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Front Pages 26 Jan, 2023 Follow News

Looking south, towards the Marriott, there is no beach apart from a few isolated patches of sand. Tourists have to make the most of it.

There is literally no beach left in some places. This photo is taken from the top of the beach, just north of where Royal Palms used to be

Looking south towards the old Royal Palms beach

looking north

Looking north, there is still some beach left but it is nothing like the old days

No beach left now in some places

looking south

By Christopher Tobutt & Editorial Staff

Seven Mile Beach is the Jewel in Cayman’s tourism crown.

Or it was.

Shockingly, in many places there is no beach left. Gone are the days when you could take a walk from the beach, beginning just south of the Marriott, all the way up to Governor’s beach and beyond. You can try, but in places you’ll have to wade, so that counts out families with small children. The beach by the Marriot is completely gone, and over many sections the walls built at the top of the beach are being undermined and some have even fallen over. 

What do the tourists think? And what is going to happen when people start going to other locations in the region to find what used to be here in Cayman - beautiful sandy beaches that are the envy of the world? Tourism accounts for more than a quarter of Cayman’s GDP, so what is going to happen to Cayman’s economy?

Beaches are never static. Tides and currents and waves are always moving the sand. But most of the time sand which is lost is quickly replenished. That’s what’s always happened at Seven Mile Beach too in the past. But just in the last few years it’s been getting worse and worse. The sand is going, sometimes quite dramatically, after a hurricane or tropical storm, but it has not been coming back. Something has been going badly wrong, and many people believe that it is due to new structures, such as walls that are built too close to the beach.

While on a natural beach water slows as it reaches the higher sections and then deposits the sand swirling in the waves, big walls reflect the wave energy, causing the sand to be taken back out to sea.

It is hard to say exactly what is causing it, and it could be a mixture of factors, but if you look at the north end of the beach where it hasn’t been developed very much, you will see a big difference.

All of the beach area to the north of the Kimpton, where there are still seagrapes and other trees whose roots hold the sand in place, is fine and healthy, with plenty of sand and no signs of erosion. That is why some of the hotels have been bussing their tourists up there.

But nobody really wants to spend a lot of money staying in a beachfront hotel with no beach. It’s what tourists come here for, after all.

So what is causing it? And what’s the answer?  The PACT Government has earmarked CI$21 million to combat it. And that’s good. But they haven’t decided exactly how they’re going to do it yet, and nobody really seems to know.

Some people have pointed to other places, like the Florida Keys, where millions of dollars have been spent on replenishment projects that dredge sand from out at sea, and pump it ashore. But unless the underlying causes are addressed, the new sand will simply wash away again before long, making the whole operation a waste of time and money.

If anyone should know the answer, then perhaps it is the Department of Environment. A statement from the Department of Environment read:

“There is no simple answer for what causes beach erosion. There are many factors and variables that contribute to how and why sand retreats, but we can say from historical studies and observations over the past few decades that climate change factors such as sea level rise and an increased intensity of storms coupled with the blocking of the natural movement of sand on the active beach with walls and buildings all work together to exacerbate an already delicate situation.

“At the time many of the buildings on Seven Mile Beach were constructed, there was no legal requirement for entities such as the CPA to seek the DoE’s advice, nor did the DoE have the authority to approve development proposals – authority which the DoE still does not possess. Nevertheless, we have consistently recommended against permitting structures on the active beach, especially sea walls, as these can exacerbate beach erosion.”

In the follow-up articles, we will be looking at different options, for remedying the situation, such as beach replenishment or building breakwaters.

Caymanian Times will not focus on who or what is responsible for the loss of the beach but rather what steps must be taken this year to preserve what is left of our main tourism product.

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