Beach project fiasco in US provides lesson for 7MB

| 12/03/2024 | 85 Comments
Cayman News Service
View from Regal Beach’s new sea wall after Hurricane Ian

(CNS): The Cayman Islands Government may want to rethink plans to spend CI$21 million on imported sand to replace parts of Seven Mile Beach in front of some of the islands’ most expensive real estate after a half-million-dollar sand dune project in Massachusetts took just three days to wash away.

Although the Department of the Environment has said that replacing lost sand without implementing a managed retreat of structures is unlikely to last long, the CIG, under pressure from the tourism sector and property owners, is nevertheless considering the costly project.

In an effort to protect their beachfront homes, residents in Salisbury, Massachusetts, invested $500,000 in a sand dune to defend against encroaching tides. The work was completed last week, but the barrier made from 14,000 tons of sand lasted just 72 hours before it was completely washed away, according to the local TV station.

Like many beachfront neighbourhoods all around the world, the homes in Salisbury started seeing serious damage from strong winds and high tides after a winter storm in December 2022. That small community has learned a hard and costly lesson about building too close to the ocean, and they are running out of ideas to save their homes.

Here in Cayman, the erosion along the southern part of Seven Mile Beach is no longer seasonal and looks increasingly permanent. Because of the erosion, property owners built more seawalls in a futile attempt to mitigate the loss of sand, which caused even more erosion. This created a vicious circle as people tried to protect properties that were built too close to the sea in the first place.

There are major concerns that unless these structures are moved further away from the shoreline, any replenished sand will be lost in a very short period of time. While it might last more than three days, recent experience with an unexpectedly severe nor’wester demonstrates that such a project is doomed to failure, given climate change and rising sea levels.

The sand replenishment project was first discussed in 2021 when then-premier Wayne Panton chaired a task force to examine the erosion problems on Seven Mile Beach. The project is still under review and going through the first stages of a business case process, though not all of the current government is in favour of funding this expensive and potentially flawed proposal.

While the replenishment would benefit the Marriott Resort and a number of luxury condos and beachfront homes of wealthy residents and foreign owners, the task force reportedly concluded at the time that because the beach is a major national natural asset, the government should implement new rules to prevent developers from building on the beach if it made this investment.

Around $21 million was set aside in the 2022/23 budget, but the project has stalled due to concerns about the cost and potential failure. According to a report in the Cayman Compass, in November last year, the Ministry of Lands was working on a strategic outline case after the project was passed to that team.

“We understand the urgency of the re-nourishment as a significantly eroded Seven Mile Beach can have a significant adverse effect on various sectors of the Cayman Islands’ economy,” Chief Officer Wilbur Welcome told the Compass. However, support for the project appears to be on the decline, and even Tourism Minister Kenneth Bryan has said buying sand that could be swept away in the first storm is not the best use of public money.

The Department of Environment has long warned that damage to coastal properties is an ongoing and worsening result of rising seas and severe weather events. The DoE has repeatedly stated that the planning regime needs to be updated with climate policy in mind to deal with a managed retreat and much longer coastal setbacks, putting an end to developers being allowed to build too close to the shoreline.

In Massachusetts, homeowners told WCVB that losing the new dunes in a storm this weekend was a catastrophe, and they have run out of ideas to save their community from the encroaching sea.

Here in Cayman, the owners of property in front of the disappearing beach have not given any indication that they are willing to begin moving their beachfront structures back. Taxpayers are, therefore, unlikely to welcome the government spending $21 million on sand for holidaymakers and wealthy homeowners that may not last past the first storm.

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Category: Climate Change, development, Local News, Science & Nature

Comments (85)

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  1. Anonymous says:

    In addition to sand replenishment being a huge waste of government coffers – aka the peoples money, as in the same people who were chased off these beaches by the developers whose greed pushed the setbacks which have resulted in beach erosion – consider this:

    “……Beach nourishment is the practice of filling in beaches with sand from another site to help stall erosion. Sometimes, sand can be taken from offshore and can have different characteristics than the normal sand found on beaches. This can cause problems for establishing nests and egg incubation if the new sand causes differences in temperature, gas exchange, or water content.”

