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'Not in Negril'

Environmentalist questions use of ShoreLock technology for beach restoration

BY PETRE WILLIAMS-RAYNOR Environment editor williams@jamaicaobserver.com

Sunday, January 20, 2013    

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SHORELOCK technology, a patented biological method used in beach restoration, is among the strategies being utilised as part of efforts to replenish the Negril coastline — a move criticised by at least one environmental lobby group.

The technique is being adopted under a Government of Jamaica/European Union (EU)/United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) project, which will see restoration work on the beach in Negril being part of a US$120,000 test case for the technology.

The project proposes to have ShoreLock implemented under the beach and dune restoration component of the $40-million EU/UNEP Climate Change Adaptation and Disaster Risk Reduction Project.

"In so doing, it is hoped that the application of Shorelock will allow for beach and dune accretion and stabilisation over time. ShoreLock will be applied to 500 metres of beach [at] Long Bay Beach Park, Negril and 250 metres in Font Hill, St Elizabeth," the National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA) said in a ShoreLock justification document, dated March 5, 2012.

The project is expected, the document noted, to be completed within five months of its official start date, now slated for next month.

"We started the preliminary assessment in November. The preliminary assessments of water quality, sand quality and aquatic biota (plants and animals that live in the water). This is in a bid to establish baseline data prior to the application of ShoreLock," said Sheries Simpson, manager of the Projects Planning and Monitoring Branch at NEPA.

According to Simpson, the work is to be viewed as a test case for the efficacy of the technology and will serve to inform any future applications.

Already, the Natural Resources Conservation Authority (NRCA) board, for which NEPA serves as the administrative arm, has approved two such applications — both of them to hotels. But while they have reportedly yielded good results so far, Simpson said the board had decided to grant no further approvals before the technology is tested locally.

However, conservationist and Chief Executive Officer for the Jamaica Environment Trust (JET)m Diana McCaulay said it was unacceptable to include ShoreLock as part of the Negril works without the benefit of prior testing. Certainly, she said, it ought not to have been allowed at the other two sites for which approval was been granted.

"I am very concerned about the use of ShoreLock. JET had written to the National Environment and Planning Agency in the region of three months ago asking for some background information on the technology. We weren't able to find anything peer-reviewed on the Web," McCaulay said.

"The only testimonials we could find were from the persons selling it. So I wrote to NEPA and asked if they had got peer-reviewed documents, I would like to see them, and I have never had a response. I [later] raised it with Minister [of Water, Land, Environment and Climate Change Robert] Pickersgill. I said I was essentially concerned about our running what was essentially a gigantic experiment with our beaches and specifically I wanted to know if there had been any research done on the ecological effects," she added.

"The only testimonials we could find were from the persons selling it. So I wrote to NEPA and asked if they had got peer-reviewed documents, I would like to see them, and I have never had a response. I [later] raised it with Minister [of Water, Land, Environment and Climate Change Robert] Pickersgill. I said I was essentially concerned about our running what was essentially a gigantic experiment with our beaches and specifically I wanted to know if there had been any research done on the ecological effects," she added.

McCaulay is now raising a number of questions about the technology, which, according to the March 5 document, is reputed to work by "binding to sand particles and using solar energy to decompose organic biofilms (pollutants) that prevent the hydrogen bonding between sand and water, thus increasing the natural cohesive nature of sand and water and re-establishing conditions found on a healthy beach environment".

"Sand is being moved around by the currents. So if you use something that is an adhesive, it is going to accrete in one place, but where is it coming from? Is it depriving some other part of the coast? What is it doing to a nesting turtle? What is it doing to the micro organisms and the invertebrates that are a part of the ecosystem? And what is it made of?" asked McCaulay.

"Even when we look it up online, what it is made of is proprietary; it is not disclosed. So if we want to use something like that, shouldn't we select a site, get some baseline data, use the technology and then study it for the effects on land, the effect on the other parts of the strip of coast? It is only after thorough study should we decide and I was very disturbed to learn that it has already been in Jamaica without this kind of study."

"Negril is not the best spot because it would be a very large experiment," she said. "They must do that [the testing] first. What sort of test is it where as you are testing the thing, you are rolling out the test? That is not a test," McCaulay maintained.

However, Simpson said it is an opportune time for Negril, given the level of erosion that has been experienced and the availability of the longed-for funds. In addition, she said they are also going to be doing controlled testing at the Discovery Bay Marine Lab.

Further, she said the success at the other two sites to date was a good sign.

"Based on the preliminary assessments from the University of the West Indies [which is leading the pilot testing] as well as other peer review in the world, we are seeing where it does not have any deleterious effects. The water quality is good, the micro biology tests are coming back at an acceptable standard," Simpson said.

"The organisms are still living in the areas where it is applied. We are seeing new animals coming back where they used to be before. For example... turtles are coming back to nest on the beach because of the new sand that is there," she said.

At the same time, she sought to allay some of McCaulay's concerns, indicating that the NRCA/NEPA would give no further approvals for the use of ShoreLock technology until the results of the pilot were in.

According to information provided on the website of the owners of the ShoreLock patent, the technology is I00 per cent non-toxic: "All of our products are considered USFDA GRAS (Generally Recognised as Safe)."

Its products have also, the website claims, "undergone years of research and development and is currently being utilised by world-class coastal resorts and property management companies throughout the Caribbean.

"ShoreLock treatment is superior to current methods of beach renourishment and coastline repair because it offers the only non-intrusive, scientifically-engineered, and eco-friendly solution to coastal erosion," the website reads.

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