Concerning the Negril Breakwater Saga

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

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Dear Editor,

This is an open letter to the Negril stakeholders:

If three learned doctors diagnose a patient, it is possible that they may each arrive at different diagnoses. Therefore, instead of arguing science about the cause and remedy of the Negril erosion problem, let us look at it from a purely common sense point of view.

The beach in Negril existed long before Columbus arrived here, so let us very conservatively estimate that it has been in place for even a couple thousand years. Now, let us ask, how many hurricane events have impacted the beach in this period? A good guess is probably a 100, and yet the beach has recovered again and again, up to the point where we came along and figured out that it was a good place to build hotels.

Now that it is proposed to install breakwaters to protect the beach from such storms, let us ask the proponents of these structures: Are you willing to wager all your possessions, that the crazy seas accompanying a hurricane coming from any direction will be tamed by these breakwaters? Don't hold your breath for any takers.

The real longevity of a beach has more do with its natural ability to recover than with protection from rough seas. Note that some of the best beaches in the world exist in the very high wave-energy waters of Hawaii.

Reducing wave energy can lead to reduced water circulation and stagnation, and Negril needs neither.

We all agree that the ability of the beach in Negril to recover is related to the overall health and balance of the ecosystem, which includes but is not limited to the health of the morass, reefs, seagrass, and water quality, etc. In the long term there is no substitution for the regeneration of a healthy ecosystem. Also, importantly, the wholesale removal of seaweed washed up on the beach must be controlled as it contains significant amounts of sand.

However, in the short term, commerce demands that we fast-forward the beach-recovery process, and the state-of-the art method for accomplishing this feat worldwide is called beach nourishment; returning the sand that has been washed off the beach-face and into the near-shore waters is the logical choice.

"How long will it last?" is the question, but no one knows when the next act of god will occur. We take a similar risk with buildings regarding earthquakes. How long will a hotel last?

The fact is that any anthropogenic intervention requires maintenance, and therefore a portion of the budget must be reserved for this.

There is no one-fix magic bullet. Economics is the greater part of engineering and the cost/benefit ratio must be carefully analysed.

It is said, "The best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago, but the second best time is now". There is no escaping it, we must begin the long haul.

Pierre Diaz

Director, Sea Control

Oceanographic Consultants




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