After Hurricane Irma destroyed many of the Virgin Islands’ tourist hotspots in 2017, vendors erected bars and restaurants along Long Bay Beach on Beef Island to serve visitors.
But environmental risks have accompanied the development, and of the 17 threats to beaches outlined in Beach Use Policy 2020 VI, a dozen have been identified in Long Bay, said environmental officer Angela Burnett-Penn during a virtual community meeting on March 29.
“It signals to us that this is a beach that needs urgent attention to ensure that we don’t get to a stage where we have a level of impact that is difficult to undo,” Ms Burnett said. Penn.
To avert such a disaster in Long Bay, officials from the Department of Natural Resources, Labor and Immigration are developing a beach management plan that aims to preserve the health and beauty of the beach as well as economic opportunity. vendors who have settled along its shore. .
Two community meetings were held in the past week – one virtually on March 29 and one at Willard Wheatley Elementary School last Thursday – to gather feedback from residents on the ministry’s proposed “concept plan” for the beach.
The Long Bay plan is at the heart of the “comprehensive management framework” envisioned by the 2020 Beach Use Policy.
According to this policy, individual beach management plans, together with a beach classification system and an “overall management plan at the territory level”, are the main tools that decision-makers must use to execute the overall management framework. .
Map of Long Bay
A video released by ministry officials at the March 29 meeting explained that the proposed plan for Long Bay calls for a complete revitalization of the beach vegetation line; restrict vehicle access to the sand dunes in front of the beach; closure of vendors in an area far from the beach; and preserve the water of the bay for bathers.
To protect the dunes, the plan calls for the creation of parking areas near the main entrance and the construction of footpaths leading to the shore, using rocks to block vehicles in restricted areas.
While the center of the beach would remain undeveloped, the proposed plan still contains provisions to ensure economic opportunities for beach traders, according to the ministry’s video.
In addition to an area dedicated to picnics and social gatherings, a vending area would be established within sight of the shoreline but set back from the line of vegetation, and people would have to ask permission to play “loud music amplified” or organize crowded events.
“Support facilities will be built around the sales area, including taxi parking, guided paths to the sales area, [a] picnic area and seaside signage, restaurant and waste facilities,” according to the video.
Beach chairs would be strictly limited to maintain a ‘natural aesthetic’ and minimize the impact on turtle nesting, while new amenities including a hiking and bird-watching trail that loops around the salt pond and leading to a gazebo, are also proposed, according to the ministry.
Ms Burnett-Penn later added that the plan envisions Long Bay as a ‘swimming beach’, and would therefore prohibit its development as an anchorage and instead establish a dedicated water sports area which only allows activities which “don’t require a motor,” she said.
Part of the Long Bay plan — including its guidelines for preserving beach sand dunes — was modeled after similar laws passed in Florida that prohibit damaging sand dunes or the vegetation growing on them, said Mrs. Burnett-Penn.
Like the VI, Florida’s beaches are a huge draw of tourists who contribute heavily to state revenue, and these laws have helped Florida succeed as a beach-based tourist destination.
On the other hand, residents can also look abroad for examples of what can go wrong when beaches are mismanaged, Ms Burnett-Penn said.
Over the course of several years in the Cayman Islands, parts of Seven Mile Beach, an award-winning stretch of sand home to some of the Caribbean’s swankiest hotels, have “literally disappeared” thanks in large part to development that stretches to the edge of the beach instead of being buffered by a strip of vegetation, Ms Burnett-Penn said.
Beaches on the north coast of Puerto Rico suffered the same fate, she added.
“Again, it didn’t happen over… very long periods of time,” she said.
“We are talking about a period of a few years, … large stretches of beach are literally disappearing.” Thriving rows of vegetation are important in part because tree roots stabilize the sand, while some species have other benefits as well.
Sea vine leaves, for example, trap windblown sand, preventing it from escaping the beach, Ms Burnett-Penn said.
“These sea grapes serve a very crucial function,” she said.
“They literally hold the sand together, they build the beach, and without them we really won’t have a beach – at least not for very long.”
Responding to a question posted on Facebook at the March 29 meeting, Chief Information Officer Paul Bridgewater said the plan was currently in the “conceptual stage”, but after reviewing public comments, the ministry will come back with a “detailed draft plan” for which it seeks additional comments.
“After that, we’ll go back to the drawing board again and come up with a final detailed plan,” Mr Bridgewater said.
Ms Burnett-Penn said earlier the department hopes to complete all public consultations over the summer “so we can actually start implementing this plan in the latter part of the year”.
Residents are encouraged to complete a survey about Long Bay Beach and their vision for its future at https://www.survey-monkey.com/r/LongBaySurvey.
In response to a request for a draft plan, Mr. Bridgewater emailed the Tag the video was released during the March 29 meeting and said “the beach management plan video” is available on the government’s Facebook page, apparently referring to a recording of the meeting last Thursday at the Willard Wheatley Primary School.
On Facebook and in public comments at meetings on March 29 and last Thursday, residents were generally pleased that the department had given thought to the management of the territory’s beaches, although they also questioned some practical aspects of the plan. – such a show far in the sales area should be fixed in Long Bay – and debated the amount of consideration that should be given to the economic opportunities of the beach.
While some residents thought the plan should be more responsive to the needs of Long Bay vendors, others felt it should focus solely on preserving the natural beauty of the beach.