The Winter Beach: Why No News Is Not Good News
FORT MYERS - Coastal advocates fight a never-ending battle. First, they fight to protect and sometimes restore their eroding beaches. Then, if the beach has been restored with new sand, they have to fight to keep that sand and to remind people why it needed to be restored in the first place.
The problem: Storm damage to dunes and a dramatic loss of beach isn't as "newsworthy" as waves crashing on a roadway or buildings falling into the sea. This may be the price of success. Wide, sandy beaches do their job: They protect upland structures and property from the damaging effects of winter storms. This success often goes unnoticed because people forget the original problem unless it's staring them in the face…not to mention the fact news reports tend to focus on disasters, not near-misses.
"When a storm strikes a community that is not well-protected by a wide, sandy beach, we see very compelling images of the loss of buildings and infrastructure from waves, tides and flooding. But after we've constructed a beach nourishment project, images of damaged dunes and fences are not as compelling," says Delaware Shoreline Administrator Tony Pratt. "But they should be, because loss of a beach is a loss of protection that could eventually lead to the loss of structures and property again if the beach is not repaired."
Pratt compares a beach to a fire hydrant. If the fire hydrant lost one-third of its water pressure, it would be one-third less effective in fighting a fire. It's the same for the beach: When a beach loses one-third of its sand, it is that much less efficient in protecting the upland structures and property.
"People who live on a wide, sandy beach go to bed at night feeling protected and safe," says Pratt. "But how do we sustain that protection when the loss of a dune doesn't get as much publicity as the loss of a house? Unfortunately maintenance of something we build, in this case beaches and dunes, isn't as politically rewarding as was the initial construction. The same problem exists for bridges, roads, and many types of manmade infrastructure. "
Pratt says citizens and politicians should be compelled to reinvest in the beach to prevent the loss in the first place. "We need to shift the focus of political will to prevent the damage," he explained. "We need to fix the beach like we fix roads. If we do that, we can shift to a concept of beach loss rather than home loss when winter storms strike."
For more information about the winter beach, visit www.asbpa.org.
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