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Coastal erosion a real threat

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Three families in Cedros are suddenly homeless and two others are on the brink of losing their homes.

Until sometime after 2 pm on Monday, these families were enjoying the comfort and security of their homes. Then, without much warning, the ground began to crack and shake under their feet, barely giving them time to escape before some houses tumbled 1,000 feet down a precipice. One was swept away by the sea, others are teetering dangerously on the brink.

It is hard to even begin to quantify the heavy toll on these families and others in what has now been deemed a disaster zone.

This is a wake up call for the entire nation. Seaside communities are in uncomfortable proximity to one of the effects of climate change—coastal erosion. A major cause is rising sea levels, estimated to be taking place at a rate of 0.06 metres a year.

T&T, a Small Island Developing State (SIDS), is particularly susceptible and the country’s substantial industrial infrastructure only adds to the threat. In addition to erosion caused by natural coastal processes like waves, currents, winds and tides, activities like trenching and pipe laying associated with the energy industry and expansion of telecommunication networks cause further harm.

These are highlighted in a very comprehensive 2014 report by Christopher Alexis, a research officer with the Institute of Marine Affairs (IMA), which documents erosion at Las Cuevas and Blanchisseuse bays, as well as beaches in Manzanilla and Guayaguayare. Erosion is also taking place on Trinidad’s south and west coasts and in parts of Tobago.

Coastal erosion has been a real and developing threat in T&T for decades. It was alarming enough for Suruj Rambachan, when he was Works Minister, to set in motion a series of mitigation projects through the ministry’s Coastal Protection Unit (CPU).

Areas of particular focus then were North Cocos in Manzanilla, in the vicinity of the environmentally sensitive Nariva Swamp, and the Shore of Peace in Oropouche. The tragedy now unfolding in Cedros is a reminder of the importance of the work of that unit.

This week, events unfolding in one small part of the country are a stark reminder of how disasters, natural and otherwise, wreak havoc on lives and the landscape.

Coastal areas are vital to the economic health of this country, particularly tourism and agriculture. There is also the matter of landspace not being in abundant supply in our small islands, so beyond the immediate emergency responses, there is need for long term remediation, not just in Cedros, but in other threatened parts of the country.


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