storm surge.

Direct damage has included beaches and vegetation bordering beaches, and indirect damage has been caused from salt spray from the waves; in some places, as in the Pedro Castle and Savannah areas as well as of course the flooding which occurred in that area.

Timothy Austin, Assistant Director of Research and Assessment with the Department of Environment, said there has been some substantial loss of sand along the western side of the Island, and the beaches on the south side.

“We won’t know the full extent of the erosion until the waves have died down a bit and the beach has established its normal post-storm profile; but given the site visits that we have undertaken, I am fairly certain the erosion will be a major problem.”

He added that some ten Green Turtle nests had also been lost to wave action along the Seven Mile Beach, which probably accounted for about 1000 young turtle hatchlings. 

“Another problem has been the damage to Cayman’s coral reefs; Cayman’s underwater features will also have taken a bashing from the large seas,” Mr Austin said.

“During Ivan we lost a lot of the shallow water benthic organisms, including hard corals, but particularly sea fans, sponges and other soft corals, and to date there has not been a major recovery of these important and picturesque marine species. 

“Wilma and the large seas associated with the storm will have seriously impacted any natural recovery that may have occurred over the last year; and may have inflicted further damage on an already severely impacted coral reef and the near shore hard-bottom environment.”

Mr Austin pointed out that as with all major storms, a lot of the damage to the marine environment is mechanical, through debris from coastal dwellings and structures that get knocked down and into the water. 

“Wooden docks, jetties, seawalls, cabanas and other debris get thrown around in the large waves and eventually end up wedged into reefs or tangled up on the seafloor,” he explained.

“This not only leaves an unsightly mess, but also can cause tremendous physical damage while loose on the bottom. Coral reefs have adapted to large storm events and typically have recovered from them in the past, although usually on a time period of decades or centuries. 

“However there is now growing scientific evidence that given all of the other environmental stresses on coral reefs today and that global climate change maybe producing more frequent and stronger storms, and that hurricanes may now be accelerating the decline of reefs.”

Andrew Guthrie, Manager of the Queen Elizabeth II Botanic Park, said that the gardens had faired quite well.

“We have not really experienced much damage: we got some fallen leaves and branches nothing more than that, no flooding really, no more flooding than normal,” said Mr Guthrie.

At the Savannah and Pedro areas, a large amount of salt water, from the spray of waves breaking on the cliffs, without the energy absorbing effect of a protective fringing reef, meant that large amounts of seawater found its way down the hill into Savannah. 

These events have happened periodically in the past, according to the National Trust’s Frank Roulstone, but he added that he hadn’t really had a chance to see what damage had been inflicted on some of the most vulnerable National Trust sites by Friday afternoon.

“I haven’t been able to get into Dr Roy’s Iron Shore or Fort George to see what damage may have occurred,” he said.

Mark Orr, an enforcement officer with the Department of Environment, said that one or two people were trying to take advantage of the situation.

“We had a couple of people tried to grab some conch,” Mr Orr explained.

“One gentleman had three and another had five. It is out of season, until the end of October, and it is also a Marine Park,” he said.

The Turtle Farm in West Bay reported that their parking lot had been damaged by Hurricane Wilma and was temporarily “Out of Commission.” 

They also reported that the water in some of the turtle holding tanks had become murky, which was thought to be the result of excessive salt spray, but other than that, there was little damage.

JGR Blog - Cayman Islands' Turtles survive wild Wilma