'Watch and see' in Hellshire as sea reclaims beach
Peta Gaye Commack points to the steps that were once the entranceto her family-owned seafood restaurant on Hellshire Beach.(Photo: Nikel Innerarity)

PORTMORE, St Catherine — Only the steps are left of what was once a family-owned restaurant in Hellshire Village, operated by Peta-Gaye Commack and her relatives.

The 32-year-old is still haunted by the memory of the rising water that claimed a large chunk of beach along with that first business venture. Now the sea is coming for the second seafood restaurant she built while determined to eke out a living in the community she has lived in all her life.

“The first restaurant that was owned by my family is totally gone,” Commack told the Jamaica Observer during a recent visit.

“Since then, we have had to build a new structure [located] more inland, and even that is being battered by the tides. We placed tyres in the water to help cushion the impact of the tides, but the water seems to be penetrating the rocks.”⁣⁣⁣

She is among a large number of business operators on the St Catherine-based beach affected by erosion.

They say it has already swallowed restaurants and, they fear, could soon threaten the houses that form the centre of the iconic fishing community.

⁣The National Environmental Planning Agency (NEPA) has been working with the Government to find a solution and Commack, along with several other residents have pinned their hopes on that.

⁣⁣⁣“For most of us, it is a 'watch and see' because we are not sure what will happen if a major hurricane should come. [With the erosion] we are now even closer to the sea than ever before,” she added. ⁣⁣⁣

The worry of the residents has heightened with the expectation that the current Atlantic hurricane season will be yet another active one. Further eradication of the beachfront and flooding are a major concern for Joseph Davis. ⁣⁣⁣

⁣⁣⁣“We a hope that whatever plans that Government has for Hellshire, the residents will be happy at the end of it,” said the 65-year-old who lives in Braeton but, for the last 30 years, has spent most of his time fishing at Hellshire. “We don't want a situation where anybody is asked to relocate.”⁣⁣⁣

Gladstone White, a member of the Jamaica Fisherman's Cooperative, is worried that rising seas levels could render Hellshire Village uninhabitable. ⁣A climate change report produced for the Planning Institute of Jamaica in 2012 estimates that, by the year 2100, the country could see sea levels increase by as much as 1.4 metres.

⁣“With the expected rise in sea level, the Government must move swiftly to implement strategies to preserve the remainder of the beach and protect it against further erosion,” said White.

“And instead of just focusing on saving a recreational space, we must ask ourselves, 'what can we do to save a village?' There are so many citizens living on the beach and earning their livelihood at Hellshire.” ⁣⁣⁣

⁣⁣⁣NEPA is planning a number of initiatives to protect what is left of the porous sand residents of Hellshire and visitors walk on every day. ⁣⁣⁣

⁣⁣⁣“The Government of Jamaica is in the process of developing a master plan for Hellshire,” said Ollyvia Anderson, manager of public education and corporate communication at NEPA.

“It will promote the orderly development and rehabilitation of the coastal resources, foster economic growth for the residents and users of the area. A public recreational space will be maintained for use and enjoyment of all Jamaicans,” added Anderson.⁣⁣⁣

Joseph Davis prepares his catch of the day. Davis has been afisherman at Hellshire Beach since the 1970s.
Joseph Davis, 65, with hiscatch of the day.
BY NIKEL INNERARITY Observer writer editorial@jamaicaobserver.com

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