Beach cleaning carries erosion threat

Members of a National Community Enhancement (NiCE) crew, with Public Works staffers, tackle sargassum during the August clean-up project. The winter NiCE programme begins later this month. - Photo: Stephen Clarke

Cleaning up beaches to get rid of mounds of sargassum can risk causing beach erosion and impact turtle nests if not handled properly, the Department of Environment has warned.

With regular inundations of the foul-smelling weed now a fixture of summer in the Cayman Islands, the department has established guidelines for clearing the beaches.

Anyone planning to use machinery on the beach must first consult experts at the DoE.

Wendy Williams, head of the environmental management unit and the department’s representative on Cayman’s Sargassum Task Force, said a system has been established to process applications within a maximum of 24 hours.

She said it was vital that the solution to the sargassum problem didn’t cause more problems than it solves.

Heavy machinery can crush turtle nests and scoop sand off the beach along with the seaweed, causing erosion.

“We do need people to get in contact with us and let us know the location of the beach they want to clean and the type of equipment they want to use,” Williams said.

DoE officers then check if it is a turtle-nesting beach and mark the locations of the nests to ensure they are not affected by the work. The department also assesses whether the proposed machinery is appropriate for the job.

She said motorised Barber beach rakes were the most common mechanical option in the Caribbean.

“We are generally able to process applications within a couple of hours,” she added.

Anyone who wants to use heavy machinery – anything bigger than a Bobcat – is required to seek separate approval from the planning department.

Hand raking is considered the safest and most environmentally friendly way to clear the beach and no special permissions are required for this, unless a truck is intended to be driven on to the beach to collect the sargassum.

Anyone who needs to clean a beach and wants to use machinery is asked to call the DoE on 949-8469.