Shifting Sands of Time
Text by Donna Malloy
The very nature of a barrier island is that it is a constantly changing, fragile ecosystem which can be adversely affected by Mother Nature and human nature. Clearwater Beach Island is no exception. Clearwater Beach Island began to experience significant beach erosion back in the 1950s. "Unregulated coastal development, which included dredge-and-fill construction in the back barrier bays, led to this erosion. In 1950, the City of Clearwater restored the south beach and constructed two groins. By 1961, the city had built a total of 25 groins along the island, including a short terminal groin at the south end," according to Pinellas County Environmental Management's (PCEM) website.
"Although the structures were intended to retain sand on the beaches, they did not because of the lack of sediment supply. Once coastal engineers began recommending beach nourishment as an alternate form of shore protection, the beaches began to recover," PCEM's Web site continued.
No one can deny that the island's morphologic transformation over the last century has been dramatic. William Morris, Director of the Marine and Aviation Department for the City of Clearwater, attributes such transformation to three factors:
#1: The design of the new Sand Key Bridge
The old Sand Key Bridge was designed with "picket fence pilings" stated Morris, that slowed the passing tides at Clearwater Pass, thereby slowing down the volume of sand contained in the tides. Also, the boat channel was closer to shore on the Clearwater Beach side; slow boat traffic close to shore can actually help push sand onto the shoreline.
Today, the long, open expanse of the Sand Key Bridge allows the strong current at Clearwater Pass to swiftly pass underneath it, carrying large deposits of sand on its back. The newer bridge also rerouted boat traffic to the far side of the channel, now closer to Sand Key Park, thus helping the accumulation of sand on the Sand Key side.
Wave action from several busy hurricane seasons in recent years has also contributed to the erosion of south Clearwater Beach Island's shoreline.
Those condos and businesses most affected by the south beach erosion have formed the "Shoreline Restoration Committee" (SRC) to remedy their erosion problem. Current active members are Shephards, Best Western Sea Wake, Quality Inn and Econo Lodge. Endorsing the committee are 440, Marquesa and Continental Towers. SRC has hired the coastal engineering firm of Tackney & Associates to "design a new beach" stated Paul Andrews, General Manager at Shephard's.
"Plans will include fortifying existing jetties, building additional 'T' jetties and some breakaway jetties," stated Andrews.
The project, supported by private money from SRC members, will be presented to the city of Clearwater for endorsement before proceeding onto Pinellas County for permitting. Knowing the correlation of beautiful sandy beaches to tourist dollars, the SAC is "working on it every day" stated Andrews. Contrary to PCEM's website which concludes: "the island's beaches do not presently require nourishment," SRC is "in the loop," stated Andrews, to bring this project to fruition.
Photo by Jerry Cook
Photo by Jerry Cook
Photo by Donna Malloy
Return to Current Edition