    (Source: Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History)

    There are hundreds of recorded turtle nestings sites along SMB. The majority of this coastline is designated as Critical Turtle Nesting Habitat. I dont understand how the Department of Environment can even think to endorse an undertaking like this unless they really mean to risk threatening the future of turtle nesting.

  2. Nautical-one345 says:

    Dumping tens of millions of dollars worth of sand on the beach to replace sand that’s been washed away due to structures being built too close to the sea, without addressing the structures too close to the sea. Nope, that does NOT make any sense. If so then the owners and developers can pay for it themselves – not us!

    • God help us. says:

      Note the following from it Ng e story:
      “ The sand replenishment project was first discussed in 2021 when then-premier Wayne Panton chaired a task force to examine the erosion problems on Seven Mile Beach. ”

      Was there anything that Wayne started as Premier that was completed? I don’t think so. Wayne was a useless PremierandJulie is a ruthless one.

  3. Anonymous says:

    In the 1960s when only the West Indian Club (Dart home), Beach Club Colony (Watercolours), John Senior’s home (Coralstone Club), Galleon Beach Hotel (Westin), Mitch Miller’s (Johnson’s home) and a few other small private homes existed on the Seven Mile Beach – before La Fontaine (Royal Palms) or Holiday Inn (Ritz Residences), Sir John Cumber’s vision was for a very-much setback dual carriageway east of the West Bay Road (today’s ETH) to allow deeper properties on the beach (a-la present day Grace Bay, T&C).

    “No risks of erosion there, eh competitor and neighbour?”. Meanwhile back in the 345, Government is being bent-over by CITA for $21 mil worth of sand!

    Great vision Sir John, that and much more. Sorry that greed and ignorance tore up your plan.😭😭

    • Chris Johnson says:

      Let me correct you here. The wife of Mitch Miller, her two sisters and their respective families acquired 500 feet of beach front property and built three houses and two cottages. I acquired a house and cottage from Mr and Mrs Cox in around 1976. My immediate neighbour was Mitch Miller and Dr Lear Grimmer and his wife had the third property. Dr Grimmer was a qualified vet and looked after various animals without charge. He also made jewellery which he sold and gave the proceeds to charity.
      Sadly those days soon passed and Mr Butler came along and built his shoebox condominiums.

  4. Anonymous says:

    Removing all the concrete structures which impede the natural tidal flow, starting with the original culprit, Turner’s wall, is the only correct initial approach.

    Short of doing that, Government literally dumping $21 million dollars in sand alone will not keep it in place without groynes. All you expensive consultants who advise Govt please tell and sell them that fact!

    Radisson/Marriott tried reef balls and other measures, without success.

    Groynes were used to create beach in Cayman Kai developments in the 1960s &’70s.

    Why is it we seem to be 50 years backwards since those times??

    Morons in charge!

  5. Phillippe Bush says:

    Wayne 2:30pm / Anon.12:41pm
    While the dredging in Miami was successful replenishing their beach for some time, it resulted in the degradation and destruction of much of the reefs off-shore. Which is more environmentally crucial…sand on the beach, or our coral reefs?

    • Coral Reefer says:

      The answer is which is more profitable to the owners and developers.

      The answers here are always driven by profits.

    • Richard Wadd says:

      Unfortunately, we cannot compare Miami to Grand Cayman as they are 2 COMPLETELY DIFFERENT marine landscapes.
      The South-Eastern US is part of a Continental shelf with a long, gentle slope while GCM (smb) sits on the edge of a deep Drop-off zone. The sand migration & replenishment patterns in both cases are vastly different.
      Even in Jamaica where beach re-nourishment has been taking place for years, the scenarios vastly differ to ours’.
      However, there is ABSOLUTELY NO VALID REASON to ‘Import’ even a tablespoon of sand to replenish SMB (unless $ apply). All of the sand that we need can be harvested right here, in both an Ecologically & Environmentally sound manner with little to no impact on our existing Marine environment.
      If we are foolish enough to ‘Import’ sand into our island (again), we seriously risk inadvertently importing organisms with it that can wreak havoc on our marine environment, risking irreparable damage to our reefs, mangroves & ecology. Sand that is already found in GCM simply won’t carry those risks.
      However, none of this will solve the problem unless we address & REMOVE the root cause.

