GA - Cumberland Island erosion study funding for national seashore
The sandy beaches, expanses of marsh and wild horses on Cumberland Island draw visitors to the barrier island each summer, but as with every other beach on Georgia's coast, that beloved terrain is shifting.
Georgia Sen. Jon Ossoff and Rep. Buddy Carter (R-Savannah) wrote a letter to U.S. Department of Interior Secretary Deb Haaland urging the federal agency to prioritize funding for the study of erosion impacting the Cumberland Island National Seashore.
Beach erosion becoming more common
Beach erosion is the process where the sand, soil and rocks on a beachfront are worn down or washed away along the coast due to the thorny combination of several sources. Sea-level rise, strong waves — sometimes from boat traffic — and coastal flooding, in addition to increasingly strong storms and other natural events all can chip away at the coast.
While erosion is a natural process, it's also one exacerbated by wear and tear and climate change. Particularly with the increase in storm severity, barrier islands stand to bear the brunt of hard-hitting natural disasters. On the island, the National Park Service highlighted in its updated Visitor Use Management Plan that between 2016 and 2019, the management plan notes that hurricanes Matthew, Irma and Dorian damaged structures and facilities on the island and in St. Marys. Most recently, the island and its docks were severely damaged by Hurricane Dorian in 2019.
On Cumberland, storms have made big impacts
"Today, the shores of this remarkable island are eroding at an increasingly alarming rate," the representative's letter noted. "Until the root causes are known, there cannot be appropriate actions to mitigate and prevent furtherdamage to this unique habitat."
While government agencies understand the impacts of climate change in the future, the legislators' letter highlights that there is still much to be done to understand the finer details of erosion and how to best target support for the island. They stated in the letter that the work done to mitigate and counteract erosion at Cumberland Island will serve as a model for other sites throughout the country and accelerate the National Park Services' and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' understanding of how to adapt and protect coastal assets for the future.
Cumberland Island National Seashore, the popular visitor destination for locals and travelers alike, is managed by the National Park Service, an agency under the Department of Interior which oversees the country's natural resources such as seashores, wildlife refuges and parks.
The National Park Service was not immediately available for comment.
The lawmakers' ask comes at a moment when the National Park Service (NPS) is already looking toward its future plans for the island. NPS is currently finalizing its updated Visitor Use Management Plan — the document which outlines how the agency plans to manage natural resource use on the island in the future.
Read about the plan:Changes proposed for Cumberland Island. See what the National Parks Service has in mind
Other coastal conservation efforts:Coastal Georgia shores up beach conservation for shorebirds impacted by climate change
The management plan looks at everything from boat and ferry use and access to the island to the preservation of bird habitat on the shore. It notes that as the sea level rises, the site will be more vulnerable to coastal storms and storm surges and that the agency is taking these factors into account with its planning.