Recently, a letter writer complained about the unpleasant experience of being at the sea when a heavy downpour of rain was quickly followed by a deluge of debris and dirty water encircling the area in which her family was bathing.
Her concern was the speed at which the water turned from its inviting colour to a murky brown that suggested it might have been no longer healthy to remain in the water.
While this letter writer was operating from Browne’s Beach, where the dirty water came from a storm water drain that remains dry most of the year, the issue of beaches being periodically unfit for human habitation arises more frequently at other beaches where ponds or water courses that never go dry periodically empty onto the coast.
Prominent examples of this would be the Salt Pond in Speightstown, St. Peter, the Holetown Lagoon in St. James and the Greame Hall Swamp in Christ Church. These three are also easy to identify because of their proximity to some of the island’s most popular beaches.
The question for persons who complain about the beaches not being inviting when Mother Nature forces these “ponds” to empty their contents into the sea, is whether they are not expressing displeasure with the natural course of things. Whatever alterations may have been made by man to assist this flow, we cannot deny that long before it became the norm to kick back at the beach for an hour or two, these water courses were dumping their contents into the sea. Perhaps the major difference is that there was a time when the contents did not include oil and other chemicals, plastic bags and cups, and of course the ubiquitous Styrofoam container.
Surely we would not be all so bothered if the brown colour was only the dirt from agricultural land. Sadly though, that is not the case and when we draw conclusions about the health of the water, it is often because we don’t know the extent of the toxic contents of what has been washed into the sea.
Given their size and the extent of development that has occurred around them, it surely will not be long before someone advances a strong argument from the Salt Pond and Holetown Lagoon to be permanently drained. In fact, in the case of Holetown, the volume of silt and boulders that have washed into the lagoon in recent years have literally turned it into a pond of such shallow depth that a prolonged drought today could cause it to cease to exist.
Greame Hall Swamp, however, remains alive and therefore will continue for a long time to periodically empty onto the sand at Christ Church. So what will we do, just leave people to complain from time to time?
We would suggest that since a growing number of Barbadians and tourists now show significant interest in preserving the natural environment, a network of attractive educational signs explaining the natural ebb and flow of these outlets, and even established structures that invite them to see these ecosystems at work could change complaining to appreciation.
What might be significantly more difficult to achieve is convincing Barbadians not to drop their garbage everywhere, which is really the reason our drains cough up such nastiness after heavy rainfall. We can’t blame Mother Nature for that, unless of course we consider our own dirty habits as natural occurrences.
All over the world water flows from inland to the coast; and in Barbados water will continue to run from the gullies in higher elevations toward our beach lands. That’s natural and we need to appreciate this. Dumping every possible item into water courses and then complaining when they end up where you like to swim is, in a word, stupid!