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Upham Beach: What's going on here?

Above: Upham beach is a popular with locals as well as visitors from around the world. It is the only public beach access on the north end of Long Key (St. Pete Beach). Below is a slide show with photos of the Upham Beach armoring project in various stages. Scroll down for more photos and explanations.

Consider supporting the Suncoast Chapter of the Surfrider Foundation's efforts to have the Geotubes removed from Upham Beach. Look at the evidence and come to your own conclusion. If you live nearby, pay a visit to Upham Beach for a first-hand look at the Geotubes. The Surfrider Foundation isn't a bunch of radical environmentalists trying to stir up trouble. They are solid people who live HERE in Pinellas County and use this beach all the time. Such radical changes to a beach shouldn't be made without plenty of discussion and input from people who live here. Everyone needs to weigh-in on this.

Consider signing the PETITION to have the Geotubes removed.

For more resources and info on Surfrider's planned activities related to Upham on Saturday, June 21st, visit the Suncoast Chapter of the Surfrider Foundation's website.


Above: The first time I saw Upham, this is what it looked like: a very narrow beach. Further south the beach is wider. In this photo, you can see the pink edifice called the Don Cesar in the distance.

Above: The erosion is so bad at Upham that even the sea oats could not hold the beach in place.

Above: This is Upham beach after a renourishment project (sand was added to the beach). It's quite a hike to get to the water's edge. This is a signature of Pinellas County beach engineering--make 'em hike to the water.


Why does Upham Beach have an erosion problem?

There is a natural movement of sand up and down the coastline. This sand "migration" is caused by water movements (currents and wave action). If a structure is built along the coastline (such as a jetty or seawall) it changes the water currents, and therefore it changes the movement of sand particles. Changes made to one beach have a domino effect on nearby beaches.

The jetties at blind pass have interrupted the natural flow of sand, causing the migrating sand grains to be dropped off in and around the pass, rather than to continue along their path to Upham beach. So, while sand continues to be carried away from Upham beach, it is never replaced by sand coming from the north (Treasure Island).

To make matters worse, the condominium buildings just to the north of Upham were build very close to the water's edge, thereby magnifying what would otherwise be a small concern.

But they say the Geotubes are a success, don't they?

Some people do. It depends on how you define success. The erosion has been slowed, but not stopped, and it appears that a small, but stable beach is being maintained in front of the poorly situated condominiums. So in that respect, success may have been achieved. It also appears that the beaches further south have not experienced any sand loss as a result of the Geotubes, although I think it fair to say that it is really too early to tell, since current science says that there will always be sand loss on the downdrift side of a structure built perpendicular to the beach. Further, there is the issue of money saved. Since the beaches will not have to be renourished as often, and much less sand will have to be added each time, the maintenance of the beach should be significantly less expensive, barring unforseen circumstances.

But success in those terms is rather narrowly defined. Do the ends justify the means? Upham is a public beach that is enjoyed by thousands upon thousands of people each year. Visitors from around the world come here and help us all support our families by spending their money in our businesses. Many people think that the negative aspects of the Geotubes outweigh the positive. Here's why:

  • The Geotubes are an eyesore; they are just plain ugly.

  • The Geotubes create a hazard for people and children playing on the beach.

  • The Geotubes create a physical impass for people walking on the beach.

  • It is far from certain that Geotubes or rocks will be a viable long-term solution, as evidenced by available science.

  • The beach will still have to be renourished periodically, though perhaps not as frequently.

What are the alternatives?

The first alternative is to remove the geotubes and continue renourishing the beaches every 3 or 4 years, as has been done since 1975.

The second alternative is to do nothing and let the beach erode. Probably not an acceptable alternative.

Lessons To Be Learned

This is a classic example of irresponsible development and the transferring of the cost of a private benefit to the public wallet. The private condominium gains a protective beach at the expense of the taxpayers. In her report, Pinellas County environmental manager, Dr. Nicole Elko, writes the following [my bracketed italics]:

" The Upham Beach erosion problem is a result of its location directly downdrift of a total littoral barrier [the Blind Pass jetty] and the seaward-advanced location of the condominiums of northern Long Key [built too close to the Gulf ]."   (page 9 of her report).