  6. Anonymous says:

    For those who werent here in the 1990s, here is a picture of the beach in from of the Marriott from the 90s, when it was known as the Radisson. Very, very deep beach, far from the water (I remember playing volleyball there).

    • Anonymous says:

      Wow. Thank you

    • J says:

      So it was the the addition of the Pool / Pool Deck that was the catlyst for the loss of sand then?

      Why even have a Pool Right next to the Oceanía?

      Remove the Pool / Reverse the Trend!!

  7. Anonymous says:

    I dont think you can correlate this one Massachusetts case with the potential in Cayman. Without getting too technical, there are much different erosion forces impacting the Mass case than affects SMB (the most significant being that SMB is on the leeward side of the island’s prevailing winds).

    Beach renourishment does “work”, but will require future renourishment (generally 7 to 10 years), depending on the physics of the erosion forces (which may become more or less favorable, or stay the same).

    There are thousands of examples of beach renourishment cases (of various success). One correlate for Cayman might be the highly successful renourishment of Miami Beach.

    Not cheap, depending on desired volume! But there are no current real plans to even do a feasibility study, so this would be a long way off.

    I am a structural engineer so this isnt directly my field, although I have indirectly incorporated some of this into projects I have been involved in (and have a working understanding).

    One suggestion might be to try this on a small section (quarter mile) of SMB and see how this works over a year.

    • Reclaim the beach says:

      Abut they’ve already tried this by the Marriott, with (if I recall correctly) $2 million dollars worth of sand and it didn’t last after a relatively short period of time. Maybe they should consider building a pool and bar on the rooftop since that’s now available and reclaim the beach area the built on, foolishly ignoring the Caymanians who advised the then owners not to.

    • Anonymous says:

      It doesn’t matter if it sometimes “works” or doesn’t. What matters is that CIG is considering spending $21M of OUR money for the benefit of the wealthy.

      I have no problem whatsoever if the wealthy businesses and landowners choose to have a collaboration and experiment with sand replenishment, as long as they pay for it themselves.

      Cue the patronising business owner to explain that I just don’t understand how things work, and how this benefits us all. Right.

    • Anonymous says:

      “Without getting too technical, there are much different erosion forces impacting the Mass case than affects SMB”.

      Would this not also apply to Miami Beach vs SMB?
      (Just asking for a not-too-technical friend.)

  8. Anonymous says:

    I have a 100% fool proof way to replace that missing sand… bulldoze the freaking buildings.

  9. Anonymous says:

    While you are dumping $21 million on a lost cause, how about fixing the Savannah gully?

    • Stop wasting govt money says:

      Or put that money into TVEC scholarships and educate our people!

      If the hotel wants more beach make them figure out how to pay for it. They are the ones who created this problem, they have a global purse, they can fix it if they want to!

  10. Anonymous says:

    I’ll say it again: when its development was under consideration in the late 80’s, the Radisson (predecessor to the Marriott) was repeatedly warned that its seawall would wreck its beach. In true arrogant American fashion, it took no notice. Marriott were aware of the problem from day 1 as well, as were the ghastly Marney Turner and various other fragrant developers who ignored the warnings and built their own wretched sea walls.

    It is emphatically NOT the role of government to underwrite developers’ boneheaded greed and refusal to listen to reason. They made this bed: they should lie in it or suffer the consequences.

    The same thing will happen at Aqua Beach, mark my words.

    Cayman is killing itself by pandering to these vermin. It’s got to stop.

  11. Anonymous says:

    Oh, the irony of the disappearing edge swimming pool.

    • Anonymous says:

      Halt development too close to the sea, let mother nature take care of the exsiting problems, do not bail the problem causers out, and forbid rebuilding without proper setbacks.

