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Mayreau residents fight Salt Whistle Bay erosion with Conch shells

Mayreau residents fight Salt Whistle Bay erosion with Conch shells
Residents of Mayreau transporting conch shells that they found from places like Saline Bay, and delivering them to Salt Whistle Bay. Inset is Munro Forde.


by Katherine Renton

The residents of Mayreau have taken action to provide a temporary reinforcement, using conch shells, for the strip of the idyllic Salt Whistle Bay that is close to being completely eroded away.

Mayreau residents fight Salt Whistle Bay erosion with Conch shells
One of the residents involved in the Save Our Whistle Bay venture that began last weekend, adds more conch shells to reinforce the area of erosion threatening Salt Whistle Bay.

Munro Forde, a resident of Mayreau for much of his life, who owns and operates businesses on the Grenadine island, spoke with SEARCHLIGHT yesterday about the “Save Our Salt Whistle” venture that began its first phase on Saturday, May 23.

Forde is helping to spearhead this effort to protect the bay, which he assures “is considered to be one of the best beaches in the Caribbean.”

It is a matter of urgency that something be done, Forde noted.

Over the past years the danger to the Bay has been growing. While Salt Whistle takes on a crescent shape following the line of the island of Mayreau, at one point in this crescent, there is a narrow strip of land that connects two larger pieces of land.

On either side of this narrow strip is ocean. On one side the waves of the Atlantic break, and on the other side is the calm, protected side known as Salt Whistle Bay.

The risk is that the strip will completely erode, and be taken by the sea, destroying Salt Whistle Bay.

“…It’s at a position now where it only takes a major swell or a major storm, I think a hurricane is going to be too much for it…,” Forde contemplated.

Videos have been shared across social media platforms of the coconut trees that have fallen on the narrow strip in recent times.

“We checked…more or less, it’s between seven and twelve footsteps, depends on the size of the foot of the person that’s measuring it, from one side to the other side,” the Mayreau resident disclosed.

It’s not just about protecting and preserving the beach, he reveals but, “…We have so many activities going on down there in terms of persons from Mayreau doing their little business down there in order to maintain their livelihood,” Forde commented, citing the beach bars, and boat operators.

Mayreau residents fight Salt Whistle Bay erosion with Conch shells
A photo posted by Sally Erdle, the Editor of the Caribbean Compass (above) said to be taken around the year 1975, as compared to a recent photo (below) of the strip of land separating Salt Whistle Bay from the rougher Atlantic.

He estimated that 80 per cent of Mayreau residents “gain meaningful employment just by operating down there.”

They are also worried that if the Atlantic Ocean waves breach the Bay the boats will be forced to move from there because the beach will be in danger.

“It has a lot more to do with trying to sustain a livelihood for the people of Mayreau because of the meaningful employment that is being generated there,” he reiterated, and noted that the main sectors for Mayreau are tourism and fishing.

Forde said that residents are depending on the Government to help them out, because what they’re doing is only a temporary fix.

The problem of the erosion around Salt Whistle Bay has been known for quite some time, and the Government has previously indicated that it was looking for ways to resolve the issue. In September 2019, Minister of Finance and Sustainable Development, Camillo Gonsalves visited the Grenadine island with engineer Dimitri Samuel to examine the problem.

At that time, the engineer had suggested the use of an abundance of conch shells to create a natural barrier and support the coral reef on the Atlantic side.

The “Save Our Salt Whistle” operation that took place over the weekend was approximately 30 members strong, says Forde, and these persons used whatever conch shells could be found on the island to fill the area that had been eaten away by the ocean.

However, they didn’t have a vast amount of conch shells because Mayreau residents don’t dive for the species at the same level as those on Union Island and Canouan.

Therefore, when they resume efforts this weekend the plan is to source the shells from their neighbours.

“We’re trying to get the owners of the various speed boats on the island to go over to Union Island on Saturday morning,” Forde explained. The operation is taking a week’s break because many of the residents are preoccupied with fishing and sea moss harvesting during the week.

“We don’t have the tools, we don’t have the equipment, we don’t have the boat that is suitable to take the big boulders. So we are using what we can afford to use to do that process,” the Mayreau resident revealed, in commenting on the use of the conch shells.

However, as the need to journey to their Grenadines neighbours has arisen, the group is in need of financial assistance for fuel for the boats.

The organizers would also like to acquire face masks and refreshments for those taking part, explained Forde, who can be contacted through Facebook by searching “Oshea Ford” or calling the phone number 433-2314.

“We’re at a point now where we really need to act, and act urgently in order to save that beach and we’re really hoping and we’re calling and we’re praying that the Government at some point in time would …can play their part,” Forde said.