Creating a new, modern cruise ship terminal in a Caribbean paradise where the waters are filled with unique, vulnerable marine life is no easy task. Still, this was the task at hand. And in early 2011, thanks to extensive planning and innovative solutions, the project became a reality. The new J$180 million cruise ship port in Jamaica, able to accommodate the newest and largest class of cruise ships was delivered.
The town of Falmouth is located on the northern coast of Jamaica. Founded in 1769, Falmouth was a flourishing market and port in those days. Today, it is known to be one of the Caribbean’s best-preserved Georgian towns and an important tourist destination.
The waters surrounding the island nation of Jamaica are home to a diverse marine habitat and the Martha Brae river runs just southeast of the town, ending in a luminous lagoon. On land, the town is surrounded by red mangroves, and at sea by coral reefs and seagrass beds making it an extremely sensitive ecosystem. To develop a deep harbor for cruise ships where the dredge footprint covered wide areas of coral reef and seagrass vegetation required skill, care and a well-thought-out, environmental management plan.
Building in an environmentally sensitive site
The Falmouth Cruise Ship Terminal (FCST) is an initiative of the Port Authority of Jamaica (PAJ) and Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines (RCCL) to host the largest cruise ships in the world: the ‘Oasis of the Seas’ and the ‘Allure of the Seas’. In 2009 the project was awarded to E. Pihl & Son A.S. as the main contractor and Boskalis as subcontractor for marine works. The project includeddredging and reclamation works as well as creation of the cruise ship terminal itself. The marine works consisted of the dredging of an access channel to -12.5 meters Chart Datum and two berthing pockets alongside the terminal to a depth of -11.5meters Chart Datum (north-western side) and -10.5 meters Chart Datum (south-eastern side).
Boskalis was also responsible for the development of an Environmental Management Plan (EMP) to mitigate and monitor environmental impacts as a result of dredging and reclamation activities. The EMP consisted of water quality monitoring, including turbidity, dissolved oxygen and water temperature; the installation of silt screens; the relocation of benthic flora and fauna; the installation of a submerged pipeline for sediment-laden excess water; and the installation of reef havens and reef towers. Falmouth has a shallow, natural harbor, ranging in depth from one to 12 meters, bounded to the north by an extensive fringing reef, to the east by Oyster Bay and to the west and south by the town of Falmouth and the mangrove system of the Martha Brae estuary. The environmental impact assessment (EIA) conducted by Mott MacDonald indicated the presence of sensitive benthic marine resources within and adjacent to the footprint of the proposed structure, namely the coral reef system and Oyster Bay. Some 112 species were identified in the area (22 scleractinian corals, 29 algae, eight sponges, 15 invertebrates and 45 fish), coral cover was as high as 30 percent and Diadema antillarum, the keystone invertebrate herbivore, had densities of eight–13 individuals per square meter according to previous studies. Oyster Bay, also called ‘Glistening Waters’, is one of only four bioluminescent bays in the world. The bay’s bioluminescence is a result of high densities of Pyrodinium bahamense reportedly ranging from 44,000 to 273,000 individuals per liter. Studies indicated that the dominance of this bioluminescent plankton could be threatened by changes in water circulation and chemistry.
Delicate dredging processes
Boskalis was responsible for all marine works involving deepening and broadening the access channel to the harbor. This meant that Boskalis was also responsible for the protection and care of the coral reefs, seagrass and benthic fauna which were abundantly present.
To achieve the dredging requirements to modernize the port, and still respect the sustainability of the marine environment, Boskalis organized and supervised a massive campaign of coral relocation and seagrass transplantation. Although this role was stipulated in the contract for marine works, the extent of the removal and relocation efforts was far greater than anticipated based on the estimations in the EIA.
Among the dredging contractor’s responsibilities were monitoring water quality, such as turbidity, Total Suspended Sediments (TSS), dissolved oxygen and water temperature; the installation of silt screens around the work area of the dredging vessels; the use of a High Density Polyethylene (HDPE) pipeline to pump excess water from the reclamation area to the disposal area; coral, seagrass and benthic fauna relocation and the installation of reef havens and reef towers. As a compensation measure, 1200 Ecoreef modules were also installed.
The range of activities undertaken by Boskalis was made possible because of the broad expertise that the contractor has in-house. Specifically, Hydronamic, the engineering department of the company, played a major part in underwater monitoring, feasibility studies, design and installing the special HDPE pipeline and the intense liaison between the different parties around the coral relocation. Hydronamic also assisted with the installation of silt screens to ensure the environmental compliance with the standards established by the National Environmental Protection Agency (NEPA) of Jamaica.
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