  12. Caymanian says:

    1. Government should not foot the bill without property owners agreeing to remove their seawalls and other structures that are too close to the beach. If property owners don’t remove the seawalls, the property owners can foot the bill themselves.

    2. I’m no expert, but I don’t think you can directly correlate the Massachusetts project to Cayman. The Massachusetts shore is windward to the Atlantic Ocean. Completely different tide, tidal strength, wave action, wind direction, etc. Seven Mile Beach is on the leeward side of Cayman in the Caribbean Sea, which sees far less wave action and wind than the Massachusetts coast.

    3. Doesn’t anyone remember how prior to the opening of the Kimpton, the beach there suffered from severe erosion. Just before the Kimpton opened, someone who shall remain nameless dumped tons of new sand on the Kimpton beach. I know this for certain, because the morning after they dumped the sand they had the entire beach surrounded by caution tape for days. I myself was nearly swallowed up trying to walk across the sand there. That was what, 10 years ago? The beach is still there, so clearly dumping sand to combat erosion can work.

  13. Anonymous says:

    Remove the breaker at sunset cove..

    • Anonymous says:

      yes! this is definitely contributing to the problem. how was this allowed? anyone know what year it was put in?

    • Anonymous says:

      That has been there since the 80s, and it was over 25 years before we saw any south SMB erosion. Maybe at some point it added to the issue, but certainly for a quarter century it didnt.

    • Anonymous says:

      Science does not support your notion that a porous structure will influence sand disposition 2 miles north. This is pure unsupported nonsense. Blame the boards that approve concrete walls and you’ll find a solution.

      • Anonymous says:

        Except it’s not porous now is it? It perhaps doesn’t halt it but restricts the flow of sand.
        End of story.

  14. Anonymous says:

    Remove the rock walls behind Sunset Cove/Treasure Island and let the sand move freely up and down the beach..

    None of the seawalls are as egregious as those two sticking out 100ft into the water in order to allow one Condo Development the ability to force sand into their area so that they can have a beach..

    How about Government getting some balls and just removing it..

    My guess is that you will see improvement in a very short time..

    And FFS stop allowing developments or seawalls so close to the water.. A blind man can see this has to stop..

  15. Anonymous says:

    Ian directly hit Fort Myers, FL as cat.5 and was one of the longest lasting hurricanes, 7-8 hours. It will be 2 years in September and the beaches are still being restored, bridges rebuilt, properties repaired and rebuilt, road signs and street lighting replaced. There is a shortage of everything – from construction materials to the licensed contractors. From appliances to a/c systems.

  16. Wayne says:

    Replenishment on Miami Beach has worked very well. The dune that was constructed in front of the hotels is well-protected and the beach has mostly remained quite nice. i am not sure if the same would help our beach but is in sad shape and getting worse.

    • Anonymous says:

      Just say NO to crony capitalism. No one forced the seaside millionaires and billionaires to build so close to the mighty sea.

      They made their own beds and they can sleep in them.

  17. Anonymous says:

    Send more Nor’westers.

    • Anonymous says:

      Anyone who has been on this island for half a century or more will recall that, back in the days of frequent and powerful nor’westers (I am talking about the seventies and early eighties),the Marriott area beach used to suffer tremendous erosion (the hotel and the adjacent condo developments had not yet been built).

      There was a house out front the “bird cage cottages” near the new Marble House that used to have its foundation and cistern walls exposed almost every winter.

      The difference is that back in those days the structures were set far enough from the waterline that the sand could accumulate after the winter storms had passed and the beach would return.

      Modern developer greed caused the erosion that we see today. The older property owners knew better.

  18. Anonymous says:

    Why I believe the problem will never be solved. First West Bay RD would have to be moved. Second, not sure how many Structures, Buildings, or Condos will need to be removed and set back, but I doubt the people losing their land so these can be set back wouldn’t agree to this. The damage is done unfortunately, sad but true. Hopefully in the future when these structures need replacing the CIG will do what’s right and correct the set back. But realistically, there’s just going to be less beach and more seawalls…Not what I want, what will happen.

