Letters & Opinion

Sargassum, erosion and Climate Change may have taken over, but… The Beach is Still Ours!

By Sonia Sheppard, Special for The VOICE
Image: The golden sandy beaches of yesterday and yesteryear are now covered in Sargassum seaweed, making it impossible for many to today enjoy pastimes they grew-up with.

The coastline of St. Luca is being transformed, to the dismay of some of the inhabitants.

The island is fortunate, in that most of its beaches which have been used as free open space. As a small island, the coast is never too far away – as open places where families could gather and allow their children to run about and enjoy the golden sandy beaches, no matter where you are in the country.

Image: The golden sandy beaches of yesterday and yesteryear are now covered in Sargassum seaweed, making it impossible for many to today enjoy pastimes they grew-up with.
The golden sandy beaches of yesterday and yesteryear are now covered in Sargassum seaweed, making it impossible for many to today enjoy pastimes they grew-up with.

There are those who blame global warming, no matter the cause — and there are now wide stretches of the coastline being plagued by the scourge of the Sargassum seaweed. Then, on the other hand, there is the tourist industry walking a tightrope regarding how much of the coastline is given to the building of hotels to stay on the global tourism market.

For people who grew up in Castries and its environs during the 70s through the early 90s, the beach seems to go on for miles along the Caribbean sea.  Vigie Beach, Malabar Beach, Rat Island, Palm Beach (which later became Spotlite), Choc Beach, right up to Pigeon Point via Gros Islet, would be crowded — especially on public holidays.

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For those living on the east coast, it’s where fishermen made a livelihood for years from popular fishing villages like Dennery and Micoud. Then there was the lovely stretch of white sandy beach along the Vieux Fort Highway — places St. Lucians went in their droves for leisure, recreation and fun.

Football and cricket — two of the most popular sports in the country is one of the great pastimes enjoyed there. One of the places most noted for the men to go for a sweat after work and on the weekends was The Ramp. Even those who could not swim would spend hours on the beach having a picnic, Bar-B-Que, or even a quiet time alone — and not forgetting enjoying the warm waters of the Caribbean Sea in the east and the Atlantic in the west.

Many fond memories — and sadly, some sad ones too — are connected to stretch of beach.

Fast-Forward 20 years and that free space is fast disappearing. As less of the beach become available to the locals, more hotels have been and are still being built to accommodate the ever-growing tourist trade. Maybe, some of the profits gained can be used to improve the  lives of locals in practical terms — like better roads in small communities, improved housing, childcare, better schools etc. instead. But no such luck: people in the most deprived areas make the bulk of the work force catering to the tourists. These same people are also the ones losing the free open spaces.

It seems to some locals the tourists get the pick of the spots, the hotel owners gather whatever profits made and send export out the country, meanwhile workers are paid minimum wages while expected to cater to their whims and fancies. Staff members are made to believe that they should be grateful to the tourists, as they help put the crumbs — Oh sorry, I meant the Bread on their table.

Squabbling continues among the different groups trying to score points on each other instead of looking for a way forward for this beautiful little country of ours, making it a place where every St. Lucian feels they have a stake in their country, instead of where the highest bidder is able to persuade government about whatever policies are made.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the coin, global warming — if you listen to some people – is now depriving bathers of what were once pristine beaches. Instead, these golden sandy beaches are now covered in Sargassum seaweed, which on occasions make it impossible for one to take part in a pastime enjoyed for years.

And then there is the issue of coastal erosion, which seems to be happening at an alarming rate in this present time.

So,  instead of enjoying the sandy shores as picnic or play grounds, in some places along the coastline of sandy beach in Vieux Fort, fishing among the seaweed is fast becoming the popular hobby among families — men and women, young and old. In some cases, they have become the main source of proteins for some households.

And there is the case of a business being set up to take advantage of some of the seaweed, which is a sore eye — and even worse a challenge on the nose — for those who are unlucky to be on the receiving end of this by product of the seaweed.

So, yes, while there may be advantages for some on either side — be it those in the tourist industry or for those who can make a quick catch for the pot whereby putting much needed food on the table, or for this young and new national seaweed fertilizer entrepreneur — the coastline of this country is changing and St. Lucians have some serious questions and dilemmas to deal with.

Back then, way back when, the free and open white and black sand beaches were all ours for the taking and the enjoying. But in these times now, there is less of the coastline to be enjoyed than there was just 20 years ago – thanks to Sargassum Seaweed, beach erosion and Climate Change.

C’es la vie, en Ste Lisi!.

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