Last-Chance Beaches: Morocco

Morocco Beach Sand Mining

By Peter J. Frank

You’d think that a desert country like Morocco would have enough sand for everyone.

But at least a few parties feel the need to steal sand from Morocco’s Atlantic beaches. Yes, steal it, by literally bulldozing dunes, trucking the sand away to make cement, and leaving behind ugly lunar landscapes.

Coastal Care, a U.S.–based environmental organization that advocates for the world’s beaches, has found destructive sand mining operations in over 30 countries, as far afield as Cambodia, Jamaica, and Australia. But its co-founder, Olaf Guerrand-Hermès, believes that the situation is worst in Morocco, where hundreds of miles have been mined for decades, particularly along the stretch of Atlantic coast between Tangier and Casablanca.

Outside the small seaside towns of Larache and Kenitra, for instance, dunes have been completely bulldozed. According to Guerrand-Hermès, the sand-mining business is run by a syndicate second in size only to Morocco’s drug mafia. The Moroccan government has designated Larache as a target for major resort development, but the large-scale removal of sand makes the beaches unsuitable for tourism. It also ruins turtle and seabird nesting areas and exacerbates erosion problems by removing nature’s defenses against storms.

If you go: The northern Moroccan coast, a stretch Budget Travel has called the “next French Riviera”, is still being discovered by visitors. Asilah is known for its restored whitewashed walls and narrow streets; less-polished Larache has a bustling medina and still-intact beaches. Stay at the Hotel Al-Khaima, just outside Asilah and directly across from a gorgeous stretch of sand.

Original Article

La Faute-sur-Mer and l’Aiguillon-sur-Mer beaches, Vendée, France; By Claire Le Guern

La Faute-sur-Mer

The Memory of Risks

By Claire Le Guern

The very last day of February 2010.

It is 4:00 am. Howling winds, whipping rains, infuriated seas, and eight meter high (26 feet) crashing waves, are muffling the desperate cries for help…4:00 am… Twenty nine human lives are being swept away, drowned in the frigid and salty ocean waters. They were in their sleep, in their beds, in the comfort of their home. They did not understand, they could not react, most of them too old, too frail, or much too little to run for safety and climb on the rooftops, like most of the survivors did. That very night, hundreds of survivors were trapped for hours, trembling with fear and piercing cold, in agony, and battered by rain and incomprehension. Only lit by the full moon, in the darkest night of their life, all were waiting for the emergency crews and help to arrive.

Modern mankind appears to be the only species on Earth whose propensity is to migrate its habitat counter-intuitively, solely ruled by will, preference, and or greed, against Nature’s evolution.
—Claire

These are horrifying facts, eventually, yet tragically surpassed by an intolerable truth. The potentiality of such a disaster was well foreseen, and highly expected to occur. And it did, in France, one of the most developed and industrialized countries in the world, in the southwestern coastal towns of La Faute-sur-Mer and neighboring l’Aiguillon-sur-Mer. 

When daylight unveiled the disaster, Prime Minister François Fillon held an emergency cabinet meeting and afterward called the storm a “national catastrophe.” French President Nicolas Sarkhozy, declared: “We have to find out how families in France in the 21st-century can be surprised in their sleep and drowned in their own houses.” Mr. Sarkozy added, “We have to shed light as urgently as possible on this unacceptable and incomprehensible tragedy.”

As much as this tragedy is utterly unacceptable, it is all too comprehensible and sadly, previously announced by warnings from many scientists, locals, and even more relevantly by an official 2008 report from the Vendée Equipment Department, DDE. The risks of marine submersion were known to the Vendée DDE, which strongly addressed and questioned coastal safety, citing in particular the fragile sea walls in L’Aiguillon-sur-Mer and La Faute-sur-Mer, as well as their existing location and development in flood-prone areas. “There is no doubt about the vulnerability of the Vendée coast to marine submersion”.

La Faute-sur-Mer and l’Aiguillon-sur-Mer beaches are the most southerly beaches on the Vendée Atlantic coast. Blue flagged for cleanliness, gently sloping with fine golden sand, these beaches attract a myriad of visitors from around the world, each summer.

On the Atlantic side, 8 kilometers of fine sand beach and dunes pass by the town of La Faute-sur-Mer, located on a 10 kilometer long and 2 kilometer wide Peninsula, with the Atlantic Ocean on one side, then onward the Pointe D’Arcay. On the other side, there is an estuary and the Lay Bay with the Lay River. In front, lays l’Aiguillon-sur-Mer, the neighboring town. La Faute-sur-Mer fragile environment of sand dunes is stabilized by 200 hectares of pine forest and Holm Oak (evergreen Oak) which were planted nearly 150 years ago. This forest domain is continued by the Reserve Ornithologique of la Pointe d’Arcay.The Beach in the town of l’Aiguillon-sur-Mer is based around two man made lakes and has been developed with families in mind.

