From a childhood spent building sand castles to adolescent walks on the beach to adults enjoying family time, America’s beaches are synonymous with celebrating summer. Normally, the summer beach season would be beginning in a few days.
This year, with COVID-19 still rampant, many of us will have to call upon past beach memories or dream about a future beach visit. In fact, when people were asked the place they will visit on their first post-pandemic trip, beach/resort destinations topped the list.
But many are being eroded, not just by sea level rise and other climate change-related impacts, but also by numerous civil engineering and land use mistakes accumulated over the past century or more. Fixing those mistakes should be job #1, but meanwhile, local economies often rely on patching the problem with “beach nourishment”, a huge industry that often relies on stealing sand from other places (such as Caribbean islands). That being said, some projects are better than others, and it’s worth recognizing them.
The American Shore and Beach Preservation Association (ASBPA) has released its annual list of the nation’s best-restored beaches. This year’s list provides representation from the northeast, mid-Atlantic, south Atlantic, Pacific and Gulf coasts.
The 2020 winners are:
- Cardiff State Beach, California
- South Benson Marina/Jennings Beach, Connecticut
- Keansburg, New Jersey
- Norriego Point, Florida
- Tybee Island, Georgia
While Americans celebrate beaches by visiting them, few understand what it takes to keep that beach special. ASBPA created the Best Restored Beach award as a way of highlighting the value of restored beaches. Polls show that beach erosion is the number one concern beach tourists have about beaches.
In order to highlight and document beach re-nourishment efforts across the US,ASBPA and its partners have also developed a Beach Nourishment Database, to provide our members and the public with detailed information on U.S. beach nourishment projects at the national, state, and project level.
Why should you plan a post-pandemic visit to a restored beach? Here’s the top reason, according to ASBPA President Tony Pratt – fun. Many of America’s most heavily used beaches are restored beaches – wide and sandy, providing abundant recreational opportunities for beachgoers.
“As summer 2020 approaches, people across the nation are dreaming of sun, surf and sand. Their time at the beach is very often the happiest times of their lives,” said Pratt. “We here at ASBPA take that love of the coast very seriously. We honor the efforts that go into managing and, when necessary, rebuilding the beaches that are in the hearts of so many vacationers.”
“This year’s Best Restored Beach winners represent a wide variety of beach types that offer unique and varied attributes. I congratulate the winners for their hard work and for the beautiful beaches they have protected and enhanced,” added Pratt. “For more than 50 years, beach restoration has been the preferred method of shore protection in coastal communities. Beach restoration is the process of placing beach-quality sand on dwindling beaches to reverse or offset the effects of erosion.”
The benefits of healthy coasts are many:
- Storm protection – A wide sandy beach helps separate storm waves and other coastal hazards from upland structures and infrastructure.
- Habitat restoration – Numerous species rely on wide, healthy beaches as a place to live, feed, rest and nest.
- Recreation — America’s beaches are its largest national park, more than 40% higher than more than the numbers of visitors to all our federal and state parks and theme parks combined.
- Adaptation — As climate changes trigger both higher sea levels and stronger storm events, a wide sandy beach remains the best protection from both encroaching seas and storm-driven waves. By adjusting their shoreline designs, communities across the country are able to protect upland habitat and properties by raising the profile of their beaches to counter projected sea level rise.
- Spend millions to save billions – Investing in infrastructure now saves money in re-building later.
During times of economic hardship, the beach can be an even more desirable vacation destination than other domestic and foreign alternatives, offering families and visitors an accessible and affordable getaway. It is also a jobs bonanza and tax generator– healthy coasts drive local economies:
- Beach tourism is responsible for 2.5 million jobs nationwide.
- Beaches help generate $225 billion a year for the national economy, contributing about $25 billion in federal tax revenue.
- Beach tourism generated $45 billion annually in taxes and returns $570 in federal taxes for each federal dollar spent.
- Beaches are the leading U.S. tourist destination for both national and international tourists.
- Well over half of the nation’s gross domestic product ($7.9 trillion) is generated in 673 counties along the oceans, Gulf and Great Lakes, according to NOAA’s National Ocean Economics Program.
To enter the Best Restored Beach competition, coastal communities nominated their projects for consideration, and an independent panel of coastal managers and scientists selected the winners. Judging was based on three criteria:
- The economic and ecological benefits the beach brings to its community;
- The short- and long-term success of the restoration project; and
- The challenges each community overcame during the course of the project.
According to Peter Seidle, co-chair of the Best Restored Beach Committee responsible for making the selections, “I look for commitment and dedication to the project. I want the applicant to make me love his or her beach. The committee also looks for unique solutions to unique problems, recognizing that every beach has its own challenges and opportunities that can be addressed and augmented by a well-executed restoration project.”
This year’s winners spotlight a diverse selection of beaches: nature based solutions, revitalization of an area, increased diverse recreational opportunities, beneficial use and traditional beach restoration. What they all have in common, however, is working creatively to address complex coastal issues in way that is sustainable and that mitigates the ravages of nature, that is compatible with the surrounding environment and that is achievable in the face of both political and natural obstacles.
Here’s a brief review of this year’s Best Restored Beaches:
- The Cardiff State Beach Living Shoreline Project is the first Southern California project to test this unique nature-based solution to provide beach erosion and flood protection of a vulnerable coastal asset. The project created a coastal dune with repurposed buried rock revetment and cobblestone and 30,000 cubic yards of sand dredged from the San Elijo Lagoon inlet; the dune was then planted with native vegetation. The project extends 2,900 feet and protects Highway 101 from storm events.
- Keansburg Beachfront Restoration in Keansburg, New Jersey – Implementing a multi-million dollar beach replenishment program and multi-phase beachfront project, the Borough of Keansburg successfully restored their 2.5 miles of shoreline that was destroyed by Superstorm Sandy. The coastal New Jersey town along the Raritan Bay accomplished their beachfront restoration utilizing 1.1 million cubic yards of sand and reconstructed 10,000 square feet of the Baywalk. The Beachfront Restoration project fortified the Borough’s storm resiliency in addition to creating a more robust, damage resistant Baywalk.
- Norriego Point Stabilization and Restoration Project’s primary objective was to provide Destin, Florida, residents and tourists with more and diverse recreational opportunities such as protected swimming areas and extensive shoreline for boat access/landing, and beach access. This project created 1,200 feet of publicly accessible recreation shoreline by rehabilitating existing groin structures and installing additional T-groins. The project also included dune restoration and re-vegetation with native plants.
- South Benson Marina Dredging & Jennings Beach Nourishment Project in Fairfield, Connecticut, is a municipal marina serving the community with marina facilities, but is also adjacent to Jennings Beach, which provides over 2,000 feet of sandy beach shoreline for public use. This project dredged approximately 27,000 cubic yards material to benefit navigation and placed it along Jennings Beach to enhance the public recreational beach. A project of this size and type is unique in the State of Connecticut and the Long Island Sound region, where dredged material has historically been disposed of offshore with no chance for beneficial reuse.
- The Tybee Island Beach and Dune Restoration Project, Tybee Island, Georgia, increased their resiliency to flooding events while enhancing the natural habitat, including federally protected sea turtle nesting sites and endangered bird species, that is so vital to the environmental and economic health of the city. It is the first time the City built dunes as an integral resiliency feature augmenting a federal beach nourishment. Approximately 1.3 million cubic yards of sand was placed along 15,000 feet of shoreline, including 70,000 cubic yards for dune construction.
Winners will be honored during ASBPA’s annual Coastal Summit held in Washington, DC, in March 2021.
Photo of Norriego Point, Florida courtesy of City of Destin.