(CNS): Tourism Minister Kenneth Bryan said bringing in sand to replace the eroding stretch of Seven Mile Beach could be a costly failure for the public purse. At the Cayman Islands Tourism Association meeting last week, the general manager of the Marriott hotel asked the minister what the government was doing about the long stretch of the southern end of the beach where the sand has almost disappeared. In response, Bryan warned that restocking might not be the answer, given that there are still hard structures on the beach.
The Tourism Minister stressed that the decision rests with Premier Wayne Panton, who is responsible for sustainability. However, although Panton reserved about $21 million of public money to finance a potential beach replenishment project, there are fears that it will fail and the money will be lost unless there are significant changes.
Speaking in response to Hermes Cuello, general manager of the Grand Cayman Marriott Beach Resort, who described the issue as the elephant in the room, Bryan said he was fully aware of the seriousness of the situation and the potential impact on the tourism product.
But he raised “uncertainty” about how long a restored beach will last, given the large potential investment. “If we put that sand back in place and another storm comes along and takes it right away, that’s a substantial amount of money that would be lost,” he noted.
Conservationists warn against replenishing beaches as a solution to erosion, as research finds it could ultimately do more harm than good by providing a false sense of security in hotspots. critical erosion. The process damages marine habitats and the imported sand brings its own challenges. Also, if nothing else changes, the beach will erode again even faster than before, given climate change.
Bryan stressed the need “to start talking about the sustainability of our tourism product and the fact that we shouldn’t allow buildings so close to the beach anymore.” He clarified that PACT would stop allowing this, but admitted that future development regulations would not solve Marriott’s current problem.
However, he pledged to keep area hotel and condo owners and CITA members informed of the government’s plans. “I can understand your concern,” he added.
But the minister made no mention of the managed retreat and the need for properties like the Marriott to move structures such as pools, walls and decks that were built on the beach itself against the opinion of the Ministry of the Environment. Speaking at the CNS recentlyCuello said Marriott owners didn’t even consider the need for a managed retreat because he didn’t think there was room.
The conundrum facing the government is the need to sustain Cayman’s tourism product by addressing the loss of beaches at odds with the reality that costly investment in this project is unlikely to work for a significant period of time. . It would also directly help the owners of some of Cayman’s most valuable real estate without taking responsibility for their part in the erosion.
Climate, weather changes and currents, and ultimate sea level rise are partly responsible for the erosion, but as evidenced by the retention of sand in parts of the north end of Seven Mile Beach , where development is less dense and farther from the high waterline, structures have played an important role.
Like many other small islands, Cayman must deal with the inevitable consequences of climate change, which means rethinking future coastal development and rolling out a managed retirement plan now.
“We will have to face this problem head on,” the prime minister told CNS earlier this year, although he hopes the government will not have to force owners to move existing structures. “I’d like to think there will be consensus across the board…and we’ll find a way to achieve that together rather than having to legislate and have long arguments about it.”
However, at this point, none of the affected beachfront owners seem ready to discuss the real elephant in all of their rooms, which is the imperative of a managed retreat.