Friday, February 3, 2023

The High Cost of Erosion

By on August 28, 2019

(Juan J. Rodríguez/CB)

Huge Cost to Seaside Development

This is part one of a two-part report.

Sun, sand and saltwater are staples of the Caribbean’s image, which Puerto Rico has embraced. Along with the promotion of these resources came developments, but now the decades of warnings from scientists and other professionals about coastline construction appear to be materializing.

From luxury developments to marginalized communities, construction projects along Puerto Rico’s shorelines are experiencing increased problems with erosion, flooding and other related issues.

Many in the scientific and planning communities are calling for a moratorium on shoreline construction. Responding to these voices and the problems encountered in the aftermath of hurricanes Irma and Maria, Sen. Juan Dalmau (PIP-at large) introduced Senate Bill 1122 to establish a 20-year moratorium on shoreline construction.

The science

Planner and environmental scientist Luis Jorge Rivera Herrera explained that “[climate change] is a determinant factor, but what has worsened or deepened the situation is that throughout the various government administrations, they have allowed construction close to the [island’s] littoral, or nearshore, knowing that the littoral and the coasts have dynamic extensions.”

Rivera Herrera, who won the Goldman Environmental prize, explained that waves need room to dissipate their energy, but when a wave hits a hard surface, such as a concrete wall, it returns to the sea with a lot of strength, which in turn does not allow the sand to settle on the sea floor. This causes the loss of beach or erosion.

Addressing the argument that the current beach reduction is part of a cycle, the oceanographic geologist and professor at University of Puerto Rico’s Graduate School of Planning, Maritza Barreto Orta, explained that while there is a cycle in which the shoreline recedes and then expands, the effects on the beaches in such areas as Ocean Park [Santurce, San Juan] are beyond what would be considered a cycle.

“Beyond the cycles, or the periodicity of the cycles, the reality is that the beaches have changed,” said Barreto Orta, who is also director of Red de Playas para Puerto Rico y el Caribe (Puerto Rico & Caribbean Beach Network). Barreto Orta gave her remarks during a site visit to Ocean Park for SB 1122. She was accompanied by climatologist Rafael Méndez Tejeda, who echoed Barreto’s assessment and suggested that during the next season of shoreline expansion, people should not expect as much sand coming back as in previous years.

Geologist & UPR Prof. José Molinelli Freytes said there needs to be a “multi-hazard” approach to the problem because it is not just a loss of beachfront from erosion or an increased sea level. The scientist explained that shoreline properties are exposed to flooding, salinization of the soil, amplification of seismic waves, storm surges, tsunamis and liquefaction of the terrain in an earthquake.

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