Erosion and reorientation of the Sapodilla Cays, Mesoamerican Reef Belize from 1960 to 2012

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Physical Geography





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Belize, Reef islands, Sapodilla Cays, Sea-level rise, Shoreline change

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The Sapodilla Cays Marine Reserve in southern Belize includes nine low-relief sand cays that were first surveyed in 1960. The purpose of this study is to reconstruct a 52-year history of the Sapodilla Cays (1960-2012) using a combination of historical topographic surveys, satellite imagery, and additional field data collection. Results suggest that the majority of islands are eroding with some islands having lost over 70% of their area, and many have become swash aligned, which suggests limited sediment availability. The proportion of area lost on each island is related to the width of the reef platform (to the 5 m isobaths) in the direction of the reef edge, while island area is dependent on the width of the reef platform in the direction of the resultant wind. This suggests that the width of the reef platform is a primary determinant of sediment supply between storms that tend to erode the eastern shoreline of the island through refraction along the reef edge. While storm erosion tends to be concentrated along the eastern shoreline through the loss of sediment offshore, alongshore transport to the lagoon shoreline, and the transfer of sediment to the interior of the island, net shoreline retreat is greatest along the lagoon, suggesting that the relatively small winter "northers" and a lack of sediment supply from the reef lagoon are responsible for the observed erosion. Extrapolations based on contemporary loss-rates suggest that the smallest cays will disappear by 2020, while the largest cays will begin to disappear by the end of century. © 2014 Taylor & Francis.