Climate change gnaws at coastal Trinidad

ClimatePORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad – As world leaders discuss climate change in Paris, Trinidadians recall that an unusually heavy rainfall battered Trinidad’s east coast a year ago, overwhelming a lagoon and flooding a major access road to the island’s south-eastern communities.
As the flood waters poured over Manzanilla beach, they washed sand away, caved in sections of road and collapsed a seawall at a tourist beach facility. Further damages were also incurred with the flooding of homes and agricultural plots.
The coastline of Trinidad remains under threat as seas rise, storms grow heavier and as sand is washed away. As iconic coconut trees are lapped by an encroaching sea, some of the dangers of climate change are becoming clearer.
Seas in the region have been rising by more than 2 millimetres every year, though scientists are still trying to pinpoint the role of climate change in accelerating local beach erosion.
“On Manzanilla beach the sea is definitely getting closer to the land but the primary reason may not be land deformation or sea level rise,” said Keith Miller, a senior lecturer and researcher at the University of West Indies.
“The Atlantic swell causes longshore drift and beach sediments move southward,” Miller said. “Research has been done to suggest that the sediment source has dried up to some extent, so material is being moved along the beach but there is less material available to replace it.”
In addition to the problems on the east coast, Trinidad’s south-western peninsula is experiencing rapid erosion. Despite being sheltered from the open ocean, satellite images have shown large portions of it being lost to the Gulf of Paria.
Rising seas caused by rising temperatures, coupled with projected increases in the intensity and frequency of storms and hurricanes, which also affect wave energy, are expected to accelerate coastal erosion. Such effects are of grave concern for small island developing states (SIDS).
Developed countries have pledged to begin providing $100 billion a year through the UN to help developing countries slow and adapt to climate change by 2020.
Meanwhile, the hastily built seawall, boardwalk and main road on the Manzanilla beach will again have to stand the test of the Atlantic and the effects of climate change. Only time will tell if feats of engineering can withstand the changing environment, or if the island of Trinidad will be left to slowly erode into rising seas.