Exploring A Century of U.S. Beach Nourishment | Shorewords!
The never-ending effort to restore America's beaches
On this episode of Shorewords! meet Nicole Elko and Kim Garvey, two of the authors of the article, A Century of U.S. Beach Nourishment. Many of the beaches we enjoy regularly have benefited from nourishment as a management option. Large amounts of sand have been placed along the coast, or relocated from harbors and inlets, and while the volumes are huge, so too have been the benefits to hundreds of beach communities and millions of users. Learn about the range of nourishment projects around the US, the differences in nourishment regionally and why the data base for the nourishment analysis goes back a century. Here is a link to A Century of U.S. Beach Nourishment, published in January 2021 in Elsevier’s Ocean and Coastal Management Journal.
Leslie Ewing 0:00
Welcome to Shorewords, the ASPN podcast of coastal literature, the factual and fictional accounts that transport us towards the shore. I'm Leslie Ewing, the host of shore words. And each month I'll be talking with authors about their coastal writings and with coastal leaders about the tales and stories that inspire their chosen paths. Today's my pleasure to be talking with Nicole Elko and Kim Garvey about their paper on a century of coastal nourishment. But before that, let's take a moment to hear from our sponsors.
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Leslie Ewing 1:24
So Nicole and Kim, you've got this great paper out. Of course it wasn't ensuring beach but it was a wonderful article about coastal nourishment. And just as an introduction to our listeners, Nicole is the science director for American shore and beach preservation Association. And Kim is the president of California shore and beach preservation Association. And so together they span both geographically most of the US as well as Nicole has a background in geology and Kim is an engineer. So while they're normally on opposite sides of the volleyball net when we have our annual ASBPA volleyball tournament. Both geologists and engineers are really important for coastal programs, coastal planning, especially beach nourishment projects. So I think it's great that we have the multidisciplinary people talking about this paper, and about the concerns with beach nourishment. So to start, Nicole, can you introduce people to yourself other than what I briefly said and explain your interest in the coast and what you've been doing? Sure. Thank
Nicole Elko 2:39
you, Leslie. It's a pleasure to be here. So as Leslie said, my name is Nicole Elko and I am based just outside of Charleston, South Carolina, and place called Folly Beach. I'm here I serve as the science director for ASBPA. And I also do a lot of work with local and state beach preservation efforts, as well as you know, working around the southeast. So I basically have been doing this for over 20 years now. I started my career in Florida on the west coast of Florida, where I worked at the US Geological Survey at their center for marine studies in St. Petersburg, and then served as a public servant and coastal manager for the Pinellas County beaches before moving to South Carolina and starting my consulting firm elco coastal consulting, which is part of all of these activities that I do, including the science director vs. BPA. So my, again, my pleasure to be here.
Leslie Ewing 3:53
You have a long history of beach activities and being in states with very tourist destination beaches and wonderful parts of the coast. So glad that you've been persistent and continuous in your your coastal efforts. And Kim, what's your background?
Kim Garvey 4:12
Hi there. First of all, I'll just say it's an honor to be here with both of you. So thank you for having me. As as you've mentioned, Leslie, I am an engineer by background. I started out in sort of a I've got a bit of an odd background. I actually came from aerospace. I worked in the aerospace industry in space systems for almost 17 years. But during that time, I played beach volleyball with a whole bunch of coastal people, coastal engineers and scientists and they were always talking about all the cool things they did and projects that they worked on. And I became fascinated in coastal engineering. And so somewhere along the way, I actually I went back to school and got some coastal engineering background and switched into the coastal engineering world. So, I've actually worked about just almost as long at coastal engineering now as I did in aerospace engineering, and I truly enjoy it. I currently work for Moffat and nickel, which is a engineering consulting firm that specializes in waterfront and I've got the opportunity to work on a lot of a lot of projects. I'm based out of Southern California. But as you've mentioned, Leslie, I do, I am the president of the California Chapter of ASBPA. So get involved, thankfully, in a lot of projects across the coast of California, so happy to be here.
Leslie Ewing 5:41
glad that you're here to Nicole, I know you've been looking at beach nourishment for years. And your your background and history of of being in Florida and North Carolina kind of explain some of that. But what led you to want to write this paper and get together such a wonderful group of co authors who I think really enrich the paper by providing so much geographic diversity? What was what what got you doing this?
