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Vanishing coast

Could this part of Trinidad's coast soon be lost? Could this part of Trinidad's coast soon be lost? Andrea De Silva
17 Mar
Trinidad and Tobago is losing its coastline, a problem for an island nation where 70 per cent of the population lives near the edge

While oil and gas provides the Caribbean island of Trinidad and Tobago with its main economic base, dredging for new pipelines, coupled with changing weather patterns, may be having a disastrous effect on the nation’s picturesque coastline. ‘Although not all of the beaches and bays are monitored, we have figures for the north coast where we see retreat of up to one metre per year,’ says Junior Darsan, who studies erosion on the island.

There are several anti-erosion measures in place around Trinidad, ranging from sea walls to rubble revetments. Revetments are sloping structures that absorb energy from incoming waves. ‘We have sea walls. We have structures along the island in some sections. We also have sea walls in small bays in the northwest. On the west coast, there are sea walls to protect roads close to the coastline,’ says Darsan.

‘In terms of climate change, there are reports of a 1,000-year sea level rise of around 1.1 metres. Most of Trinidad is low-lying, so any increase in sea level will translate into shoreline erosion,’ he adds. Storm intensity may also play a role, although Trinidad and Tobago is south of the hurricane belt. Waves from hurricane activity increase erosion and those hurricanes are set to increase.

Since 2012, the government has been examining how to protect the shoreline. ‘At the moment it’s trying to find out more about how erosion is going to take place, and how it will interact with the oil and gas industry,’ adds Darsan.

This erosion has caused difficulties for local communities. ‘At one settlement in the south of Trinidad, people used old car tyres and anything they could put their hands on to develop a makeshift costal defence from the ocean,’ says Darsan. Erosion rates are slower on the sheltered west side, which avoids strong Atlantic weather systems, while in Guapo Bay, on Trinidad’s southeast side, an entire village was displaced. 

This story was published in the March 2015 edition of Geographical Magazine

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