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|The sand is always shifting on the Florida barrier islands. It's natural. The sand moves with the currents. When we build homes on the beach, shifting sand becomes an expensive and worrisome problem. So we've brought in coastal scientists, engineers and government agencies to figure out how to deal with this natural ebb and flow of sand. Below are some examples of our efforts, each offering expensive, short-term fixes at best, and totally ineffective foolishness at worst.|
|One trick we use comes in the form of rock and concrete. Seawalls, groins, jetties, and breakwaters are built to alter the normal flow of water and disrupt the normal flow of sand along the shore. However, the main benefit from these structures is to birds that want a place to sit and dry their wings, and to fishermen who find them convenient places from which to cast a line. Their benefit to the shoreline is uncertain at best. Sometimes they do more harm than good. They are relics enduring as a testament to follies of the past.|
|Above: Concrete and limestone rock groins at Coquina Beach on Anna Maria Island. They've been here for more than 40 years. I don't know how effective they are. The beach stll erodes. They do make it a chore to walk up the beach. You have to either walk around them or climb over them. Renourishment projects cover them up temporarily.||The breakwater at Redington Shores off St. Petersburg. What were they thinking when they built this eyesore? Notice that the beach in front of the breakwater has eroded significantly more than the beach on either side. I don't know whether this is considered a good thing or not. It is a hazard to swimmers and small watercraft. But it's a great perch for seabirds, and probably provides habitat for marine animals.|
|John's Pass, Madeira Beach. A rock jetty on each side of the pass works to stabilize the pass. They seem to work fairly well.||Above: a seawall with rocks on Gasparilla Island. Notice there is no beach in front of the seawall, but further up the beach, where there is no seawall, there is a beach.|
Another more "instant gratification" type of cure for beach erosion is "renourishment." Renourishment uses offshore barges and thousands of feet of pipeline to suck sand off the Gulf bottom and pump it onto the beaches. The sand usually has a high shell content and isn't as white as the sand on a natural Gulf beach. Below is a dramatic example of how much sand can be added to a beach. This costs millions of dollars and the new beach may last from 2 to 5 years. It also completely buries and destroys many beach organisms that don't survive being covered with several feet of sand. I don't think they've ever buried any slow-moving tourists, but you can't be too careful!
|Upham beach, St. Petersburg in July 2004. At high tide there are only a few feet of dry sand below the sea oats. What you can't see is the seawall behind me, where there is no beach at all.||Upham beach, same view as at left, in October 2004 after beach renourishment. What a difference! As you can see, the beach stood up nicely to the hurricanes. I have a lot more information on Upham Beach Erosion on my blog. What a fiasco!|
Other invasive "maintenance" procedures are mechanical beach raking and beach wrack cleanups. (Beach wrack is the seaweed and other debris that washes up on the beach and provides a rich source of nutrients for beach dwelling creatures.)
|Above: a beach rake on Treasure Island. Raking a renourished beach helps keep the sand from forming a hard crust. Natural beaches don't have this problem.||Above: a recently raked beach on Marco Island. Is it a beach or a cornfield?|
Beach cleanups are basically an accommodation to a few people who don't like "smelly" seaweed on their beach. They think a beach should be sanitized for their convenience. This is perhaps understandable when an unusual amount of weed washes up in a storm, or if there is a large fish kill that could become a public health hazard, but a beach needs to be allowed to undergo its natural life cycle. The beach organisms, whether they be birds, small crustaceans, or microscopic organisms, depend on the nutrient-rich environment created by decomposing wrack. It isn't trash. It is part of the circle of life. Personally, I find the sound and sight of heavy equipment on the beach a much larger infringement of my enjoyment of the beach than the presence of drying seaweed. The beach is not a theme park, it's nature!
|Above: Treasure Island. Notice the foreground beach has been scraped clean by a front-end loader.||Above: Treasure Island. After scraping up the seaweed from the beach, it is put in trucks and carted off to be used as fill somewhere (I hope not at a landfill). Sometimes it is buried on the beach.|
I have a series of photos of Pass-A-Grille beach following the erosion and accretion of the beach, beginning before Hurricane Jeanne, immediately after, and again after renourishment. Click here to view them.