Beating off the waves – Where the waves hit hard

We held our meeting and heard the views from the local council members.  There was a lot of detail but one thing that was drawn to our attention was that one side of the island was being affected much worse than the other.  We had agreed that we wanted to survey the whole coastline of the island and we thought that seeing the issues was better than talking about them.  The chiefs of the village council came along with us and we first targeted the coastline that was most under threat.

As soon as we stepped onto the rocks on the eastern side, the problem became apparent to us.  This was the most exposed part of the coast; beyond the reef was the open Indian Ocean – this island was on the outside of the atoll, and on the eastern fringe of the ridge on which the Maldives sits.  Weather often approaches from the east and this is where storm surges and wind can do the most damage.  The water was choppy here and the land had been steadily chomped away by the wave action.  The roots of palm trees were exposed and in some cases had been completely undermined and the trees toppled into the water.  There was hardly any sand here, lots of pebbles and loose bits of bricks and rubble and coral.

Only about 50m from us was the reef edge – a slim line of coral that was just about above the level of the current waves.  They smashed against this wall, constantly chipping off bits.  It would be a miracle if the coral were able to regenerate at the same rate as it was being eroded.  About twenty years beforehand money was spent on building up the coral reef with concrete, but no maintenance had been done since, and much of the rubble we could see on the beach was what had been pounded out from this old defence.  The rest came from recycled building material that the villages had used to fill in the gaps in the natural coastline – stopping up breaches, replacing the net of roots that had been lost.  This exposed coastline was not far from the sheltered northern harbour which we had arrived at, and this end of the island was almost completely covered in housing plots – all built on.  The coastline was gradually retreating and in some places had dislodged the blocks making up perimeter walls.  In a couple of places houses had been abandoned where the land had been eaten away too close to their foundations.

The Adopted Dog – St Vincent passes by

But we were only heading up here for a day.  Considering how small St Vincent is, I was amazed how long it took to drive up this leeward highway.  Yes the road twisted and turned and had a few patches where the potholes impeded your progress, but also the detail of the countryside demanded it be examined.  Each little valley, beach and headland had character, and the human footprint was a lively tapestry of smallholder life, easy liming and bustling commerce all rolled together.  I knew by this stage I would not reach the top end of the island, to Richmond and the Wallilabou River where the road gave out.  It had been an ambition – as it would be as close as you could get to Fancy – the most northerly point on St Vincent, which I had reached once before but only by driving up the Windward Highway.  It seemed amazing that the only way to drive from Richmond to Fancy, barely five miles apart, would be to head down to Kingstown and back up the other side – over 50 miles.

But we were not out to break any records, just have a nice day out, and our late lunch time spot was to be one of the most bizarre locations in the whole of the Caribbean – Wallilabou Bay.  We passed through more settlements, the largest being Barrouallie.  I tried not to hark back to work that day but I did notice the new estates of modest houses being built on a hillside on the approaches to the town.  This was similar to Bequia, where old plantation land was being subdivided, but in this case the government were building the houses and renting them out.  Partly an effort to regularise the development of the island, but also to help put life back in to the smaller towns at the northern end of the island and take pressure off Kingstown and its suburbs.