NatureTrump’s Wall Against the Waves
“I would build a great wall, and nobody builds walls better than me, believe me, and I build them very inexpensively.”
Donald J. Trump
US Republican Presidential Candidate Donald Trump’s desire to build an impenetrable barrier along the border between the US and Mexico (inexplicably paid for by the Mexican government) is not the only contentious wall project that the seventy year old billionaire property developer and presidential hopeful is hoping to push through. Donald also wants to build a wall along a beach on Ireland’s wild west coast to protect one of his golf courses.
An empty peak at Doughmore beach. Photograph courtesy of Otter Surfboards.
Trump International Golf Links (TIGL) Ireland Ltd. are seeking permission to build a 4.5 metre high wall, consisting of 200,000 tons of rock, along 2.8 kilometres of Doughmore beach in front of a sensitive coastal sand dune ecosystem designated a “Special Area of Conservation” by the European Union. Construction of such a hard coastal defence installation will, according to the US based Save The Waves Coalition: “destroy the sand dune habitat, restrict public access, negatively impact the quality of the surfing waves, and ultimately result in beach loss”. Dune systems are, by their very nature, dynamic systems that trap and store sand, feeding beaches and offshore sediment deposits and acting as a “soft” buffer zone to protect the coast from storm damage. They are also rich but fragile ecosystems that support a surprisingly rich variety of wildlife. Trump’s golf course is built along the Carrowmore Dunes in front of Doughmore beach, a consistent and popular beach break, and local surfers are amongst those concerned that the disruption to the movement of sediment that a wall would cause would starve the beach of sand, negatively impacting the quality of the surf but more worryingly eventually leading to the disappearance of the beach.
US Republican Presidential Candidate Donald Trump. Photograph courtesy of Gage Skidmore.
The wall at Doughmore is a campaign that Trump was waging long before he announced his candidacy for the Republican Presidential nomination. Almost immediately after purchasing The Lodge at Doonbeg, and following a series of destructive winter storms, TIGL began illegally dumping boulders along the public beach at Doughmore in February 2014 before local authorities intervened to halt the operation and force him to seek the proper legal permits through established channels. In March 2016 permission was sought from the Irish national government, who rejected the proposal in April, and the decision now lies with Claire County Council. In the meantime, apparently incensed at having to conform to local planning regulations, Trump has threatened to close the golf resort if approval for the rock revetment is not granted; a situation that local campaigners against the wall wish to avoid because of the serious impact upon local jobs. Instead, they are suggesting that TIGL consider working with the coast’s natural processes and, if necessary, utilizing some of the land that the organization owns on the inland side of the golf course and reorienting some of the fairways and greens away from the fragile sand dunes.
Claire County Council have received Trump’s permit application and Environmental Impact Statement, and have requested further information relating to 51 specific points, which Trump has until December to submit. This Environmental Impact Statement, prepared by an Irish environmental consultancy and reviewed by Politico, cites the impacts of global warming as a reason to build coastal defences in Doughmore Bay:
“If the predictions of an increase in sea level rise as a result of global warming prove correct, however, it is likely that there will be a corresponding increase in coastal erosion rates not just in Doughmore Bay but around much of the coastline of Ireland.”
This directly contradicts Trump’s public position on global warming and climate change, which he labeled “bullshit” in a January 2014 tweet and continues to be challenged on as recently as September when a group of 375 leading scientists (including 30 Nobel laureates and famed physicist Stephen Hawking) wrote an open letter criticizing his stance on climate change.
Regardless of the discrepancies between the argument being put forth by Trump’s organization and Trump’s public and political position, there is no doubt that coastal erosion is an issue of growing importance. Coastal processes, sediment transport and the impact of storms and significant swell events are incredibly complex however, and constructing what in this case is a relatively small defense structure within a much larger coastal cell to protect a single property, without looking at the broader picture, risks shifting the problem further down the line and potentially amplifying it.
“It’s so important that we stand up for nature and not get bullied by business.” Famed Irish surfer Fergal Smith told the Irish Examiner, “We must respect nature and have to learn to work with it, not just impose what some humans want.”
In the meantime, a number of Irish and European surf and environmental groups including Save The Waves Coalition, Surfrider Foundation Europe, the Irish Surfing Association, Friends of the Irish Environment, Friends of the Earth Ireland, the West Coast Surf Club and the Irish Seal Sanctuary have formed a coalition and started an online petition that has already been signed by more than 97,000 individuals. Every time the petition is signed, a notification e-mail is sent to each of the thirty councillors at Claire County Council who are involved in making the decision on whether to approve or reject TIGL’s application.
This is not an overly political issue; it is in fact incredibly unfortunate that it involves such a high profile political figure who divides opinion so strongly. This is an issue about natural environmental processes, their impact upon business interests, and how that is managed to achieve the best outcome for all interested parties – not just those with the deepest pockets.