Every year, cities along the Atlantic, Pacific and Gulf of Mexico coastlines spend millions of dollars on beach nourishment projects. In my hometown, Delray Beach, Florida, a massive offshore dredger just started pumping slurry — sand and water — onto the seriously eroded beach to replenish it. The $8 million project is expected to last weeks. (You can see how it works by watching the video I created of the project.)
This type of dredging to replenish a beach has benefits and costs. In our case, the cost of beach replenishment is easily offset by the tourist dollars it attracts to the community. Without a beach, it’s unlikely people would come here and spend money to stay in hotels and dine and shop in the bustling downtown district. The beach also lures real estate buyers into purchasing single family homes, townhouses and condos.
Beyond the economic advantages, the replenished beach also acts as a barrier that protects valuable real estate from storm surges and erosion.
Despite the many positives, beach replenishment has some downsides. It can be harmful to marine animals and shore birds. If the causes of erosion aren’t (or can’t) be addressed, it will have to be repeated on a regular basis. And it can be expensive; and the costs are growing, especially in areas where sand is not in abundance and it has to be trucked in.
Sea level rise is sure to exacerbate the challenges faced by towns that rely on sand replenishment to maintain their beaches. Every inch of sea level rise increases the force of tides and wave action on beaches. The higher and more powerful storm surges that come with climate change and sea level rise will also be problematic.
For now, most cities and towns that rely on beach replenishment appear committed to the practice to protect their tourism trade and valuable real estate. Whether they will be able to foot the bill when the seas get higher and their beaches require more frequent nourishment projects is an X factor that all real estate buyers and owners in coastal areas prone to erosion need to consider.