My family and I have visited the same beach location for our annual summer vacation since I was two. I frequently bemoan the increasing commercialization of the area, these big behemoths like Outback Steakhouse coming to trample on my local favorites. Over the years, many of the local mom and pop shops have managed to hold their own against these forces. But this year, I was stunned to see part of the area not holding its own against an outside force. This area was none other than the main attraction: the beach itself.
Looking down the beach my first day on the sand, I noticed this tall structure move from the beach into the water and then back onto the beach. I wondered if a scene from this latest alien invasion movie was taking place just yards away from me. Each day its progressed closer down the beach toward where my family and I set up camp. I was finally able to glance its purpose: the machine was re-sanding the beaches.
Over the past several years, I have noticed the beach shrink closer and closer to the beachfront properties. The steps leading to our friend’s home have gone from eight steps or so to one. Simultaneously, the beachfront has gradually succumbed to the sea.
In my studies, I have learned about some of the measures that other coastal territories have taken to maintain their beaches. Miami flies in sand to keep their beaches at an appropriate length. My favorite spot in the world has not resorted to this; but instead to another interesting technique: borrowing sand from the sea.
As the pictures below will detail, the device (whose name I did not gather from behind the cautionary tape) along with a bulldozer would collect sand from under the ocean waters and bring it to shore. This effort nearly doubled the size of the beach (see before and after images). Yet, I could not help but wonder how effective this strategy would be in the future. In the short term, taking a dip may mean going in over your head right after you brave a few steps into the water. But will this strategy actually provide relief for the beaches and its occupants over an extended period of time?
Certainly that depends on your definition of extended. While estimates contend that sea level rises could be anywhere from two to six feet by the century’s end, even two feet would be enough to swallow this area that I have held so near and dear for more than two decades of my existence. No amount of re-sanding will stop that; it will only delay it.
This threat is, of course, not limited to our beloved beaches. It expands into all territories along water. America’s largest city, New York City, presents one of sea level rise’s largest targets. A three feet increase in sea level would take down Wall Street better than any regulatory body or bill ever could (some may cheer this). The problem is that it wouldn’t just take Wall Street: the mass-transit system would sink as would JFK and LaGuardia airports. Not to mention those skyscrapers which make the city famous. No re-sanding will save NYC.
We frequently talk about the impacts of climate change: increased droughts leading to decreased cropped yields, increasing severity of hurricanes, and, in this instance, sea level rises leading to coastal flooding. For those of us populating urban turf, be sure to pay attention the next time you put your toes in the sand.