These coastal communities, however, have been built on areas that used to be swamps. The towns are 2 to 2.5 meters below sea level, on a polder, in other words, in a bowl. A 5 kilometers sea wall, the “Digue du Géni”, was built in 1860 at l’Aiguillon, and originally meant to protect the land for agricultural purposes. As for la Faute-sur-Mer, a sea wall was built in 1929.

L’Aiguillon-sur-Mer is the French capital of the mussel industry with over 20 percent of the nations production being cultivated in the estuary of the River Lay and the Anse de l’Aiguillon. The main attractions of the coastal towns besides the beaches are the Nature Reserve, and the off shore mussel farms.

Not anymore.

In the early hours of February 28th 2010, a well-forecasted storm named Xynthia swept through France with powerful winds of 160km/h 90 miles, leaving a trail of devastation, and 53 victims. About half the French death toll was attributed to marine submersion and breach of the dilapidated and too low sea walls of La Faute-sur-Mer and l’Aiguillon-sur-Mer, allowing waves and sea waters to flood the villages, trapping people in their homes.

Brice Hortefeux, France Interior Minister, declared, “What happened in Vendée, was an exceptional combination of facts.” Corroborating observers such as, P.Bouteloup, a physicist who specializes in tides, or Eric Mas, director of Météo Consult, said that a chain of events was to blame as well as “extraordinary coincidences”: unusually strong winds, enormous waves and, above all, very low atmospheric pressure drawing the sea level even higher, (on that full-moon night, the tide measured 105 to 108 on a scale of 20 to 120) creating a potentially fatal combination for these communities located on the Atlantic coast.

Unfortunately, in light of what was previously known by the DDE, even though not ordinary, these events were obviously far from being just and simply coincidental, and actually followed an all too announced plausible, and furthermore, predicted scenario.

France has up to 9,000 kilometers (6,200 miles) of sea walls, with some of them built in the 17th century, according to Secretary of State for Ecology, Chantal Jouanno. More relevantly, about one tenth of them, 1,000 kilometers (620 miles), “can be considered a risk”. The European Center for Flood prevention, estimates that of the 9,000 kilometers of sea walls, at least 3,600 kilometers have no existing or identifiable owners, thus no responsible entity to maintain, rebuild or repair the dilapidated or inadequate sea walls.

 “The sea wall that broke dates back to the Napoleon era. Either we build (new) sea walls, in which case they need to be taller, or we have to build further inland,” said Philippe de Villiers, President of the General Council of Vendée.

When sea walls or levees are needed, it is obviously to “protect” a land naturally flood-prone. And indeed, how strong can a sea wall possibly be in comparison with the unfathomable power of angry waves? How high can sea walls possibly be? Scientists are warning us that, due to climate change and rising seas, storms are expected to be stronger, fiercer and more frequent than ever before. The France Nature Environment group says the recent tragedy should serve as a “shock treatment” to the nation. The group added, “By 2100, global warming will cause sea waters to rise by one meter, allowing a small storm to do the same damage as powerful Xynthia did.”

A “Plan Digue” (a Sea Wall Project) has been ordered by the Government to be completed within the next two months. Financing and responsibilities are to be reassigned and already the pre-plan opens doors to polemics, in term of responsibility, financing, costs of repair and construction, as well as to fundamental debates.

Sea walls are currently owned by eclectical entities: towns, syndicates, even individuals. The State is not much involved in ownership (1,000 kilometers of levees, mostly on La Loire river). Furthermore, most of the sea walls and levees are owned by entities that do not have the necessary financial power to maintain them. According to Anne-Marie Levraut, director of natural and water risks, Ministry of Ecology, most often the existing sea walls were built to allow farming, then population rose but the response did not rise to the new situation.

The Plan Digue is expected to contain a five-year financing project; 1 million euros per kilometer is the estimated investment on building and repair of the French sea walls. However, a fundamental debate is needed as per the sea wall’s relevance as acceptable defense in itself, specifically when comparing to the Netherlands’ levees never-ending reviews to see whether standards should be raised in light of various threats. In 2008, the Netherlands announced more than 100 billion euros (then $140 billion) in new spending through the year 2100 to prepare for the effects of global warming.

As much as the sea walls were a large part of the problem, solutions should not be built up solely on such a questionable base. Squandering taxpayers money and more catastrophes are to be feared.

As l’Aiguillon mayor, Maurice Milcent, said “The breach in our sea wall, that was not the problem! The waters just rose at once, overflowing our communities, built on swamps, on a flood-prone area. The problem has been known since Napoleon’s era ” and added, “According to our regional construction codes, houses had to be “fishermen style.” Tragically indeed, at L’Aiguillon and La Faute-sur-Mer, most of the houses located right on the shorelines, were one story homes, to conform with local plans and legislation forbidding two story houses. This explains in part why so many drowned, unable to escape to higher levels.

