Saturday, May 18, 2024

Beach nourishment at Boca del Rio showing positive results

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In October 2022, the San Pedro Town Council (SPTC) embarked on a project to save the downtown beaches. To address the issue, the SPTC began a restoration project with a demonstration site in Boca del Rio in front of the severely eroded beach at the San Pedro High School. The project employs nature-based solutions and the guidance of local scientists. A little over a year after the beach nourisment implementation, the local authorities report good results and a steady beach recovery.
At an interview on Thursday, January 18th, Mayor Gualberto’ Wally’ Nuñez reminded the public that the beach nourishment process will take years. With the help of local scientist Valentine Rosado, they explained that the project is trying to correct some 30 years of constant erosion; thus, islanders may not see huge changes right away. The beach building in this section of the Boca del Rio area will eventually return to its good days with the guidance of this project, but it will take years. According to Rosado, the demonstration site in front of the high school wall/fence was to understand how the sediments move, the wave action at this specific location, and if the same technique can be applied to other areas of San Pedro’s shoreline. Rosado emphasized that it is not a quick fix, but initial works have provided some missing pieces to address the alarming threat to the island’s beaches. The grand spectrum of the project is to successfully rehabilitate the beach from the Boca del Rio beach park to the Sunbreeze Hotel, a bit over a mile in length.
One of the restoration program’s highlights includes introducing native island plants. These plants, such as sea purslane and morning glory, are well-documented as sand stabilizers and keep dunes in place. The works on the beach have led to the creation of small sand dunes protected by using a geotextile net, which gives time for sand to settle. Rosado explained that these natural structures on the beach are the first line of defence. “We confirm that in the area where they are now planted, it has maintained the beach offset with no visible loss of elevation and beach face,” said Rosado. He added that some of the positive results are that some beach formations have taken place in front of this area where native plants were planted. The next step is introducing three other important beach plants to this demonstration site.
Another aspect of the nourishment works was the dumping of no impact at the beginning of the project. Rosado explained that the sand used for the restoration must be compatible with the sand from this area. However, over the past months, such material has been scarce, and they are now conducting artisanal mining. Rosado explained that this low-impact approach does not cause damage compared to dredging operations. This mined sand is being used for the beach nourishment program. According to the project coordinators, this mining follows strict guidelines to ensure that it is placed in locations where nature will take its course and add to the beachfront. A study of the sediment pathways and understanding of the shoreline dynamics continues to take place.
Rosado added that a vital natural material has yielded as much as a three-foot increase in elevation by using beach sargasso. He clarified that this was not Sargassum, the brown algae floating in the ocean. “We are also ensuring that the seagrass remains as a natural breakwater so that they can continue safeguarding the beach against erosion. The reef is the first line of defense, and the near-shore seagrass is the second,” explained Rosado. As the project continues, the SPTC appeals to the public to become informed about nature-based restoration and respect the restoration zones.
While stakeholders have tried to protect their beachfront properties with sea walls, reports from experts show that the walls damage the shoreline and cannot halt erosion.
The beach reclamation efforts will continue to expand over the upcoming months. Some other areas that have seen the benefits of this beach building project is a section between the Mayan Princess Hotel and Central Park, where the effects of erosion heavily impacted this beach as well.

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