Many beach restoration projects destroy one place to fix another: these won an award for boosting ecology and resilience in 4 states

Beaches help generate $225 billion a year for the American economy, contributing about $25 billion in federal tax revenue. Beach tourism generates $45 billion annually and all of them together comprise the leading U.S. tourist destination.

So, the idea of beach restoration sounds lovely and necessary. But, as has previously been documented in REVITALIZATION, many (not all) such projects suffer from three major problems:

  1. they steal sound from other countries or from other local ecosystems, creating new problems elsewhere to fix their own problems;
  2. they are often designed solely to revitalize tourism, with little or no thought to helping (or at least not damaging) the local ecology; and
  3. they are a waste of money…temporary short-sighted engineering fixes that try to fight Mother Nature: shorelines—whether ocean or river—constantly shift as part of a healthy natural process.

Now, on June 10, 2022, the American Shore and Beach Preservation Association released their annual list of what they consider the nation’s best restored beaches. The good news is that some of them do, in fact, help restore the local ecology, and some manage to replenish the sand without stealing it from other places.

The award winning projects this year are the Duxbury Beach Dune Restoration Project in Massachusetts, the Ocean Isle Beach Shoreline Protection Project in North Carolina, the Sodus Point Beach Project in New York, and the Waikiki Beach Maintenance Project in Hawaii.

The goal of ASBPA’s annual best restored beaches award is to acknowledge community beach restoration projects around the United States which increase a shoreline’s resilience, the beach’s ability to mitigate storm damage and flooding from severe storms, and naturally allow the beach to adjust to short-term sea level rise while remaining an important part of the nearshore ecosystem. ASBPA created the annual award list to highlight the value of restored beaches.

Projects are judged on three criteria: the economic and ecological benefits the beach brings to its community; short and long term success of the restoration project; and the challenges each community overcame during the course of the project.

We appreciate each year all those who nominate their worthy projects for consideration. This year’s restored beach award recipients represent a variety of beach types, and I congratulate them for the hard work and beautiful beaches they have protected and enhanced,” said ASBPA President Gary Jones of the Los Angeles County Department of Beaches and Harbors.

The Duxbury Beach Dune Restoration Project in Massachusetts was selected as a Best Restored Beach due to its incorporation of resiliency, ecological, and recreational benefits. Through funding from a Massachusetts coastal zone management coastal resiliency grant and the Duxbury Beach Reservation, a 501c(3) formed by private property owners, the community engaged in comprehensive planning and permitting of resilience projects on Duxbury Beach, and restoration of the 3,500 ft of dune.

The project restored one of the narrowest and at-risk sections of the barrier beach system, improving the resilience of 15 miles of highly developed shoreline as well as continued access to the site for recreationalists, landowners, and emergency personnel. The project also provided nesting habitat for the state and federally listed piping plovers and state listed least tern that nest on Duxbury Beach. By restoring the dune to specifications suitable for plovers and terns, these beach nesting species were provided with improved nesting and chick rearing habitat less vulnerable to overwash.

Ocean Isle Beach, North Carolina has recognized the value of restoring and protecting their beaches since the creation of a dedicated local funding source in 1989. With long-term planning, continued adaptive management of multiple shore protection projects, Ocean Isle Beach has created improved beach conditions for recreation and habitat for biological resources. The town determined that the construction of a terminal groin located just east of the easternmost development on the island could serve as a feasible solution for chronic erosion leading to the Ocean Isle Beach Shoreline Protection Project.

The project involved two major components, the construction of the terminal groin structure, and pre-filling the groin area placing sand along a 3,000 ft stretch of shoreline. In concert with the fifth nourishment of the original project, the groin was constructed in 2021 and has successfully mitigated the chronic erosion on the east end of the project.

Sodus Point Beach on Lake Ontario in the Village of Sodus Point, New York is a man-made beach created by accretion of land after the construction of federal piers to stabilize the entrance to Great Sodus Bay in 1833. Over the years, the beach continued to receive natural sources of sand; however, sand was not retained on the beach but drifted against upland residences where it was removed as a nuisance.

The project focused on measures to capture wind-blown sand to harness natural means to reach flood protection goals and widen the beach at a county-owned park. With a strong focus on community engagement and education and participation in the permitting of the project by the affected property owners, the Village of Sodus Point successfully constructed the Sodus Point Beach Project to address the continual flattening of the beach while also providing access through the newly created dunes with volunteer-planted dune grasses.

Waikiki Beach is one of the most internationally recognized beaches in the world, renowned for its recreational beach activities. It has been estimated that Waikiki Beach accounts for $2 billion in annual income for the local economy. The Waikiki Beach Maintenance Project is located along the shoreline of Mamala Bay on the south shore of Oahu, Hawaii and is locally referred to as Royal Hawaiian Beach.

The construction was completed in May, 2021 placing 21,700 cubic yards of sand roughly doubling the beach width and was funded through a public/private partnership with the Department of Land and Natural Resources, State of Hawaii. As part of the restoration project, the Waikiki Beach Special Improvement District Association was formed to aid in funding the project.

As climate change triggers both higher sea levels and stronger storms, a wide sandy beach helps protect vulnerable, often poorly-located communities from both encroaching seas and storm driven waves.

The Best Restored Beach award project teams will be honored during the spring 2023 ASBPA Coastal Summit in Washington, DC.

See complete list of best restored U.S. beaches, plus info on the science and policy of beach restoration.

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