November 5, 2007 - #82
New Sand For The Beach in St. Jean
The bay of St. Jean as viewed from the Eden Rock
The beach in St. Jean has never been the same since the last major hurricanes to hit the island (Luis in September 1995 then Georges in 1998, and José and Lenny in 1999), in contrast to the beach in Flamands.
In 2000, additional sand was brought to the beach in St. Jean by taking 8000 cubic meters of sand from the area between the color reef and the Eden Rock. But this operation, launched by local businesses, was not very successful, as at the end of the next tourist season, the sand had already disappeared. There were several reasons for this failure: first, there is a natural movement to the sands, which from the winter to summer months, move toward the western end of the beach, rather than the eastern end. Also the coral reef at the entry to the bay is dead and the grasses that used to slow down the force of the waves have disappeared. Finally, after the last hurricanes, local residents tried in vain to protect their properties from the damage caused by the waves and by erosion by putting up wooden gates, concrete walls, and piles of large rocks. These only helped to create a new pattern for the waves, which now crashed against these constructions some of which did not resist the force of the water. A concrete wall weakened and cracked along its entire length. There are no longer any natural barriers to hold back the swells as they hit against the walls and rocks with force; then the water recedes, taking with it the sand from the beach, and the end result is further erosion of the beach.
At the moment, the stretch of beach between the Eden Rock and the Tom Beach hotel does not have any sand at all, while from the end of the runway at the airport as far as the Islets de la Plage, the sands forms a large tongue. Last July, the owners of the Eden Rock, with the support of the hotel association and in particular the neighboring hotels in St Jean, requested permission from the island government to use their own money to add sand to the beach.
The local officials asked the opinion of several specialists, as well as that of marine biologist Deborah Brosnan, and that of two companies, one which specializes in scientific studies and project management, and the other in machinery for marine projects. Photos of the beach taken over the past 30 years were collected and used to analyze the problem. The conclusions were unanimous: the ecosystem in the Bay of St Jean is permanently damaged due to a variety of reasons (climate, biology, and obviously, people).
The territorial council has now authorized sand to be brought to this part of the beach, as they are aware of the economic consequences that the current situation could have on the tourist season this winter. In the meantime, local officials and members of various associations for the protection of the environment are not convinced of the long or short-term success of sand moved by man rather than by nature.
For Michel Magras, vice-president of the island’s executive council and a junior high biology teacher, this emergency action can only be a short-term solution that should be followed up by a serious study. He explains: “the first step would be to replant coral and sea grasses and follow their development.” This has already been done on other islands with excellent results. He adds: “It is necessary to recreate the original profile of the beach in order to efficiently evaluate the effect of the waves, an operation that would require the removal of all man-made barriers including stone walls and rock piles.” Finally, he poses the following possibility: “Build an artificial barrier for protection, if these actions do not have the desired effect.” These are the kind of decisions facing the new territorial council in Saint Barth.