We all know that extraction of beach sand is still going on although a ban has been in force for more than 15 years. One estimate puts it at 500 tons removed from beaches every year. Other inappropriate activities include removal of coastal vegetation, removal of beach rock or “pave” and building of walls on the shore.
Despite what people believe, the majority of sea walls cannot hold back the ocean and are usually undermined by the sea. But before that happens, the walls can cause beaches to lose sand. A sandy beach usually turns to a rocky one very quickly in these situations. A solid pier also acts like a wall but has an even more startling effect because it can interrupt the current that transports sediments and thus lead to erosion of the beach on one side.
About 50 beaches in the three main granitic islands are eroding. An example is a tourist establishment on Praslin that lost the beach next to very quickly because coral and ‘pave’ was removed and a sea wall built. This, despite the fact that I and others at the time the destruction was underway, warned that a disaster was in the making. The hotel has had to truck sand in to re-build the beach. How much has been the cost and how long will the artificial beach last?
We have never estimated what the costs to tourism are when beaches become eroded, less comfortable or disappear altogether. If this is done I am certain the figures would concern most of us. It is estimated that coastal protection in the form of rock armouring and groins can cost the country about a million rupees every year if all the sandy beaches on Mahe, Praslin and La Digue are to be protected
We cannot hope to control the forces of nature. What we need to do is understand these forces and work with them. For example, we know that beaches protected by fringing reefs are more prone to human disturbance and resulting erosion than beaches that are more open to ocean influences. Therefore, necessary action should be taken in these places. We can protect our beaches and save millions of rupees by checking to see that our activities and development are environmentally appropriate.
By Nirmal Shah, Nature Seychelles' CEO, published on The People Newspaper, Seychelles