Nicole Elko 6:11
The motivation for the paper, and really, for a lot of the activities that ASPCA has been involved in over the last several years is this opportunity that we have to take a national perspective on things that are often thought of as local issues. So beach nourishment is often you know, the federal government is often criticized for funding and or the state governments are sitting or saying, Well, you know, your local community should use your tourist money and deal with that. So a lot of times communities don't have that opportunity to to look at what are they doing in other states? Or how are they managing beach erosion in other parts of the nation. And the database that this paper is based upon addresses that concern, it provides a national perspective on how many communities nationwide have employed beach nourishment to mitigate coastal erosion, and really allows for comparisons across the nation that previously weren't available?
Leslie Ewing 7:20
Why did you feel like you needed to go back 100 years, though, I mean, this is an amazing database that you've assembled and, and a pretty amazing presentation of the data. But most people aren't thinking 100 years back when they're thinking about why we need to do stuff on our beaches today. Why the 100 years? Or why the why the big deep dive into history?
Nicole Elko 7:44
That's a great question, and it has a pretty simple answer. But I think it can also provide for interesting discussion about where we're headed. So the simple answer is, that's how long we've been nourishing beaches in the United States. The first beach nourishment project was actually constructed in New York on Coney Island back in the 1920s. So coming up on that 100 year anniversary of beach nourishment in the US seemed the appropriate time to to take his historic look back and see how, you know, we've how far we've come as a nation and also take the opportunity to look at how different states have evolved. And you know how maybe some of them will be evolving over the next several decades.
Leslie Ewing 8:30
Now, Kim, we're both in California. And I earlier about 10 years ago, I read something from Tom Campbell saying that California has done more beach nourishment than any other state. And it was at a time when California was starting to talk about having more federal involvement in beach nourishment. And this article in particular helped distill ideas I'd had about sort of the differences between California nourishment and other states. Do you want to go into that a little bit?
Kim Garvey 9:06
Sure. Yeah, it's been that was something that was really interesting and looking during the dive into the national database, and it's been written about by previous authors, as you mentioned, but California ranks number one, or did ranked number one in the past century for the amount of volume of sand being put on beaches, but if you look at just say the last 10 years, we've actually slipped to seventh place in comparison to other states. So there's been a lot of historic beach nourishment that has kept our beaches wide. But over the last 10 years, as is pretty evident, if you look at a lot of beaches, particularly in Southern California, a lot of those beaches eroded and it's ended. Due to the lack of nourishment, there's been some papers written where citing that beach nourishment has provided. If you look at for instance, the Santa Monica and San Pedro literal cells here in Southern California, there's been more tail up to 10 times more beach nourishment on those beaches, then there has been sand coming from, you know, natural sources, rivers and creeks. So beach nourishment has provided a, you know, huge historic input to helping our beaches, be wide and stay wide.
Leslie Ewing 10:34
You know, I think there's a big misperception amongst many people about what our beaches what our natural beaches look like. And one of the photographs in your articles tour the some of the photographs in your article show Delray Beach, and the changes that have occurred there through nourishment. So Nicole, do you want to talk a little bit about the Florida experience?
Nicole Elko 11:01
The rest, one of the points we try to make early on in the paper is that so many beaches around the United States have been renourish. Over the years, actually, 475 us communities have placed sand in their beaches through beach nourishment. So, you know, they're very few, especially those tourists destination type beaches that are still in their natural state. And there's a funny story that our colleague Tom Campbell, tells about that del Rey project and that is he is walking out on the beach with his coastal engineers, you know, about midway through a decadal, long, long term beach nourishment program, and they're getting ready to do another renourishment. And and one of the property owner says, Why are you destroying this beautiful natural ecosystem by pumping sand out here and putting all these bulldozers? Well, you know, it's not a it's not a pristine ecosystem. But that's testament to how successful beach nourishment is, as a living shoreline, right as a restoration technique that it is successful in restoring this, this coastal ecosystem to a state that, you know, but not just the tourists, but but the homeowners, and that the people that are there every day, think and really feel that this is a natural system, because it's functioning just like one
Leslie Ewing 12:25
for both of you. What were some of the big surprises you had as you went into the data and really start to do more of a, an analysis on it. So Kim, your big surprise was what
Kim Garvey 12:40
I think my my big surprise was the amount of sand that went on the beaches in the 40s. In the 50s. In California, a third of the volume of beach nourishment in California occurred in the 40s and 50s. But you know, when you when you think about it, or when I now think about it, it makes sense, because that's when a lot of our harbors and marinas were being constructed. And so there was this great beneficial use. So all that dredge material was then placed on the beaches. So that was probably my biggest surprise is understanding truly how much went on the beaches in the 40s in the 50s.
