The Caribbean region is made up of at least 28 island nations and more than 7,000 individual islands in the southeast of the Gulf of Mexico and the North American mainland, east of Central America, and north of South America.
The inhabitants of most of the islands are victims of climate change as many people, houses and property are at risk of being washed away due to a rise in sea level, stronger hurricanes, tsunami and environmental disasters.
Closest to the danger is the Southern Grenadines island of Mayreau which is the smallest inhabited island of the archipelagic nation of St. Vincent and the Grenadines with a population of 271. The 1.5 square miles island which is only accessible by boat is splitting into two as the sea has eroded a vast portion of land in the middle.
The 70-foot-wide span of land that separates the calm Caribbean Sea at the famous Salt Whistle Bay from the turbulent Atlantic Ocean on Windward Carenage Bay is now left with just 20 feet, stated a report published by the Inter Press Service (IPS).
“There is a rise in the sea level with climate change. You can see that happening, and not just in that area alone … On the ocean bed in that area, it doesn’t have any coral. It is just a mossy bottom. It doesn’t have anything there,” one of the inhabitants of the island Filius “Philman” Ollivierre told IPS.
“My fear is that if the windward side breaks through onto the other side, it can actually erode that whole area … All of that area is sand and it not so much sand separating both sides so we really have to be careful and take the necessary measures to prevent that from happening,” Ollivierre added.
The island’s population who live in an unnamed village on a hilltop in the south-west of the island may lose their livelihood if the Atlantic Ocean finally erodes the land that protects the Salt Whistle Bay, one of the most beautiful beaches in the world, which attracts thousands of tourists every year.
The Member of Parliament for the Southern Grenadines, Terrance Ollivierre, expressed concern to the Prime Minister in the House calling for an immediate action to save the tourist site.
According to IPS, Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves said the government is working on a temporary measure of placing boulders at the beach at Windward Carenage as a mitigation.
“But much more is required than that and it is going to be a larger project. So, the long and short of it, the fight which we are having on climate change, is a fight which relates to what is happening at Salt Whistle Bay. Rising sea levels, wave action, and then, of course, people moving away a lot of natural barriers, which have been there,” he is quoted as saying.
Some non-governmental agencies are restoring the vegetation around some islands in the St. Vincent and the Grenadines by planting mangrove trees. One of them is Sustainable Grenadines Inc. which has planted 500 mangrove trees in Union Island to create beaches in an abandoned marina.
“Wherever you have those types of mangroves, you would not have erosion as the roots help to filter silt and it also breaks the energy of the wave, like around 70 percent,” says the head of the group, Orisha Joseph.
She told IPS that the government needs to work with NGOs to educate people on the importance of plants and mangroves, and insisting that no construction takes place less than 40 metres away from the coastline.
“When you remove that which is causing the sand to stay in place, then you are creating a bigger problem. We have this problem where people just go cutting down mangroves because they just want beachfront land and not really understanding that this vegetation is there for a reason,” she said.
“Everything in the environment is there for a particular reason and we have to be careful,” she warned.
If the erosion is not curbed in time, the island nation of St. Vincent and the Grenadines would lose its famous Salt Whistle Bay and would get an increased number of island, islets and cays from 32 to 33.