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What is left of Hellshire beach. Photo: Isak Okkenhaug

Jamaicas most famous beach is disappearing

14 days ago
Written by Ole-Morten Algerøy
Sustainability > Jamaicas most famous beach is disappearing

Jamaicas most famous beach is disappearing

14 days agoSustainability
Written by Ole-Morten Algerøy
What is left of Hellshire beach. Photo: Isak Okkenhaug

Climate change is already taking its toll in Jamaica.

An hour’s drive from Port Royal, where Statsraad Lehmkuhl has her berth in Jamaica, is Hellshire beach - or what’s left of the once great and lively recreational area.

– My first memory of a beach is Hellshire. When I think of beaches I think of Hellshire, says Deron Maitland, student at the University of the West Indies in Kingston, Jamaica, and participant in the field course taking place on Statsraad Lehmkuhl.

Deron Maitland Photo: Isak Okkenhaug
Deron Maitland Photo: Isak Okkenhaug

– We used to go to Hellshire when I was a kid to swim, have a picnic and enjoy ourselves. I used to run on the beach and my father used to come running after me, because he knew I wasn’t a strong swimmer.

No more

These days Hellshire isn’t much of a place to go running. Over the course of the last 15 years, 33 meters of the beach has been consumed by the ocean. The erosion is a result of sea level rise and deterioration on the coast line’s natural defence - the coral reefs - caused by rising ocean temperatures and pollution.

Major hurricanes in 2004 and 2007 have also contributed significantly to the erosion.

No more sandy beach. Photo: Isak Okkenhaug
No more sandy beach. Photo: Isak Okkenhaug

Today there isn’t much of a sandy beach left on Hellshire.

The waves are going all the way up onto the restaurants servering local delicacies like lobster, corn and fried fish. Thirty-something people are swimming and enjoying themselves as we visit the beach on a Tuesday afternoon, and frankly, the space wouldn’t fit many more at this point.

Bars and restaurants have been abandoned. Photo: Isak Okkenhaug
Bars and restaurants have been abandoned. Photo: Isak Okkenhaug

Encouraging climate action

We visit the beach together with voyage crew Silje Kjeldsvik. In addition to being the founder and board leader of the About tomorrow foundation, Silje is lecturing at UiB’s field course on board Statsraad Lehmkuhl.

The About tomorrow foundation is a non for profit organization working to mobilize businesses, academic communities and politicians to take climate action.

Silje Kjeldsvik Photo: Isak Okkenhaug
Silje Kjeldsvik Photo: Isak Okkenhaug

– My day off in Jamaica is being spent visiting a beach where we truly can see the consequences of climate change. It is important to document and communicate the changes that are happening, she says.

– I believe showing examples of the changes happening will help getting people onboard in the green transformation.

Her testimony from Hellshire will be shared via the About tomorrow foundation as well as in the curriculum of a coming course in sustainable development at the University of Bergen that Silje is involved with.

– Jamaica accounts for a very little part of the global carbon emissions, but the people living on the island will be significantly affected by the consequences of climate change, comments Kjeldsvik.

Vulnerable to sea level rise

Natalya Gomez, climate scientist and professor of earth and planetary sciences at McGill University in Montreal and lecturer at the field course, explains why the Caribbean island states are particularly vulnerable to sea level rise.

– The processes of sea level change doesn’t affect evenly everywhere. It’s quite a geographic variability. And it turns out that equatorial regions like the caribbean or pacific island states, small island states, end up getting a higher rate of sea level rise, she says.

Natalya Gomez Photo: Ole-Morten Algerøy
Natalya Gomez Photo: Ole-Morten Algerøy

According to Gomez, the geographical variations are results of three significant factors. Ice sheets exert a gravitational effect on the water around it. If you melt the ice sheet and reduce its mass that attraction weakens.

The ice which is melting on Greenland and in Antarktis loses the effect of gravity on the water around it. Hence, the sea level diminishes locally and the landmass is rising, as it is no longer being pushed down.

The water released by the melting ice gives an increased volume in the ocean, however, this is hardly noticeable in the areas in which the ice is actually melting. The rotational force of the planet affects the water which is furthest away from the axis of rotation, around the equator, by pushing it further from the axis, rather than the water which is closer to the axis, in the north and south.

Blue shows where the increase has been greatest.

– So as you move further away from the melting ice sheets you get a greater than average sea level rise. This is why you end up seeing a greater than average sea level rise in the Caribbean sea, Gomez explains.

Be more considerate

She also urges the world to be more considerate about low lying island nations, prone to sea level rise, in the discussion on climate change.

– You’re talking about a global average temperature rise and temperature targets, but in terms of sea level impacts on these island states, the impact is much more severe at 2 degrees of warming than it would be somewhere else in the world. So the difference between 1,5 and 2 degrees celsius for these island states is a really important one. It means lots of livelihoods, land and even the island in general as a habitable place eventually.

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