A dead tree in the sand by the sea: Is this what a warmer future with higher sea levels looks like?
If so, you can already see that on the Caribbean island of Barbados, or, for that matter, on Nunavut’s Axel Heiberg island, where 50 million years ago a forest, now fossiized once thrived.
We’ve looked at how climate change, garbage and water are now among the common concerns in Canada’s Arctic and Barbados.
But there’s yet another shared menace — erosion.
In the Arctic, erosion takes place when the permafrost melts and the land sloughs off or the coastline moves in, as in Barrow, Alaska, which is now looking at the construction of a huge seawall to keep water out of this North Slope community.
In Barbados, lack of planning has already made the erosion of its many hills and 97 kilometres of coastline even worse.
Elsewhere in the world, the desire to avoid erosion often influences municipal planners who want to protect some vulnerable lands from development.
But you don’t find that kind of zoning effort in Barbados.
Development has already changed the island’s coastlines into what a small boat captain calls a “concrete jungle” of multimillion-dollar mansions and seawalls.
But these seawalls, designed to keep the sea out, can make erosion worse. That’s because seawalls don’t provide the give and take that vegetation can provide against the constant movement of waves.
A poor pensioner who lives on the coast of western Barbados on a tiny family plot next to plush mansions has a plan: He wants to save his home, which is slowly falling into the sea.
But he doesn’t have the money to build a big wall or bring in giant boulders to protect his property. Instead, he’s filling old refrigerators with cement and sticking them on the sand in front of his house to create a seawall.
Here you can see the cement that is left where one refrigerator has rusted away.
His efforts are not likely to work — sea levels are predicted to rise by one to two metres in Barbados by the end of this century, not counting big storm surges or other unpredictable events — and even one metre of sea level rise produce between 50 and 100 metres of erosion.
Already, in Speightstown, a town on the northwestern coast of Barbados, a line of shops, dwellings, chicken coops and gardens, which stood there in the 1960s, have disappeared into the sand and sea. Now there are just dead trees in the sand. Waves pour over them onto the sidewalk every day during high tide. No one even bothers to remove the sand. Soon the sidewalk will disappear.
“The sea, she just comes in, she just comes in,” a man told me.
So you have to go to the northern part of Barbados to see how trees used to protect the land from the sea.
On Maycock’s beach, which has no road access, you can see the way Barbados used to look before its coastlines were developed. There, trees create a solid woven mesh of roots at the shore. The roots catch the sand, preventing beach erosion, and protect the soil from the waves.
If you missed the first part of this three-part series, you can read it here.