Ascension : Long Beach Football Pitch – Are Its Days Numbered?
Submitted by The Islander (Ascension Island Government) 24.04.2014 (Article Archived on 19.06.2014)
The recent flooding at Long Beach following heavy seas has posed some immediate challenges in terms of protecting the football field and clearing the track of sand after the water has subsided.
Message from The Administrator and Dr Sam Weber
Long Beach Football Pitch – Are Its Days Numbered?
The recent flooding at Long Beach following heavy seas has posed some immediate challenges in terms of protecting the football field and clearing the track of sand after the water has subsided. However, it also provides an opportunity to reflect on how we should manage this important area in the long term.
Long Beach is an example of a ‘high energy beach’, built by heavy swells or ‘rollers’ which pile sand out of the reach of normal tide and wave action. Consequently, periodic flooding has probably always been a feature of this area. But with global sea levels projected to continue rising at an increasing rate over the coming decades, flooding of the kind we experienced last week is likely to become ever more frequent and severe.
Seawater flooding at Long Beach 2nd April 2014
Because sea level rise happens gradually it is often difficult to perceive or to accept. But the data is unequivocal. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the United Nations body tasked with monitoring the impacts of climate change, global sea levels rose at a rate of 3.2 mm per year between 1993 and 2010 and will have risen a further 0.5 metres by the end of the century. The impacts of this are already being felt on Ascension Island. Data collected by the UK National Oceanography Centre show that sea level on Ascension has risen in line with global trends by about 2.5mm per year since 1993, and by about 7cm since 1955. Even without access to scientific data, some long term Island residents have noted changes to Ascension Island’s coastline and in the frequency of flooding in some areas.
Faced with the realities of sea level rise, governments around the world face difficult decisions about where to intervene to protect coastal land use and where to let nature take its course. In response to increasingly severe winter flooding, the UK Environment Agency recently took the decision not to replace coastal defences in some areas and to deliberately breach defences in others allowing the sea to claim the land. Ascension Island will have similar decisions to make, particularly around areas of human habitation and land use like Long Beach.
Long Beach is of international importance for wildlife, providing nesting habitat for more than a quarter of the green turtles in the southern Atlantic Ocean. It is also an important recreational area for Island residents, hosting one of the Island’s full sized football pitches, and provides vehicle access from Georgetown to Comfortless Cove. These different functions have coexisted for many years, but are likely to come increasingly into conflict as the coastline changes. Beginning in September this year, AIG is jointly supervising a 3 year PhD project that will use 3-dimensional modelling to predict exactly how Ascension Island’s beaches will respond to rising sea levels. In general, however, two outcomes are likely depending on the type of management that is applied. If nature is allowed to take its course beaches such as Long Beach will attempt to migrate landwards as the sea level rises, driven by heavy swells depositing sand ever further inland. The evidence of this can already be seen in the flooding last week and similar events in January 2013 which laid down areas of sand several inches deep across the track to Comfortless Cove. Alternatively, if the beach is prevented from expanding by coastal management, Long Beach will be eroded into an increasingly narrow strip trapped between a rising ocean and the Comfortless Cove track, and the dry area that turtles need to nest will gradually shrink.
Sand deposited on the Comfortless Cove road and football field at Long Beach by high seas in January 2013
At some stage compromises will have to be made if we are to preserve Long Beach as a world class turtle nesting site. In the short term clearing sand from the track and installing temporary or semi-permanent flooding defences will probably continue to be effective in protecting existing land use behind Long Beach. Taking a longer term view, however, a staged retreat from the area may be necessary. In the medium term, moving the track, the football field and its associated parking areas further inland would give the beach room to expand and maintain the area available for turtle nesting. Ultimately, however, it is likely that a new location for the football field will need to be found and the Comfortless Cove track diverted further inland. Perhaps we should be proactive in our approach to these challenges and begin to seek funds and land for new sporting facilities that are not at risk from flooding and which do not have the potential to conflict with wildlife conservation in future?
The Government intends to consult the Island Council on these issues and a proposal to build an alternative football pitch on the sports ground located at Two Boats Village. With the right facilities – changing rooms, floodlights and seating, along with the natural coolness and softer base, footballers might accept the venue change while regretting the loss of the long-standing Long Beach pitch. We hope, that this will form part of the consultation process Councillor Yon will take forward in May on the proposed Protected Areas legislation. Long Beach is one of those proposed protected areas. You will be consulted. We hope this note triggers debate amongst residents and raises awareness of what is happening to Ascension.