Saturday, February 26, 2011

Beach erosion

I thought the following article on beach erosion was worth a read:

Essentially it details how over the past 150 years 68% of beaches in New England and the Mid-Atlantic (650+ sites) have been eroding at an average rate of -1.6 feet per year. The article details some of the reasons behind this and that the past few decades seem to be reversing the trend slightly with the possible solution being beach restoration activities. This has been one of the feared outcomes of climate change for quite some time. As the sea-level rises and takes more of the beach with it the sand or marsh may naturally move inland as it comes. However, between the incredibly fast rate this is occurring (in relative terms) and the fact that many beaches and marshes are surrounded by human development these habitats cannot spread inland and will end up disappearing entirely.

Beach erosion seems to me to be one of those occasionally under-appreciated conservation issues. Let me use Long Beach and Pleasure Beach in Stratford and Bridgeport as an example. This extensive barrier beach hosts several pairs of Piping Plover and often tens of pairs of Least Tern each summer. These ESA birds are protected by the Connecticut DEP and volunteers who watch over their nesting sites and track their progress. String fencing is put up to prevent humans from impacting them too much yet allowing people passive recreation nearby. Cages are put over the Piping Plover nests so protect them further from predators. All of this is a well-tested and very successful system.

What if these birds do not have the available real estate to make a home? When the sandy beach erodes all the way to the dunes covered in vegetation, they will not be able to construct their nest. High tides and storm waves will wash out nests that are not a sufficient distance from the water. Beach erosion can essentially render all of our efforts meaningless. Last year a major March storm washed away a sizable part of Long Beach and Pleasure Beach, putting some of it in the parking lot and temporary USFWS road and more in Great Meadows Marsh. Too many of these storms and sea-level rise will eventually mean the end of nesting on beaches like this one if we do nothing to combat it.


  1. Scott,

    Those same March storms eroded the sand bar at Cockenoe Island, Westport. to no end, all vegetation was gone and it lost a foot or so of its peak.
    Yet like the phoenix, it's tiny sand spit awakened, into a major nesting area for terns and others.
    Our shifting sands, the ones we see in our short lifetimes are just about meaningless, in the history of geographical life.

  2. They may not fade away in our lifetimes, Larry, but climate change will ensure many are covered by water if they are not maintained or if we do not reverse course to prevent such a sea-level rise. Even nipping at them year by year will slowly pick away at the birds. There is always a shift, for sure, but this one may be too sudden and leave the habitat with no place to go.