The 2008 DDE report, preceded by published studies as early as 1999 and 2001, clearly stated that Aiguillon and La Faute-sur-Mer have been built: “On flood-prone areas, on soil temporarily won from the sea, without taking into account the “memory of risks”. That is where the problem resides and the solution rests! Unbridled urbanization on risk-prone areas along beloved, yet, hazardous coastlines.

The storm has definitely exposed major flaws in a well-developed western country’s housing planning.

Flooding is the number one natural risk in France. One out of three communities are potentially threatened, i.e. 5,1 million French people.

The last fifty years, the rate of urbanization of coastal and flood prone areas has dangerously increased. La Vendée, as most other coastal regions, has experienced an increase in popularity, attracting a population of more than 80,000 in the past decade, generating the construction of new houses perilously close to the country’s poorly protected shoreline. Many retired citizen flock to the western coast for its clement climate and more affordable lands.

As most industrialized and developed countries, France has adopted environmental laws addressing risks factors and management in determined areas. The Littoral Law of 1986 forbids construction at less than 100 meters from shoreline for buildings, and 2 kilometers for roads. Yet exemptions could too easily be obtained. A 1995 law, Major Risks Prevention Plan law, (La Loi Barnier du 2 Février 1995) was adopted, completing a 1982 law. It defines risk zones from white, to blue (dark blue and light blue) and red, and regulates construction interdiction levels from strict to permissible with specific requirements (regarding architecture and material used). The law was meant to install a flexible approach that would easily adopt to the needs of local and regional authorities. Under pressure, local executives, Mayors and General Council Presidents, continue to deliver construction permits, reluctant to recognize and comply with zoning. Since 2007, the French Government has had authority to intervene by expropriating any construction should a clear and present danger exist.

The Secretary of State for Ecology reported that 860 communities are below sea level in risky areas, but only 46 have Risk Prevention Plans defining zones where building is permitted, calling that “very insufficient”. To date, only 7600 Risk Prevention Plans have been approved. Since 1999, 100 000 homes have been approved to be built in coastal zones, known to be flood-prone.

“Each time a house is built, it’s money for the community,” said Léon Gendre, the mayor of La Flotte-en-Ré, an ancient town on the Ile de Ré, impacted by the flood as well. “Money is running all this.”

Chantal Jouano added, “We have to tighten up the rules regarding construction in flood-prone zones and behind sea walls, regardless of pressures.” President Sarkhozy declared that, “A reflexion must happen on urbanism. We cannot be lenient with safety.”

Before this very catastrophe, were all the cards not already on the table?

Under mounting scientific and environmentalist awareness and reports, as well as occurrences of announced and preventable disasters worldwide, concepts such as “the territorial intelligence” (see link) are developed. While opening necessary concerted actions between politicians, scientists, environmentalists and the people as a whole, implementation of knowledge to practical, sustainable and safer territorial development is promoted.

The point of all discussions should remain focused on stopping unbridled urbanization and preventing avoidable deaths and the gushing influx of taxpayers money by replicating past mistakes or investing in palliative, political and unadapted quick-fix solutions.

Modern mankind appears to be the only species on Earth whose propensity is to migrate its habitat counter-intuitively, solely ruled by will, preference, and or greed, against Nature’s evolution. Attempts to control disharmoniously the ultimately uncontrollable forces of Nature bear too costly a price for us, and future generations.

“We must be reasonable, and build further inland.” said Philippe de Villiers. We must be courageous as well, and seek implementation. In a speech to the victims, on March 16th, President Nicolas Sarkhozy declared he would ensure that, “All lessons were learned from this disaster, and would request local authorities to prevent zones devastated from being reoccupied.” To date, 30 construction permits recently granted in La Faute-sur-Mer and l’Aiguillon flood-prone areas, have been revoked.

Today, the memory of the tragedy is vivid and raw, as France is grieving and solutions are sought. In less than two months, the official report will be released, sadly titled “Plan Digues”… Will the “Memory of Risks” prevail?

“The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over expecting different results.” -Benjamin Franklin.

May cease the insanity, as the Seas are rising… ineluctably.


Latest Developments:

Xynthia Deadly Storm: The Trial Opens
Four years after a deadly storm devastated part of France west coast, killing 29 people in La Faute sur Mer town, the trial opens. Four elected officials and a real estate agent are indicted for aggravated manslaughter…

Le maire de la Faute-sur-mer René Marratier placé en garde à vue, Le Figaro, April 13th 2011
Les investigations sont menées dans le cadre d’une information judiciaire ouverte aux Sables d’Olonne pour “homicide involontaire”, “mise en danger de la vie d’autrui”, “abstention de combattre un sinistre” et “prise illégale d’intérêt.”