  19. Anonymous says:

    please give me a list of the sea walls on smb & when they were built… that have caused beach erosion?
    should be easy for the anti-development brigade that constantly blaming these structures.

    • Anonymous says:

      I agree. I live in a complex with one that is 30 years old. Why these problems all of a sudden? I think another big factor is the lack of norwesters rhe last few years. And the Sunset Cove barricade.

    • Anonymous says:

      Marnie Turner.

      The end.

    • Caymanian says:

      You can start with the artificial cove at Treasure Island/margaritaville then move North to the Marriott beach deck, pool and bar, further north to the two houses north of Regal Beach Club (the Turner house and theTurkish millionaires hideous monstrosity), Royal Palm’s bar and deck, the wall at Coral Beach and the wall at Dart’s House (one of the first that started it all). Remove all of these structures, give it 5-10 years, and Seven Mile Beach will be back. Guaranteed.

      • Anonymous says:

        Even then “Caymanian”, it would be no more than 6 miles long. Where’s the other mile?

        PS. I already know the answer

  20. Anonymous says:

    It is unbelievable that, decades after this issue arose, the Cayman Islands Government is still playing fast and loose with Grand Cayman’s primary tourist and real estate attraction.

    There are but a handful of properties causing the erosion problem. They should not be allowed to hold the entire tourism and beach property sector to ransom. The impediments must be removed. It could not be more simple.

    Why is CIG so pathetically weak when it comes to effective governance? Why are a small bunch of millionaire property owners and miscreant gang bangers alike allowed to run amok to the detriment of the community?

    For God sake grow a pair CIG.

  21. Anonymous says:

    Importing sand is insane. We have plenty of sand here, it’s just in deeper water. Pump the sand back onto the beach before it makes it over the drop-off.

  22. Anonymous says:

    Putting sand on the beach is a good idea (along with some coastal engineering and retreat to make it stick) and its a fairly simple cost analysis. How much does it cost, how long before its likely to wash away (lets call it 5 years but the coastal engineer can work that out, with a footnote that storms are unpredictable) and how much national benefit accrues.

    That last part is the hard one. In the off season how much more can Marriott charge per room and how many more rooms can they fill and how many more taxi & restaurant incomes does that represent? (And its more than just Marriott benefiting, but lets keep it simple.)

    Then you take how much national benefit it accrues in 5 years, and subtract how much it costs to replenish the beach every 5 years (with coastal engineering to help the sand stay in place). No need to bring anyone’s emotions into this either for or against. Its a simple Government / national financial decision. You either get a positive number, in which case you do it, or a negative, in which case you don’t.

    • Anonymous says:

      The benefit is enormous. The properties will go up in value by 10% and the govt tax will increase. Also there will be more bookings at the hotels and condos. The benefit to the economy will be far greater than the 21 million even if replenishment had to be done every five years or even more frequently.

      • Anonymous says:

        Maybe, maybe not. But if its so certain why hasn’t Marriott et al hired someone to do the maths, instead of asking the Govt (people) to just foot the bill for something a lot of other people are unconvinced will be worth it (recurring cost every 5 years in this scenario)? Things that make you go hmmmm.

      • Anonymous says:

        Let me guess. You are all for free market capitalism and no government interference, but when it comes to your investments here, you want all of the government money you can bilk them for.

  23. Anonymous says:

    Only way to keep all hotels still standing is doing like Bonaire and Corosel and drive piling into the coast and then fill that in with sand. And put rocks as a buffer along the beach.

  24. Anonymous says:

    “Taxpayers are, therefore, unlikely to welcome the government spending $21 million on sand for holidaymakers and wealthy homeowners that may not last past the first storm”.

    So they’d be willing to forego their rights to use any areas replenished by private funds then presumably?

    • Anonymous says:

      Say “I’m a part-time resident millionaire property owner” without saying “I’m a part-time resident millionaire”.

      Private equity built those properties closer and closer to the waters edge to “get the maximum return” on the initial investment, without consideration for those who lived here previously (with the knowledge NOT to build directly on the sand). Now you want those same people to fund the repairs to your error? With the egregious “threat” of not permitting those persons access to the shore if they do not?