Leslie Ewing 13:19
Yeah, it seems like a lot of the nourishment back then was taking sand from right along the shoreline. That would have been beach historically, or further back than historic perhaps. But that areas that had had a beach component to them, but then were converted into marinas, as you say, or large construction projects on the coast. And the easiest way to dispose of that Sam was to place it on the beaches, where most of our nourishment until recently hasn't been going offshore and looking for sand. Right. Good point. Yeah. And yet Nicole most of the East Coast sand and Gulf Coast sand. My understanding is that comes from offshore where you've got that trailing shoreline, which is left beach sand behind and you've got a broad continental shelf with lots of supplies of sand available. So do you think there's a percept different perception for beaches based on the derivation of the sand that comes on to those beaches?
Nicole Elko 14:31
Yeah, I do. As you know here in the East Coast, we use the offshore Baro areas as you mentioned, but a lot of a lot of areas either have in the past utilize inlets were beneficial use of material dredge from harbors you know if it's a beach quality, and that that sediment is normally the sand that's probably just eroded or just moved off the beach and transported into the harbor. So it's typically a Have a better it's a better match for the existing sand on the beach. And you do, you do see a trend nowadays that the stakeholders seem to prefer that, that sand versus the offshore sediment
Kim Garvey 15:15
I think there's also a public education aspect of whenever we do put sand on the beach and that sand is dark. I have encountered it many a time where the public thinks because it's dark, because it's come from the bottom of a harbor when it's initially put on the beach, that somehow it's contaminated or bad. But time and time again, that that sediment bleaches out and becomes a nice sand color. But there's always a public perception for initial beach nourishment, that that sand is not good sand because of where it came from. So that that maybe is something that we can do better in terms of public education in the future.
Leslie Ewing 15:58
Nicole, I haven't forgotten about you for surprises in this paper. Your surprises are going to be kind of interesting, because you've been involved with this so long. But did anything come out that made you go Oh?
Nicole Elko 16:11
yes. In fact, two big things really jumped out at me one was the remarkable fit of the exponential curve to the US beach nourishment volume over time, you know how much sand we've been placing on the beaches, has literally increased with a with an R squared value of point 978. Right fit, which is remarkable for anyone who's a statistician. Over time, the volume of sediment that we've been placing on our beaches, right is increased exponentially. Now. Now that is surprising for a number of reasons. You know, dredging costs have gone up tremendously in the last decade. So one might think that perhaps communities were eating away from beach nourishment, not the case. The other big surprise to me was that although we have placed 37 million cubic yards of sand on our beaches over the last 10 years, that when you normalize that by the length of shoreline that we have in the US, we're actually only placing 4.6 cubic yards per foot, you know, if for every foot of beach, we're only placing less than five cubic yards of foot per year on those beaches. So it's not a tremendous, it's not a tremendous volume of sand relative to the tremendous length of coastline that we have in the US, for me. And I think the take home point there is we're maintaining the beaches of the US in a very efficient manner, right that the tourism industry provides billions of dollars to the economy. We invest millions each year to maintain those beaches and maintain that economy.
Leslie Ewing 17:55
But one of the things that I thought of with the exponential increase in nourishment and a comment that was made about the California beaches of our nourishment dropping off over time, in part because of difficulty of finding economical sources of sand, are what do you think about for the future? Certainly the need is going to be there if not growing? Will there be the sound available and the opportunities to provide it?
Nicole Elko 18:26
Yeah, that's a question that is that weighs heavily on the mind of many a coastal manager. There is a large effort underway right now and the Army Corps of Engineers here in the southeast, the South Atlantic comprehensive coastal study. And there's a big investment in understanding the available sand resources along the coast here. The data do indicate that we have sufficiency and resources available for the next 50 years when you look at both what's available offshore and what's available in our inlets and harbors. So I think with with good science and proper management that we will be able to sustain this momentum, if you will over the next decades.
Leslie Ewing 19:08
So even with an exponential growth over the next 50 years, we'll have enough sand is that what you're saying?
Nicole Elko 19:14
Yes, that's what the databases are indicating. And you know, we are leaning more upon the renewable type sand resources. So I think that direction will will help out tremendously in the future.
Leslie Ewing 19:26
And is that apparent on all the coasts, the East Gulf and West Coast?
