Sandy Bay is an idyllic community on St. Vincent’s north-eastern coast and approximately 25 miles from the country’s capital Kingstown.
While the community’s picturesque ocean views have stood the test of time, Doxford Lavia, 54, remembers the community’s coastline differently than what it is today.
During a tour of the community, he stopped at a seaside embankment and watched a huge boulder about 50 feet from where he was standing.
Pointing to the boulder, he told Cari-Bois, “You see the whole of out there where that stone is? That used to be coconut trees and land when I was a little boy.”
The area forms part of the backyard of a row of houses that the government recently identified for demolition as the sea continues to erode more of the coast.
“If you look from here straight ahead, we could have played football, cricket,” Lavia recalls as he points to an area where the sea is creating another bay in the community.
But one does not have to have been living in Sandy Bay for over five decades, as Lavia has, to see that the sea is redrawing the coastline of the community.
Over the last decade in particular, the waves – which are powered even more when there are intense weather systems – have been battering the coastline which supports a large population of Garifuna, St. Vincent’s indigenous people.
The effects of climate change on St. Vincent
One of the most noticeable intense weather events to batter St Vincent was the 2013 Christmas Eve trough system that claimed 12 lives.
In less than four hours, the system left loss and damage amounting to about 20 per cent of the country’s GDP.
From hurricanes, droughts, floods and rising sea levels, the country’s Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves and his Government has had to respond to the impact of climate change on St. Vincent and the Grenadines over the past several years.
Since the start of studies along St. Vincent’s north-east coast in 1947, researchers have observed substantial erosion with some areas once a part of the coast being reclaimed by the sea.St. Vincent and the Grenadines Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves
Addressing the issue at different public events, Gonsalves has said that at least three studies have been done on St. Vincent’s east coast since 1947.
Those studies have found substantial erosion with some areas once a part of the coast being reclaimed by the sea.
Approximately 15 miles south of Sandy Bay, there is another rapidly eroding span of coastline at Shipping Bay.
During his most recent budget presentation, Finance Minister Camillo Gonsalves said, “The erosion at Shipping Bay threatens to undermine the Windward Highway and effectively cut off vehicular access to half of the windward side of St. Vincent. We cannot allow that to happen.”
Recently, the country’s Parliament approved a EC$1.3 billion budget for 2023 with EC$80.3 being allocated to climate adaptation and environmental protection projects.
In the budget, EC$800,000 was approved to create 64 meters of stone revetment to blunt the impact of the crashing waves at Shipping Bay.
However, it will take an even larger sum of money to address the impact of climate change on Sandy Bay, an issue that the government has been trying to address for over a decade.
Addressing coastal erosion at Sandy Bay
The challenge at Sandy Bay has been exacerbated by recent tropical cyclones that have particularly affected St. Vincent’s northern territories.
The community was also affected by the 2021 eruption of La Soufrière hadn’t erupted since 1979.
Camillo lamented, “The coastal protection of Sandy Bay is a most urgent imperative. Without it, the village of Sandy Bay could cease to exist.”
The government has secured US$13.5 million from the Caribbean Development Bank (CDB) to finance coastal protection projects in Sandy Bay.
“That will not be enough to guarantee adequate coastal protection of the entire village of Sandy Bay. But it’s a start,” the finance minister states.
Camillo explained the Sandy Bay Sea defence Resilience Project will construct three segments of stone revetment measuring 730 meters (2,395 feet) in length to act as coastline protection.
The work will include backfilling the area in front of the newly constructed revetments to act as a buffer zone between the existing infrastructure and the sea.
This will include the construction of a 350-metre-long (1,148 feet) reinforced concrete retaining wall measuring 2.5 to 4 meters (8.2 to 13 feet) in height and a further 250-meter-long (820 feet) masonry retaining wall measuring 3 to 5 meters in height (9.8 to 16 feet) and approximately 100 meters (328 feet) of paved walkways and 900 square meters (2,953 sq ft) of landscaping.
The works to be done in Sandy Bay will also redesign another section of St. Vincent’s east coast.
In 2022, the government completed coastal defences in San Souci and Georgetown, funded under the Regional Disaster Vulnerability Reduction Project (RDVRP), to the tune of EC$8.6 million and EC$26 million, respectively.
In Georgetown, the regional capital of north-eastern St. Vincent, a feasibility study showed that the shoreline in the area had retreated by more than 60 metres (180 ft) in 40 years.
The sea defence was designed to cater for a one-in-150-years hurricane event and a 10-inch rise in sea levels.
Sea level rise also affecting the Grenadines
Rising sea levels are also threatening communities in the Grenadines where tourism is the mainstay of the economy.
Opposition Leader Godwin Friday represents the Northern Grenadines which is made up of Bequia and Mustique.
During Parliament contributions, Friday has repeatedly said the effects of rising seas are evident in the territories.
In Paget Farm, Southern Bequia, Friday said people have resorted to using makeshift deposits to stave off rising seas.
Friday added that Hamilton – a community located west of Port Elizabeth which is Bequia’s main town – needs coastal protection infrastructure.
Noting the country’s location in the Atlantic Hurricane Belt, Friday has said it has “ small carbon footprint in the Caribbean but will suffer disproportionately because we are small islands with vulnerable coastlines.”
Recognising the growing intensity and frequency of tropical cyclones in the Atlantic, Friday supports the country’s continued allocations to river and sea defence and sees it as an investment in safeguarding lives and property.
Addressing coastal erosion in the Grenadines
Over two years ago, the Government implemented an emergency barrier to protect the country’s world-famous Salt Whistle Bay on the southern Grenadines island of Mayreau.
Camillo said the urgent need for intervention did not allow for all the necessary studies and designs to be completed beforehand.
Defending the interventions, Camillo explained “If we had waited for the engineers to finish engineering, and the designers to finish designing, we would have lost the bay as we know it forever.”
In the government’s 2023 fiscal package, money has been allocated for the completion of detailed engineering assessments and designs at Salt Whistle Bay.
Plans include an analysis of the existing temporary barrier to scientifically determine its effectiveness and lifespan.
Coastal protection measures a costly undertaking
Cecil Harris is the Programme Manager of the CDB’s Natural Disaster Management Project in the St. Vincent and the Grenadines.
Saying coastal defence works in any part of the world is an extremely expensive endeavour, Harris has said coastal rehabilitation works in the country can cost up to EC$20,000 per linear foot of coastline rehabilitated depending on the type of sea defence design.
Describing the 2022 United Nations Climate Change (COP27) as a “mirage in the desert”, Camillo is on record saying climate change continues a disproportionate situation where small islands developing states are affected and Global North countries aren’t living up to their financial responsibility in the crisis.
While a loss and damage fund was announced at the end of COP27, Camillo has sceptically said “you have to read the fine print to learn that although rich nations agreed to create a loss and damage fund, no one agreed to put any actual money in the fund.”
Despite the expensive nature of climate adaptation efforts, and the lack of funding from Global North countries, small island developing states (SIDs) cannot sit and wait for change.St. Vincent and the Grenadines Minister of Finance Camillo Gonsalves
He also pointed to the failed 2009 commitment by Global North countries to mobilise US$100 billion a year to address climate mitigation and adaptation needs of Global South countries.
Camillo added, “None of those headline-grabbing global promises are anywhere close to fulfilment.
“At this rate, the diplomatic operation will be deemed successful long after the environmental patient is already dead.”
Despite the expensive nature of the efforts and the lack of funding from Global North countries, Camillo said the country cannot sit and wait for change.
With climate change affecting not only the country’s coastlines, but also the very existence of the country, Camillo said the country must act and continue to invest in climate adaptation measures.