Xynthia : a Year Later, in Coastal Care

Xynthia : les chiffres de la tempête, un an après, Le Figaro

500 million Euros Plan to Strengthen Levees in France

1500 Homes are ordered to be destroyed, Euronews

1500 Maisons à détruire, Le Figaro

Baldwin Beach, Hawaii; By Richard Renaldi

Baldwin Beach, Hawaii

By © Richard Renaldi

“What makes Baldwin Beach so special is not only the breathtaking views and sunset but also the locals that hang out there. It is not a flashy tourist destination but rather a small community beach. Many of the kids show up after school to surf, skateboard, smoke pot, flirt, and relax. It is this local flavor combined with the majestic Pacific that makes Baldwin Beach one of my favorites in Hawaii.”
—Richard Renadi

Disputed isle in Bay of Bengal

disappearing island

By NIRMALA GEORGE, Associated Press Writer

NEW DELHI – For nearly 30 years, India and Bangladesh have argued over control of a tiny rock island in the Bay of Bengal. Now rising sea levels have resolved the dispute for them: the island’s gone.

New Moore Island in the Sunderbans has been completely submerged, said oceanographer Sugata Hazra, a professor at Jadavpur University in Calcutta. Its disappearance has been confirmed by satellite imagery and sea patrols, he said.

“What these two countries could not achieve from years of talking, has been resolved by global warming,” said Hazra.

Scientists at the School of Oceanographic Studies at the university have noted an alarming increase in the rate at which sea levels have risen over the past decade in the Bay of Bengal.

Until 2000, the sea levels rose about 3 millimeters (0.12 inches) a year, but over the last decade they have been rising about 5 millimeters (0.2 inches) annually, he said.

Another nearby island, Lohachara, was submerged in 1996, forcing its inhabitants to move to the mainland, while almost half the land of Ghoramara island was underwater, he said. At least 10 other islands in the area were at risk as well, Hazra said.

“We will have ever larger numbers of people displaced from the Sunderbans as more island areas come under water,” he said.

Bangladesh, a low-lying delta nation of 150 million people, is one of the countries worst-affected by global warming. Officials estimate 18 percent of Bangladesh’s coastal area will be underwater and 20 million people will be displaced if sea levels rise 1 meter (3.3 feet) by 2050 as projected by some climate models.

India and Bangladesh both claimed the empty New Moore Island, which is about 3.5 kilometers (2 miles) long and 3 kilometers (1.5 miles) wide. Bangladesh referred to the island as South Talpatti.

There were no permanent structures on New Moore, but India sent some paramilitary soldiers to its rocky shores in 1981 to hoist its national flag.

The demarcation of the maritime boundary — and who controls the remaining islands — remains an open issue between the two South Asian neighbors, despite the disappearance of New Moore, said an official in India’s foreign ministry, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak on international disputes.

Bangladesh officials were not available for comment Wednesday.

Original article

The black marketeers stealing Indonesia’s islands by the boat-load

indonesia
Indonesia. Photograph: © SAF — Coastal Care

Excerpts;

With more than 17,000 islands — from the jungly immensities of Borneo and Sumatra to unnamed rocks jutting out of the sea — you might think that Indonesia would not mind if a few of them went missing. But the South-East Asian nation is fighting a losing battle against black marketeers who are, literally, making off with its territory by the boat-load…

Since 2005 at least 24 small islands have disappeared as a result of erosion caused by sand mining…

Read Full Article, World Ressources Center, (03-23-2010)

Global Sand Mining: Learn More, Coastal Care

Use of Hardened Beach Structures to Slow Erosion

Use of Hardened Beach Structures
Large concrete jacks used to stabilize beach in Japan. Photo: Program for the Study of Developed Shorelines

Topic: Use of hardened beach structures to slow erosion.

While the use of hardened beach structures are debated, there is little debate over what they do beaches over time. Hardened beach structures disrupt the natural movement of sand up and down a beach and in the case of sea walls and sand bags, eliminate the beach altogether.

Question: Should hardened beach structures be allowed on public beaches? Should their use be limited? How?

North Carolina’s Legislation on Hardened Structures Reconsidered

North Carolina Legislation

By Santa Aguila Foundation

North Carolina law has prohibited hardened structures on its beaches and inlets for more than two decades. A handful of private beachfront homeowners are attempting to undo the ban that has set a national example and protected these public beaches.

This documentary in The Beaches of The World series was made possible thanks to the generous contribution of Glenna Patton.

Join our campaign to support the ban on hardened beach structures.

The mission of the Santa Aguila Foundation is to raise awareness of and mobilize people against the ongoing decimation of coastlines around the world.

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