Nicole Elko 19:31
I'm not sure if it is on the west coast, perhaps Kim could give us some input there. But I think the you know, that's also kind of averaged over a large region. So there are certainly areas of the US where we have concerns about running out of sand. You know, the Miami area is one where many of the available sand resources have been depleted. So there are areas of concern and then areas where Where sand is more plentiful overall,
Kim Garvey 20:03
I do think it's a challenge on the west coast, as you mentioned, Leslie to find sand sources. You know, on the East Coast, you can go a couple miles off shore and find your sand and bring all that Santa to the beach. And California, as you mentioned, with our steep coast, you go a couple miles and you're offshore, and you're in hundreds of feet of depth of water. So So finding near shore, Baro sites for sand is a bit more challenging. I know USGS is doing some studies up and down the coast of California to to locate barossa sites. The Corps of Engineers does use an offshore buyer site for a very successful program down here called the surf side sunset beach nourishment program, where they obtain on the order of a million to 2 million cubic yards of sand from an offshore source and put that sand on Sunset Beach and it provides beach nourishment for miles of coastline. So it's been a very successful program. And it's a great model for hopefully other areas, other beaches that we can nourish in California. The other thing I'll add is that I think there is a need to not only do these big regional projects, but we are we hope to improve on opportunistic projects. So oftentimes opportunistic projects are smaller, we might be talking about 50 or 100,000 cubic yards of sand. But we if we can do take advantage of opportunities as they come up, rather, there may be their flood control channels that are being cleared. And then that sand, if it's good beach quality sand could be put on the beach, that could greatly supplement these bigger regional projects using offshore sources.
Nicole Elko 21:54
So I'm hopeful for that. And one other thing to note, Leslie is the opportunity to look into other alternative forms of erosion control, right? beach nourishment alone is one tool in the coastal management toolbox. And the paper does address this, you know, there's a spectrum of, of technologies available to us from, you know, on one end, you know, armoring and coastal structures, and on the other end, you have managed retreat. So, beach nourishment is, it's pretty important on that spectrum, because adding sand to the system is critical and in implementing most of those strategies, but we do encourage communities to look at all of those opportunities,
Leslie Ewing 22:39
certainly, and that, that is how beach nourishment has been examined by in most coastal management situations, and certainly in California, tends to be a part of that opportunity in the toolbox. And one of the areas that is becoming far more discussed and kept California is actually living shorelines, which one might say have been around for centuries and longer and aren't really anything new. And yet they've become a new idea or new approach to short protection where you use some sand, but then you also use vegetated dunes or you use other features as well. And it seems like that is going to be another new demand for sand and a part of that toolbox for looking at coastal management. And I know dunes have been a major part of many beach projects along the east coast for a number of years. But do you see that becoming more of a, a term used and talking about nourishment of a living shoreline effort? Absolutely.
Nicole Elko 23:53
The president of ASPCA likes to say that beach nourishment was the original living shoreline. You know, we there are a lot of projects that we used to call them hybrid projects. And I think some engineers still use that term for the ocean side projects that you know, might resemble what is a living shoreline project now maybe on an estuary or backside of a barrier island, where there's a combination of perhaps a sill or a coastal breakwater or structure, perhaps even buried in the dune. Combine that with a wide sandy beach of vegetated Dune. And you have these multiple layers of protection, engineering redundancy, if you will, that really, really helped contribute to mitigating damages. Drew I found it interesting. I
Leslie Ewing 24:38
went to the jersey shore line after Hurricane Sandy. And everyone was talking about the last redevelopment that was exposed and that provided so much protection. So it's been clear for a number of years that structures and sand and vegetation do work together. Are there areas where Do you see, Kim? Are there areas where you see using olivine? shoreline perhaps that where the dune system or something that where perhaps a beach nourishment system alone wouldn't have been able to work? Um,
Kim Garvey 25:14
good question. So I, you know, one of the living shoreline projects that has recently been constructed is in Cardiff beach in Encinitas, California. And that's a great example of a, as you mentioned, sort of this hybrid project where you have a sort of call it a backstop, or last line of defense rock revetment, which is protecting the Pacific Coast Highway that runs along that shoreline directly along that shoreline. But on top of that rock revetment, which you would never know, was there is a nice, wide sandy beach and vegetated dunes. And so it's a great example of being able to use this hybrid approach where you typically have a on a normal day, you have a nice, wide sandy beach with beautiful vegetated dunes. But in the case where maybe that's that sandy beach is not being able to be nourished for whatever reason, or you have a significant storm event, you have that backstop, last line of defense rock revetment, protecting the Pacific Coast Highway.
