Nos Barranca Stima
Last week, when the Natural Pool experienced some winds and waves, tour operators opted to invade Malmok and bring dozens of ATVs to Tres Trapi, right on the barranca.
The big attraction was to drive on the rocks, abandon the vehicles on the cliff and jump into the ocean, leaving behind cans of beverages, tire marks and broken coral.
This invasion went on for a few days, leaving the tiny Malmok cove, and the neighborhood tarnished, polluted, and over-run.
Then in our Preserva Malmok neighborhood chat, one of the neighbors pointed out that the rocks, the barranca, is not protected from motor vehicles under the law, only the beaches, are.
(Later corrected: According to the Landbesluit Openbare Wateren en Stranden driving on the baranca within 25 m of the water edge is not allowed. Unfortunately there is a total lack of public understanding of this regulation and lack of enforcement. )
But shouldn’t the barranca, which is a form of beach, also be included in the protected zone?
The barranca, a limestone terrace, is as fragile and as endangered as the beach. You all remember what happened to our pride and joy, our Natural Bridge, that hung in there until it could hold the stress no more, caving in on itself, in 2005, and depriving us of the only legitimate natural wonder.
That is the nature of limestone, here today, gone tomorrow.
I asked my geography/geology expert school principle Gershwin Lee:
Limestone, he said, is rock produced from the remains of living organisms such as coral polyps. This means that limestone is created under water. It is porous and allows water to seep through.
It also dissolves in carbonated water, both seawater and rainwater. This process is generally called chemical weathering, but in limestone we refer to it as karst phenomenon. It is the slow process of chemical dissolution of the rock, as it slowly disappears.
On Aruba there are many examples of karst phenomena in limestone. We find stalagmites, stalactites, drapperien and drupsteenzuilen in caves and the karrenvelden or skerpi on the coast – forgive Gershwin, Dutch is his language of topography, but we get his drift. Fossil shells, he adds, are often found in limestone, because it was formed underwater.
Aruba’s Lime Terraces:
We have three types of terraces in the high, medium and low categories.
The low terraces can be found almost everywhere and form a large part our coastal landscape.
– Because limestone is relatively fragile (weak) it breaks down quickly in comparison with other (volcanic) rocks.
– The process of breaking down is mainly because the rock is sensitive to water. When in contact with water, the rock breaks down piece by piece.
– Because of this breakup, the barranca weakens, allowing cracks to appear
– Waves also contribute to the breakdown of the limestone terrace. The waves hollow out the rock from underneath. As the waves roll in, they create surf niches, which are sometimes visible when standing on a terrace. These dug out niches are the weakest part of the low terraces.
– The terraces also erode on land, due to rainwater. This is easy to observe in areas where a rooi enters the ocean. This process is slower in comparison to the effect of sea waves on the sea side, because rain is relatively scarce on the island.
Consequences for Nature and People:
Locals and fishermen in particular, park their vehicles on the low terrace. The weight of a vehicle can accelerate the process of rock degradation. Additionally, vibrations caused by vehicles such as ATVs and quad racers may speed up the destruction of the rock.
As you park on the barranca at the edge of the water, you should remember that the face of the rock has been hollowed out from underneath, and that it may cave in at any moment. Parts of the terrace may even collapse with people standing on the rocks. Several years back the walls of Shark Bay collapsed, with surfers standing on top.
Bottom line: Vehicles on the barranca accelerate the natural process of weathering, and break down the terrace, at a faster pace, as the weight of the vehicles, and its vibrations, stress out the fragile structure.
Will all those who care step forward, please.