7MB erosion worsens after Ian batters structures

| 29/09/2022 | 182 Comments
  • Cayman News Service
  • Cayman News Service
  • Cayman News Service
  • Cayman News Service
  • Cayman News Service
  • Cayman News Service

(CNS): The passage of Hurricane Ian this week has revealed the seriousness of the erosion problems on Seven Mile Beach and how seawalls and hard structures, far from solving the problem, are making matters worse. In some places where there are no hard structures on the dynamic beach, the ocean delivered new deposits of sand. But in other places seawalls were destroyed and hard structures were no match for the storm surge and waves that battered Seven Mile Beach.

At the Grand Cayman Marriott Beach Resort on Tuesday, some 24 hours after the storm had passed, the problem of the near-permanent absence of the hotel’s beach was overshadowed by a new headache: flooding across the bar and restaurant areas. Next door, the new seawall at Regal Beach Club protected those condos but the knock-on effect of that wall plus the lack of beach brought the older seawall at Laguna Del Mar crashing down.

The problem of erosion along Seven mile Beach is nothing new and each storm serves to further erode the beaches around properties built too close to the ocean. The Cayman Islands Government has embarked on a proposed $21 million sand replenishment scheme as rising sea levels and over-development and too many hard structures on the beach fuel erosion. A business case and feasibility study for that project should be completed this year.

But the problem is becoming more serious and there has been little discussion by property owners about a managed retreat.

Speaking to CNS in May, Wayne Panton, the premier and sustainability minister, said that a managed retreat on some parts of the beach will be necessary. The public purse is picking up the tab for beach nourishment to give private sector resorts their beaches back, but some structures previously built on the dynamic beach zone will have to be moved.

“We will have to face this issue head-on,” the premier said, adding that he hoped the government would not have to legislate to force owners to remove existing structures. “I would like to think that there will be consensus across the board… and we will find a way to accomplish this together rather than having to legislate and have long drawn-out arguments about it,” he said.

Panton pointed out that Cayman has no choice and must deal with the inevitable consequences of climate change. However, none of the resort owners are discussing the issue.

Hermes Cuello, general manager of the Marriott, is deeply concerned about the hotel’s lost beach and he is not alone. Properties that stretch from Plantation Village to Coral Beach are all missing their beaches, as recorded at a meeting of the owners at the hotel recently. Cuello told CNS that dumping sand will help in the short term, but as climate change gets worse it will need to be done on a large scale.

But with the structural damage to properties that are being inundated with waves as the beach disappears, he said the issue of a managed retreat is both “complex and very challenging”.

“We don’t have the space,” he said, adding that when the hotel received planning permission back in the 1990s, there was a significant stretch of beach. With no beach at all now, he has to ferry his guests to the public beach on a shuttle.

Cuello and the other condo owners believe that only the government can help with solutions like sand replenishment or even, where there is space, moving hard structures further back. He said that if they lose their beaches, the hotels and condos are going to lose business, which means fewer guests, potential job losses and a drop in revenue for vendors that supply tourist accommodations, as well as a decline in tourism tax revenue.

He pointed out that helping the accommodation owners is akin to the subsidies government gives to Cayman Airways because it’s about supporting the wider tourism product. “People used to talk about the beach loss at the Marriott Beach Resort as the hotel’s problem, but with more than a mile and a half of beach lost now, it’s a much broader problem,” he said. “Really, it’s everyone’s problem now.”

In the medium term, Cuello and the owners believe the beach replenishment project will make a big difference and will last for several years, even if the exercise needs to be repeated in another twenty years. But he is hoping that government will soon be able to set out a timeline so he can plan how they manage the beach loss in the interim and how that affects the promotion of their hotel.

”My fear is we cannot have another year pass and we didn’t do anything about the erosion,” he said. “We cannot just wait for another year and see all the customers and tourists go to another destination because we didn’t do anything about it,” he added.

The Marriott is not the only large commercial private owner on the beach. Dart also now has considerable beachfront property in the area suffering from erosion. Royal Palms, which has been closed for two years and has become an eyesore, has also lost its beach. Just like the Marriott, a day after the storm had passed, the sea was still inundating what was once a popular patio bar at the location.

Dart’s own private house and other properties in the area are also beachless and residents can no longer traverse Seven Mile Beach across this stretch for most of the year. CNS has contacted Dart for comment about their plans for a managed retreat and we are awaiting a response.

The Cayman Islands’ single largest landowner and investor has the opportunity at Royal Palms to set a precedent by rebuilding whatever hotel it has planned for the location much further back. This would create the opportunity for the beach to return and demonstrate how moving back from the ocean front can help everyone.

However, the group has not revealed the plans for this site, and since its executives continue to lobby the government for high-rise development along Seven Mile Beach, it’s unlikely to begin any new project on the site.


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Category: development, Local News, Marine Environment, Science & Nature

Comments (182)

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  1. Anonymous says:

    Stop blaming climate change, just STOP it.

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  2. Marriott is where the problem started pretty much and after DOE myself and many others tried to stop the patio/pool structures someone higher up said no worries go ahead.This one place has created a domino effect north and south of Marriott.We will never learn by allowing the so called experts using computers to make it all ok.Mother nature does not use computers just common sense.

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  3. Emmi says:

    My cruise ship is suppose to stop there in January. THey are offering day excursions to 7 mile beach . Is it worth going post hurricane?

    • Anonymous says:

      Yes, it’s worth going to shore, but you don’t need 7mile to enjoy Cayman’s beauty. There are other things you can do and experience.

  4. Anonymous says:

    Cayman Airways is owned by the government.

    The Marriott is not, it is part of a Public Company so completely different case for subsidies.

    Basically subsidies for the Marriott will just go the overseas investors.

    This is part of deciding to built a Hotel on the beach, and is a risk a Company decided to make when investing in the first place.

    Why should we bail you out? use some of the funds you set aside to counter the risk of beach erosion, the Company must have held back from paying out as Dividends for the last 40 years.

    If they haven’t held back funds, that is on the Directors of the Marriott for not performing their fiduciary duties

  5. Anonymous says:

    Like the old saying, “If you can’t hear, you going to feel”. We keep doing things that ultimately go against the laws of nature. Mother nature rules. She will continue to remind us of that mere fact if we can’t hear.

    Stop letting these big developers do what they feel like doing in our country. And for these developers and those who let them do it and ‘cry’ fake tears after the fact, I have no pity on you all when mother nature slaps you in your face.

  6. Anonymous says:

    Even if the buildings were set back slightly from the sea, it would be meaningless because the sand would be washed away at once by the powerful winds and waves of a hurricane. Rationally speaking, the loss of tourism revenue and jobs from not replenishing the sand is far greater than the cost of replenishing the sand and other countermeasures, so there is no choice but to not replenish the sand. Miami has been replenishing sand at public expense for 50 years. Beach erosion due to global warming is not just a problem in the Cayman Islands, but sand replenishment at public expense is commonplace, especially on beaches in developed countries that are heavily used by tourists.

    If sand replenishment at public expense is absolutely unacceptable as a matter of public opinion, the only solution would be for each hotel to build and operate its own private beach that it pays to enter. In this case, all costs would be borne by the for-profit companies, which would become less profitable and competitive than beaches in other countries where public funds are invested, and more companies would have to pull out, forcing the Cayman Islands’ tourism industry to shrink significantly. The impact would not be limited to tourism, especially since the Cayman Islands’ economy is heavily dependent on tourism.

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