Arctic-Caribbean links: erosion

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.


The St. Joseph parish church built in 1839, now has cracks throughout its structure due to the unstable ground it stands on, and remains closed. (PHOTO BY J. GEORGE)

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 giant seaside mansion, which has not yet found a buyer, stands next to a condominium complex, also largely unoccupied. Sea turtles used to nest on the beach there, but now, due to the seawall, which creates more wave action,  turtles can now longer lay eggs in the sand on this stretch of beach. (PHOTO BY J. GEORGE)

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.


Hanging in on the coast: An old refrigerator to the right provides some protection from the waves that regularly batter this home. (PHOTO BY J. GEORGE)


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.


You can see a piece of cement lying on the sand where a refrigerator has rusted away. The cement acts as a catch-all for sand and protection against the waves. (PHOTO BY J. GEORGE)

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.


You can see the remnants of trees that once grew here in soil, not sand, on the northwestern coast of Barbados. (PHOTO BY J. GEORGE)

“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.


Who needs concrete? At Maycock’s beach in Barbados you can see how roots create a natural wall against the sea. (PHOTO BY J. GEORGE)

If you missed the first part of this three-part series, you can read it here.


Arctic-Caribbean links: climate change, garbage, water

Draw a line due south of Iqaluit and keep going for 5,669 kilometres: you’ll reach a Caribbean island where the winter temperature is often 60 degrees C warmer than in Nunavut’s capital.bdosmap copy

Barbados is also much smaller than the two-million square km that Nunavut covers: Barbados, only 34 km by 24 km, comes in at only 430 sq km.

But despite the island’s tiny size, its tropical location and much larger population, about 270,000 vs 37,000, people on Barbados face many of the same challenges that people in Nunavut and other places in the Arctic face.

Top among these similar challenges: climate change, originating from North America, Europe and Asia.

That’s according to Dr. Lennox Honychurch, one of the Caribbean’s most noted historians, who is also a broadcaster, artist and politician.


Dr. Lennox Honychurch, next to an African tulip tree in Barbados, in a scene from  a Caribbean Broadcasting Corp. production.

Climate change “isn’t anything that you have created or that you can stop,” Honychurch said during a recent interview in Barbados. “You are not in control.”

And that statement could have come from a resident of the Arctic, where people also have little control over the larger causes and impacts of climate change.

Here’s what climate change means in Barbados: unpredictable weather, including higher temperatures and less rain, and changing ocean currents, which brought in blankets of stinky Sargassum seaweed to its beaches last year.


This photo shows some of the seaweed that washed up on the beaches of Barbados in 2015. (PHOTO BY A. SEALY)

Drought, heat and seaweed are among those tropical versions of the Arctic’s disappearing glaciers, melting ice and changing vegetation — and we’ll see more of these things unless the world changes radically, Honychurch suggested.

Against this background of climate change, if and when you move beyond the picture-perfect scenes of luxury resorts and mansions which most visitors see, you’ll run into the top two everyday problems for people in Barbados: garbage and water, singled out by Honychurch as among the biggest threats to the island’s wellbeing.


Garbage awaits pick-up by the side of a busy road in Barbados. (PHOTO BY J. GEORGE)

You often hear people — and the media — in Barbados talk about the same things as in Nunavut: how to manage solid waste and ensure a supply of clean water.

And these public debates unfold against the same background: limited infrastructure,  a stagnant economy and a growing population.

Garbage, as in every Canadian Arctic community, is a huge concern on Barbados: There’s an overflowing landfill, many illegal dump sites, and no wide-scale, officially-supported recycling program.


A beach in Barbados is littered with plastic and styrofoam containers — some of the 4.75 kilograms of garbage produced daily by every resident of this island. (PHOTO BY J. GEORGE)

A proposed $240 million gasification plant would turn waste into power on Barbados, where electrical power, as in Nunavut, is still diesel-generated.

But the plant would need to bring in more garbage, from cruise ships, for example, to build volume and pay for itself, while its emissions would throw cancer-causing dioxin particles into the air.


A cruise ship heads away from Barbados at sunset — the island wants to increase its cruise-ship traffic and use ship-offloaded refuse to help fund a new incinerator. (PHOTO BY J. GEORGE)

As for recycling, this presents the same challenges as in Nunavut. First, you have to educate people about recycling, and, then, what do you do with the recycled materials you collect without a local recycled-materials industry?

Meanwhile, there’s no ban on plastic bags and take-out from food trucks and restaurants is always served in styrofoam boxes.

The result is that you see as much litter on the beaches and streets, if not more, in Barbados as in Nunavut when the snow melts.


There’s a lot happening in this photo. The road has been closed due to erosion from waves  over the rocks, which have taken out part of the pavement. You can also see garbage lying by the side of the road and neatly tied in plastic bags on a tree.  (PHOTO BY J. GEORGE)

Then, there’s the question of keeping water clean so they don’t end up with a polluted or insufficient water supply.

In  Barbados, water quality and supply has already suffered. The drought has water-starved wells pulling up salty or silty water or silty water and farmers are looking at parched fields.


This advertisement in a Barbados newspaper wants to sell water tanks to worried consumers. But some suggest these may also be breeding grounds for the mosquitos that spread the Zika virus.

Due to the drought in Barbados, a new water prohibition aims to stop people from washing their cars and watering their lawns until May 31 with the threat of big fines.

But the aging and poor infrastructure, along with no water saving measures for tourists staying in hotels — means there’s much water wasted. Most waste water and sewage continues to be dumped directly into the sea, with no treatment.

Seen and heard enough? You can read more tomorrow about the Arctic-Caribbean links on a Date with Siku girl.

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