Dr. Elko further comments that "A good example of improperly sited structures built prior to the implementation of Florida's Coastal Construction Control Line (CCCL) exists in Pinellas County on Upham Beach." (page 1 of her report).

The construction of the GeoTubes, and ultimately, rock jetties, might mitigate the expenditures with respect to renourishment, but what about other costs not so easily measured? Lost tourism dollars, possible injuries to people and resulting lawsuits, and intangible losses caused by the replacement of a white sand beach with yellow sandbags or rocks all are costs that have to be considered.

If you'd like some fanciful reading, check out this sales brochure put out by the company that makes Geotubes. They seem to think that we just love playing on and around the Geotubes!

View Larger Map

Above: Shortly after the renourishment was completed, the erosion continued, creating this scarp on the shrinking beach.

Above: This is Pinellas County's answer to the localized beach erosion problem on Upham Beach: giant yellow sandbags placed directly on the beach. It is an experiment. If it "works," the sandbags will eventually be replaced with huge granite boulders.

Above: Of course a big project like this takes big equipment. And where better to keep the equipment than right out on the beach...for month after month after month.

Above: New rocks for the repair of the jetty are lined up on the beach before being put in place.

Above: To facilitate the installation of the yellow "Geotube" sandbags, these black Geotubes were installed in the surf zone to create a protected work area.

Above: These black Geotube "surf-killers" were not welcomed by surfers or swimmers. They created a definite hazard, but were temporary structures.

Above: Heavy equipment works to install the northernmost Geotube just south of the Blind Pass jetty. Note the row of black geotubes out in the water.

Above: For what seemed like an eternity we had to put up with a beach that looked like this. Note the severe erosion going on a bit further down the beach where the steep scarp (drop-off) can be seen at the water's edge.

Above: Not long after the yellow Geotubes were installed, the erosion had exposed several of them. In the photo above you can see one of the 5 tubes that has been exposed by the constant erosion of sand. Initially they were all covered by sand. The engineers expected the Geotubes to eventually be exposed, so it was not unanticipated. The tubes were not expected to completely stop erosion, just to slow it down so the beach didn't have to be renourished as often.

Above: this is pretty much what Upham beach looks like now. According to the engineers, the beach has "stabilized," and they consider the Geotube experiment a "success." Does this look like a successful beach to you? Is this what a beach should look like? Just posing the question.

Above: Here are the geotubes at work in front of the condominiums they were designed to protect. Notice how close the condominiums are built to the water. For some reason, the builders thought that they did not have to locate their building as far from the water as the rest of the buildings constructed on the island. So now the taxpayers are picking up the tab for their foolishness by constantly having to renourish the beach, and by engaging in this engineering project.

The above photo demonstrates the achievement of the main objective by which this project is labeled a success. Note the 30 to 40 foot wide crescent shaped beach in front of the seawall. This is now referred to as a "stable" beach. But how stable is it really? Take a look at the next two photos below and see how much beach vanished in just a couple of days, with no wave action at all.


Above photo was taken June 17, 2008. Note that there is roughly 30 feet of beach in front of the seawall. Note also how far the water is from the steps leading down to the beach (near the man). You can also see that the tips of two rocks are beginning to show above the sand near the seawall.

The above photo was taken 5 days later, on June 21, 2008. Note how many more rocks are exposed in front of the seawall and how close the water is to the steps. It appears that the beach has lost a foot or more of sand in just 5 days, without any storms. In fact without any surf at all.

Have a look at a few more "scenic" photographs of what awaits you at Upham Beach. (Below)

Above: Suncoast Surfrider Foundation protesting the Geotubes.

Read my blog entry about the Free Upham protest, see a slide show.


Note: If anyone sees anything on this page that is inaccurate, or that is a misrepresentation of the facts, please let me know by sending an email to me. I'll make necessary corrections.