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Caribbean-On-Line / St. Barts / Beaches / What to Do About Disappearing St Jean Beach?

What to Do About Disappearing St Jean Beach?

The sand on the beach at St Jean has almost disappeared between the hotel Eden Roc and the restaurant La Plage. A project to add sand to the beach is currently before the Collectivity. The Executive Council was solicited by Eden Roc at the end of July and by the Association of Hotels the beginning of September to determine what could be done to recover the sand. The Council has been working with experts to determine the current state of St Jean Bay, the causes for the disappearance of the sand and the chronic erosion of the beach, and possible solutions. Several beaches on the island are subject to great movement of the sand from September to April due to sea swells that are common during this period. The sand tends to be pushed to the east end of the beaches. From April until September, the opposite occurs, and the sand is redistributed to the west end of the beaches. However, since hurricane Luis in 1995 and those that came in the following years, none of the beaches on the northern side of the island have had the same quantity of sand as before, and St Jean was the only beach where sand was added after hurricanes Luis and Lenny.

The coral barrier in St Jean Bay is covered with sand, and 80% of the coral is dead. Living coral is three to five times more effective than dead coral on wave action. As a result, the waves clear this barrier with all their force. The sea grasses that existed between the coral barrier and the beach have disappeared, thus there is nothing to reduce the force of the waves crashing onto the beach. The waves strike cement walls that have been built to protect property, producing a strong turbulence. The consequence is that the sea is more agitated than in the past, even in calm periods. Also, each time the canal between the lagoon in St Jean and St Jean Bay is opened because the lagoon is too full, a considerable amount of sediment flows into the sea, which is fatal for the coral. St Jean Beach is supported by an ecosystem that includes the coral, sea grasses, beach vegetation, and the current. Today, this ecosystem is destroyed and must be returned to its equilibrium.

After consulting with experts, the following actions have been identified.

  • Sand will be added to part of the beach. The volume of missing sand has been estimated to be around 60,000 to 80,000 m3. It has been proposed to add a volume approaching 30,000 m3 to start with. This work has been entrusted to the Zappo Society and will be finished before the tourist season begins.

  • The effects of adding sand will be assessed in a period of at least one year with a final report giving a scientific interpretation of the results. One of the goals of President Magras and the Executive Council is to understand this phenomenon in its entirety. The Collectivity has taken charge of this part of the plan and will contract the work to experts. Two estimates have been submitted, but no decision has yet been made.

  • Obviously, a long-term solution is sought. Plans are to re-implant the coral and the sea grasses and follow their evolution. This approach is well-known and has already been realized under the direction of Deborah Brosans in Montserrat with positive results. The beach must be returned to its initial state. If these steps are not effective, the Collectivity will study the possibility of creating an artificial protective barrier. Many examples exist that are well adapted to respect the environment.

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