      Owen Roberts International Airport is located near the capital. Flights head out of here daily. Pick one. 🙂

      Bring back the expatriates who helped us develop this jewel, contributed to our success, contributed to education, joined our community (not forced us to change to yours), and truly wove themselves into the fabric of CAYMAN. There are too many to mention, but please know this born-Caymanian considers you “one of we”.

      • Anonymous says:

        The properties were built with planning permission, within the remit of the laws of the land, established by those elected by the people of the land. Who is really to blame?

  25. Jim says:

    Wasting $21 million on sand that will wash away in any large storm is an unconscionable
    waste. What needs to be done and fast is to amend the Planning regulations to prohibit building any structure far from the high water mark and change building code to provide portection for new construction. For existing properties, give up the hope of having a sandy beach, it will never come back. If the planning and building code are not changed to reflect what is happening in the environment, anything built under current
    laws will be condemned within a few years as they will not be habitable. Remember the past generations of Camanians who built their homes far from the waterfront. These old homes that are still around, are 50-100 years old and not washed away. Learn from the past.

  26. Just me says:

    They should look to Jamaica for advice, they have had some very successful projects

  27. Anonymous says:

    Rethink the past and present CPB

  28. Sarasota Steve says:

    A superb article. The exact same thing occurred at Manasota Beach on the west coast of Florida on the Gulf Of Mexico.

    In that area, many homes / condos have been condemned and developers are finally moving beach front structures back from the beach.

    Everyone has finally learned a very expensive lesson.

    Hope we learn here from that lesson.

  29. Anonymous says:

    A pretty strong example of f*** around & find out. SMB has definitely been replenished once if not twice down by the Marriott, – some of these people just don’t have the aptitude to find out or more specifically don’t care if it’s someone else paying for it. Keep f****** around and be satisfied that piece by piece you’re destroying the place.

  30. Anonymous says:

    Will they ever listen and learn and put aside their egos and greed. Flush $21 Million down the toilet!?

  31. Anonymous says:

    Meanwhile, the Zambezi River continues its cycle.

  32. Guido Marsupio says:

    How stupid can the government be, not to listen to the qualified voices telling them not to waste our money on this?

  33. Anonymous says:

    I don’t want to see sand added. But it would be great if alternative solutions are visited. Planting sea grass, planting coccoloba, dropping boulder 100 ft out. Look at Fort Lauderdale and Galveston TX and what they’ve done to protect and rebuild their beaches.

  34. Anonymous says:

    Make it make sense sweet baby Jesus

  35. Bean Counter says:

    If this government spend that sort of money on sand for the SMB. We know the sand will wash away. It will represent an even bigger waste of public funds that does not represent value for money than Juju’s KYD50 million high school project for 130 students in the Brac.

  36. Please exercise some Cayman sense says:

    In other news water is wet. Keep sticking your head in the sand to avoid the true problem. A plethora of puns on this one, as numerous as grains of sand on a beach. The reality is that the beach is gone, it is not coming back, the seas are rising due to our stupidity, and psst…I’ll tell you a secret…it’s going to get worse.

    • LEF says:

      I agree. Our beautiful, tiny islands are in for flooding. If the members of our honorable house haven’t notice, the sea is rising due to climate change. The ice is melting, the water is giing into the ocean causing the sea to rise…. it may not have a humongous effect right now but wait….

    • Thought says:

      It was return after the next good storm.

  37. Anonymous says:

    Remove all structure from the beach, that is the solution.
    This will give back the ocean view to the local residents, otherwise no beach.

    • Anonymous says:

      Remove that disgusting concrete monstrosity of a tunnel on WB Road. Talk about ghetto!

      • Anonymous says:

        If you want ghetto go down Dog City, Swamp, Rock Hole, etc.

        Caymanian owned and operated since their inception.

    • Anonymous says:

      At least you are offering a practical solution: tear down billions of dollars of structures. I can see this happening over the next six months.

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