The Case of the Disappearing Shoreline: What Happened to Jamaica’s Hellshire Beach?

Top, Hellshire Beach, January 2009, taken by Kamilah Taylor. Bottom, Hellshire Beach, January 2016, taken by Gabrielle Taylor. Both photos taken at Prendy’s.

“Hellshire is changed, all the beach is gone.”

So said one of my friends in passing, also back home for the holidays. I didn’t quite understand what they meant. So I gathered some of my family and friends and we set off for a Saturday outing.

As we drove, it started to occur to us that the ocean did seem a little closer. The real shock occurred when we stepped into one of the fish vendor shops.

Shock at the ocean actually being at our feet. January 2016, taken by Kamilah Taylor.

If you needed another reminder of what it looked like.

Hellshire Beach, January 2009, taken by Kamilah Taylor.

I like to keep on top of Jamaican news, and especially Jamaican environmental news. We have a lot of issues in this department. Just last year, Riverton Dump, burned for more than 8 days. No visible progress seems to be happening with the hotels agreeing with NEPA on how to save the Negril coastline. We’ve allowed foreign companies to come in and repeatedly build hotels not just on the beach but on other environmentally vulnerable locations.

But back to the Hellshire Beach shoreline.

Like any good scientist/engineer, when I got back I started to do a little bit of research. I wish I could say I was shocked when I found this article from 2011, “Hellshire Beach threatened, LIME funds study to identify solutions”, but alas, I was not. Back then, a study was commissioned to be carried out by a local coastal engineering firm Smith Warner, and “the first phase of the study will include extensive data gathering on the biological environment and the use of computer models to undertake preliminary engineering analyses.” Jamel Banton, director at Smith Warner, warned that “if the existing attrition is not reduced, the shoreline is expected to retreat further inland, thereby lessening the viability of the popular beach area for recreational and commercial activities.”

Top, Hellshire Beach, January 2009, taken by Kamilah Taylor. Bottom, Hellshire Beach, January 2016, taken by Kamilah Taylor. Both photos taken at Prendy’s.

I’d say he was correct. So what happened to this study?

After some digging, I found an article in the Gleaner in July 2015 that talks about the continued erosion and the study that was commissioned. Even then, you can see that there’s a little more beach left. The study “found that there is a way to curtail the tempestuous waters, but they would need more than US$1.5 million (J$176 million) to stop the erosion.” The Half Moon Bay’s Fishermen Cooperative represents many of the vendors at Hellshire. They are now “working with the Jamaica Business Development Corporation to write grant proposals and solicit financiers.”

But what happened between 2011 and 2016? Why were they just getting around to writing grant proposals in the summer of 2015? Why has the rate of erosion increased between May and October of 2015? If there is opposition to solving this with a similar breakwaters project to the one proposed in Negril, where is the media’s unbiased and detailed coverage of the pros/cons and alternate solutions? Isn’t it too late to implement such a solution in Hellshire, given how much the shoreline has already eroded? How much of this is also due to rising sea levels and the construction of buildings on the beach? I’ve noticed that there is much more coverage of Negril’s erosion than there is of Hellshire’s — I sincerely hope this is not because Hellshire is mostly a local’s beach and Negril is a tourist beach — or that a different class of people will be affected by the impending loss of income.

And above all, where is the public outcry? Why are we okay with our country’s natural resources being destroyed one by one? Today it is Hellshire. Tomorrow it will be Negril.

01/13/15 Addendum: I’m beyond thrilled at the response this article has received. It didn’t even occur to me that this article would get such a huge response. To date, it’s had 30,000 views — absolutely incredible. We need to raise awareness that climate change is not this abstract thing that will affect our children. It’s happening now, and those of us on islands are especially vulnerable. If I had one wish, it would be that after reading this article, you take some action — contact your MP, question if we should still be eating parrot fish, press the co-op to move the shops further back from the shore, get some more coverage of this in mainstream media. We must do something, and the time is now.

Further reading:




Jamaican. Senior Software Engineer @Linkedin. Math + Physics + Harry Potter + Star Trek + Doctor Who + Disney Geek. Music Lover. #WomenInTech book coauthor.

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kamilah taylor

kamilah taylor

Jamaican. Senior Software Engineer @Linkedin. Math + Physics + Harry Potter + Star Trek + Doctor Who + Disney Geek. Music Lover. #WomenInTech book coauthor.

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