In our previous article, we asked what exactly is the ULP government’s policy on sand mining, and in that piece, we pointed out that Jomo Thomas seems to be the one echoing the loudest concern over the dredging of sand at Argyle. We must, however, also acknowledge that of Andrew Simmons, PhD on this issue. I listened to an interview with him on Boom FM. What I gathered most from what he said is that there is a sort of sand barrier in the bay that runs from an area outside of Biabou down to somewhere off Brighton. That sand barrier acts like a defensive back wall, so that the coastal areas along that entire coastline are spared the full force of the raging Atlantic Ocean when it comes ashore, especially during storm surges. I gathered also that that is the reason why that section of the windward coastline doesn’t take the kind of beating that we might see in areas further north, like Georgetown. This sand barrier sort of cushions the blows of the raging ocean, so by the time it comes ashore, it is not as damaging.
That to me, carries a lot of significance, considering that a portion of it appears to be what is now being dredged. I thought of it like a property that is close to the beach or river and have a concrete back wall. What happens if a portion of that wall is removed? In my mind, that exposes the property to damage from flooding. If we are to believe in climate change and global warming, one may argue that hurricanes and tropical storms are becoming more violent. What really is the impact of dredging sand from the Argyle Bay?
In 2019, the National Oceanography Centre published a report (Research & Consultancy Report No. 68). In that, they focused on the vulnerability of the Arygle airport to river and coastal flooding. While the main focus appears to be that of the Yambou River and the tunnels under the runway — that are supposed to channel the river to the ocean, unconstricted; the report also states this: “Argyle International Airport, being on SVG’s windward coast is also exposed to storm surges and hazardous wind and swell waves, potentially causing additional risk to the airport’s sea defences.”
While this report did not investigate any potential for the airport “rock armour defences” to be overtopped by waves — as it explicitly states, we must wonder what impact, if any, can the dredging have on any of that.
Enter the environmental impact assessment study that was done for the airport construction. This is a report done in 2008 by Knocks Consultants out of Germany. Under the subheading Marine Habitats and Wildlife, it summarises findings of the underwater area between the Yambou river mouth and the north end of the runway, as well as the other southern area between the river and Mt Coke.
In the northern section, it speaks to the existence of a reef, and mixture of boulders, pebbles, and sand as well as corals. It says: “Large individual sponges, growing on the bottom, were noticed also as well as crust-forming sponges”. Before listing over 16 species of fish, as well as lobsters, that were observed in the area, the report says: “Fish life was abundant, albeit small specimens of ornamental and food fish varieties”. Further it says: “Adult spiny lobsters were observed at various spots.”
The report also states that in this northern area, “rocky outcrops and boulders were found down to a depth of 12m, after which a sandy shelf area was found.”
The report also indicated the presence of reefs being in and around the Mt. Coke and Mt. Pleasant area, including in the line of approach to the runway. It states that the area south of the Yambou river mouth — unlike the northern area reef — had more algae and “found to be of less biological importance”. It goes on to state that in this area, “rocky outcrops were not found deeper than approximately 7 m, after which the black sand shelf started”.
In both areas, the report has indicated the presence of a “sand shelf”. Does this confirm what Simmons is referring to when he spoke of a sand barrier? If so, what does this mean when it is dredged?
Furthermore, the report states that “the presence of lobsters on these reefs in the relatively shallow part of the island shelf may continue to form the backbone of a lobster-pot fishery in the deeper part of the island shelf between 30 and 60m depth”.
What impact will dredging have on these reefs, and by extension, the lobster population in the area?
About turtles — including those with international conversation status — the report pointed to the local Fisheries Department as indicating that the beaches in the areas studied represent turtle nesting sites. That’s the area stretching from Stubbs to Peruvian vale.
Since the Knocks report is from 2008, it is fair for one to ask if and how the conditions in the area have changed since, but the fact that it is being dredged now may serve as an indication of its current condition, one way or the other. We’ve given you enough for thought, and again, we ask what exactly is the impact of dredging this area, all things considered?
As usual, we continue to encourage you to pay close attention to your affairs.
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