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Initial checks on the coastal impact of Tropical Storm Grace found that the northern end of Seven Mile Beach fared well, but there was some erosion on the southern end, Department of Environment Director Gina Ebanks-Petrie said.
Ebanks-Petrie, speaking on the Cayman Crosstalk radio show on Rooster 101.9FM Friday morning, said DoE teams have commenced work on assessing the coastal impact of the storm, which hit the Cayman Islands on Wednesday.
“We were fairly lucky with this one that just passed by,” she said in the interview.
DoE turtle teams, she added, were out Thursday and reported “some inundation of turtle nests” on the coasts.
However, she said, “Seven Mile Beach nests have seemed to have done fairly well.”
Prior to the storm’s arrival, the DoE, with the assistance of volunteers, relocated 23 turtle nests that were close to the high water mark and removed hatchlings that were due to emerge, to prevent them from drowning inside their nests.
The rescued hatchlings were successfully released in advance of Grace’s arrival, according to a post on the DoE Facebook page.
“Tropical storms pose a threat to incubating sea turtle nests as inundation from waves can result in egg and hatchling mortality,” the post added.
Ebanks-Petrie, speaking to the coastal erosion, said signs of beach loss were detected.
“We still have a problem on the south end of the beach. We did a drone fly over [Thursday] to see what that was looking like and it was still pretty eroded compared with even January of this year,” she said.
She said she was unable to provide information on the Boggy Sands area, which has also been impacted by coastal erosion.
The DoE, she said, found the most prevalent beach loss on the south end of Seven Mile Beach, from Royal Palms to Crescent Point, and a technical committee is looking at this and wider issues related to coastal erosion.
Jennifer Ahearn, chief officer for the Ministry of Sustainability and Climate Resiliency, who was also on Crosstalk, indicated that the situation at the beach was not the result of one singular action.
Historical poor planning decisions, natural processes and climate change are just some of the factors, she said, to have caused the present issue.
Ahearn said she does not think there is “any silver bullet, any one action” that can solve the problem.
“I think one thing we have to be careful about is that we take a holistic approach in looking at the interactions across the system instead of getting stuck in one problem,” on the beach, she added.
Premier Wayne Panton, who is also the minister for sustainability and climate resiliency, has convened a committee to look into coastal erosion, particularly the challenges on the southern end of the beach.
Ebanks-Petrie, who is on the committee, said part of the solution may be to remove damaged structures rather than repair them, as well as other alternatives.
Wave conditions and wave energies differ on the beaches.
She said for years the DoE has been advocating for a coastal setback map which would provide insight.
Governor Martyn Roper, on his official Facebook page Friday, also posted about the issue as well saying Tropical Storm Grace “really brings home the realities of climate change”.
“The recent report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) called the climate crisis a ‘code red’ for humanity. The report highlights future and current risks many of which could impact Cayman such as more intense and more frequent storms, an increase in temperatures and sea level rise – leading to more coastal erosion like we’re currently seeing on Seven Mile Beach following last year’s storms,” he said.
Friday, he said, marks 73 days until the United Nations Climate Change Conference, COP26 begins and the UK, as COP president, he added, is calling for urgent global action from all governments to secure global net zero by mid-century and keep 1.5 degrees within reach (which means limiting temperature rises to below 2 degrees and towards 1.5 degrees).
“The UK have recently approved funding for projects on managing stony coral tissue loss disease, assessing and conserving Cayman’s deep-water reefs and fishes, safeguarding the Sister Islands from invasive species and a seabed mapping programme which will provide HMCI with the data needed to support work on storm surge modelling. We’re also working alongside Cayman to provide technical support and funding for a Climate Change Risk Assessment that will help shape a revised climate change policy. This UK funding is in excess of £1 million,” he pointed out.