That Sinking Feeling
- October 31st, 2011
- in Yachting
That Sinking Feeling
The flat island of Anegada is selfish when it comes to its sandy terrain and bountiful beachfronts, which rest cautiously on its deep coral base. Without much warning, it takes what it naturally desires and gives back what it no longer needs. The ebb and flow of nature remain strong on the popular sailing destination that bears the reputation as the "sunken island." The original proprietor of the Anegada Seaside Villas on the island's west end came face-to-face with Anegada's unforgiving natural tendencies when his seven beachfront cottages began to slowly slip into the sea. Recently, after a beating from Hurricane Earl and a fast-eroding coastline, four of the villas submerged when the receding beachfront crept into the sea–one cottage literally collapsed. The villas remained in a temporary state of hopeless disrepair until the land was sold and a plan was hatched to do the seemingly impossible: reclaim the beach and take back the villas.
The scene is shocking to those who remember staying in the villas when they were in their prime, like Colin Rathbun, who was married on Anegada in 2008. On a sweltering morning this August, Colin set out to Anegada on his 24-foot fishing boat to revisit the island of his nuptials. As he approached the western coastline, he was stunned by what he saw.
"There's the cottage where Brynley and I stayed after our wedding," he exclaimed as he pointed to the collapsed boutique cottage, with one of its four walls missing. Its interior faced the boat like an exposed dollhouse. "Sure wouldn't want to stay there now," he quipped.
He idled around the island's coast to reveal a project of unbelievable magnitude. Hundreds of sandbags jetted out from beach to create three long offshore groins. The geo bags–or sandbags–seemed to be working to corral the converging sand to effectively rebuild the beach. In the distance, workers from Commercial Dive Services filled even more geo bags under the hot tropical sun, then trudged them in line with the others. As they worked, they fought submerging currents at a point where strong northern swells meet against opposing currents. The testing work looked like a scene from the Discovery Channel show Dirty Jobs.
I later spoke with Commercial Dive manager Chris Juredin, who explained just how challenging the project really is.
"The hardest part for us is working with the north swells, which come in at four to seven knots with river-like current," he said. "That's the same current that is responsible for stealing the rest of the beach."
CDS was contracted in November 2010, after Hurricane Earl dealt a devastating blow to the property. Shortly after, three ambitious proprietors stepped in to purchase the land and face the daunting task of repairing the beach. They called upon Chris and his crew who have previously worked on projects to reclaim beaches, like at Eustatia Island's eastern beachfront. There, the beach had similarly been depleted by erosion but did not face the additional challenge from converging currents like at Anegada's western point. In Eustatia's case, the coast regenerated its beach by a similar use of sandbags and groins.
"But here the guys are fighting against longshore drifts that rip at the western point, meeting with energy from the opposing current," the CDS manager explained. "It basically chewed off the beach. And now it's back-breaking work."
A site visit last month revealed that the beach indeed was regenerating itself, with the help of the breaks, and the cottages seemed to be reclaiming their foundation on the beach. The amazing recovery efforts, Chris said, would likely not deprive neighbouring beaches of their sand, due to the unique method of collection at a converging point. Although the proprietors and the CDS team have worked closely with environmental engineers locally and from the States, Chris admits that the project has gained "a lot of skepticism from the start."
Local marine biologist Shannon Gore, who surveyed the project with the Conservation and Fisheries Department, is one such person who has her reservations. She explained that the island slowly has shifted its coastline over the past 150 years, causing much of the erosion the western point is now facing. As time goes on, she hypothesized, these forces will continue to create a problem for those with property near these affected coastlines.
"This side of the island is morphologically adjusting to environmental conditions, and despite future sea level rise, it has a chance to adjust by shifting sand in a counterclockwise motion," she explained, adding that the sandbag barriers could eventually act to "starve" the southeast beachfront–a process that could take decades to notice.
But today, the current proprietors and the beachfront restoration project manager remain hopeful that the existing properties will flourish for years to come. Chris believes that the existing sandbags will hold strong, keeping the beach rejuvenated without maintenance for up to 15 years. In the meantime, they'll cross their fingers and hope that Anegada doesn't live up to its reputation as a "sunken island."