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Warning from IDB expert: Trinidad is shrinking

Published: 
Sunday, April 16, 2017
Image of the Speyside coastline, one of the priority areas identified by the Inter-American Bank for coastal erosion.

Trinidad is shrinking and changing as it becomes increasingly vulnerable to storms, flooding and other natural disasters which cause coastal erosion and the retreating of the shoreline.

In Columbus Bay, in West Trinidad, the coastline has retreated by 150 metres since 1994, losing 6.5 hectares of land.

In the western part of Guayaguayare, the shoreline retreats annually by approximately one metre per year.

In Cocoa Bay, north of Manzanilla, the retreat is slightly more accelerated at 1.45 metres annually.

“The country is shrinking in some parts but it might be expanding in others, but the number of areas where it is shrinking is a lot more than the areas where it is expanding,” said Michele Lemay, Integrated Coastal Zone Management Specialist at the Inter-American Development Bank (IADB).

Lemay has spent much of the past two decades in the region, doing research on coastal erosion and providing expertise on the subject.

In an interview at the IDB office in Port-of-Spain, Lemay said at a national level, in the last decade, from 2005 to 2015, there had been a five-fold increase in Trinidad of storm events, erosion and flooding when compared to the decade prior.

She said this also coincided with an increase in coastal erosion.

“T&T is becoming more vulnerable and when you think about the cost of this in terms of getting to work, taking kids to school, damages to property and household, you see the more obvious effects,” she said.

“It happened in Matelot and Grand Riviere, before that it happened in Manzanilla and Mayaro. We found that the frequency of erosion and flooding in the coastal zone has increased considerably, even in Tobago.

“Sea level rise is going to worsen things and speed it up but we do know that up to the year 2100 there is a potential of 1 metre increase for sea level rise but I think in T&T there is more research needed to bring down the global models and come up with local numbers.”

Lemay said the Caribbean was more vulnerable than other places because countries are on the hurricane track or have more frequent storms.

“Caribbean islands are very densely populated so there are a lot of infrastructure along the coast. The more you build your shoreline, the more you create circumstances where you can have coastal erosion.”

She said the IADB had made recommendations for government to focus on priority areas for mitigating measures.

The areas identified were Speyside in Tobago, Mayaro, Guayaguayare area, Cocos Bay and San Souci as they are worse affected in the sense that when events happen, flooding or erosion they affect communities which are isolated.

“The idea is to promote people to stay at least 50 metres away from the shoreline for construction. Sometimes you have private ownership of land right up to the beach. You can tell people, this is your private property but do not build hard structures too close to the ocean.”

Lemay said T&T already had an advantage over other countries in the region in terms of research from the Institute of Marine Affairs (IMA) and installation of a Coastal Protection Unit under the Ministry of Works in 2014.

“What is needed is much closer monitoring of the shoreline. You can measure how it retreats, in some cases it moves forward or becomes more steep which is a clear sign of erosion.

“Our shorelines in the Caribbean are very vulnerable to storm events, flooding and erosion and traditionally the solution has been to build emergency structures when houses start losing their land and things like that. An integrated approach combines technically advanced solutions with regulatory measures and science.

“The work of the IMA and coastal protection unit is going in that direction.”

She said other measures needed to take place such as involving residents of affected communities in solutions like planting mangroves across the shore.