So yes, I do think there's definitely opportunities for these hybrid approaches.
Leslie Ewing 26:30
And so Nicole, where do you what do you want to use this paper to do? Who are you going to be sending it to? Or have you sent it to that? You want them to read it to say, Aha, what what's the ASB pa approach to using this article?
Nicole Elko 26:46
we are promoting the article as both a historic overview of beach nourishment and also a an educational opportunity for our members and other coastal communities, you know, the stakeholders of aspp a really are the local coastal communities of the US. And we want them to understand the investment that has been made in our beaches over the last century. The importance that that really the federal, state and local governments have placed upon them by making that investment. And then, you know, to understand that it's economical, right, it's not it's not this waste of money that that but sometimes it's criticized for being it's actually, you know, replacing a very small amount of sand on our beaches, really, in a in the grand scheme of things to protect the entire US coastline. So all those educational messages are really important for us to get across.
Leslie Ewing 27:52
I noticed though, that while the Great Lakes states have done some nourishment, it's a very small amount and they weren't discussed. Do you think they've got a different story to tell then the East Gulf and California coast?
Nicole Elko 28:06
the Great Lakes states are included in the database, but they have had relatively small volumes compared to some of the other states. So there was so much information for us to attempt to consolidate here and present we we focused on the states with the largest programs, in hopes that other community or other states that are looking to expand their state management programs could learn from those experiences in Florida, California, New Jersey, and the Carolinas and other other states that have had programs in place for many years. So the Great Lakes do a lot of beneficial use. They place a lot of sediment from a sandy sediment from harbors on the beaches, and even a lot more in the form of nearshore berms which is allowed to migrate onshore, but it's just a much smaller scale system. So whereas we're typically dealing with million cubic yard projects on the open ocean coasts of the US, we're generally dealing with kind of an order of magnitude lower volume projects on the on the Great Lakes.
Leslie Ewing 29:14
So Kim, what do you have next going on for papers that might go into shore and beach or elsewhere? What are you up to next with this? With a study into beach nourishment?
Kim Garvey 29:26
I've got a couple of personally a couple of interesting projects. One is looking at a living shoreline as you mentioned in a beach in Southern California Capistrano beach so looking forward to being able to apply a living shoreline and understand how it performs in a in an in an open ocean coast using cobble as part of the substrate. Also, I don't know if it's I can do a plug now for a California shore and beach preservation Association. We have an upcoming webinar series that's About sediment along the California coast and the changing landscape there. Our first in our series of webinars is on March 1. So that's going to be a great series. Hopefully everybody can participate in that.
Leslie Ewing 30:14
And Nicole is science director, where do you see doing next with this? Or where are your next projects going to be?
Nicole Elko 30:23
Yeah, we always have many initiatives going on at ASPCA science and technology. But in terms of this one, in particular, we hold an annual update to this nourishment database. So there'll be and we start that every April. So we'll be excited to crank that up again here to have our regional managers reach out to local coastal managers around the US to see what projects were completed in 2020, and update that into the database. And then we're really excited that the US coastal research program provided funding to Tiffany Robert springs at Florida Atlantic University and one of her graduate students to take a deeper dive into this database and do some additional analyses. So we'll be really excited to see the outcomes of that research and an upcoming publication. We'll be sure to get something insuring beach with the results of that one.
Leslie Ewing 31:19
Great, thank you for the short and beach plug, by the way. Any closing comments, you want to make anything that you're expecting me to ask you? I never got around to that you want to? You want to highlight?
Nicole Elko 31:32
Well, if it's possible, I'd be happy to share a link to the this paper that we've been discussing today with the listeners. Wonderful,
Leslie Ewing 31:41
thank you so much. We'll put that into the blurb that discusses this podcast. And with that, I'd like to say thank you so much for listening to this beach nourishment, discussion, unsure words. I hope that the time we've had with Dr. Elko and Kim Garvey has both taught you something about beach nourishment, encourage you to go out and look at the beaches and look at them with perhaps a new eye toward what has gone into making many of those beaches and as you see people on the beach enjoying it and feel like you want to be an advocate for beach nourishment. Maybe talk with them about what you've learned. Otherwise, please enjoy the coast enjoy it safely. Go out and write about the coast as you see that you've got things to explore and explain to people. And I hope we'll be back soon with another interesting discussion about the coastline and our Shorewords area. Thank you so much.