Petition on Beach Sand Mining

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The crisis is real. The locations are known. If we don’t act, who will save our beaches?
—Coastal Care

Beach sand mining is happening all over the world. Since 2007, it has gained media attention in Morocco, India, South Africa, Benin, Liberia, Grenada, Jamaica, Malaysia, and Indonesia. Beach sand mining has also been documented in Mexico, Canada, and Australia and is happening in numerous additional countries right now. The legality of beach sand mining varies from country to country and it is illegal in many, but the value of sand on beaches is clear.

Beach sand is the first defense coastal communities have against storm impacts, which are becoming more severe and more costly in both dollars and lives as a result of increasing beach development. Almost 60% of the world’s population lives on 10% of the land on the planet: on the coast. Sand is being mined from beaches for use in concrete to support the boom in coastal construction. Sand is also being exported from beaches with less development to beaches with more development, usually to replace sand that has eroded.

Large Dune Field
A large dune field was removed from this beach in northern Morocco making the back dune area prone to storms. The beach has been reduced to bedrock. Photo: Program for the Study of Developed Shorelines

Coastal erosion is also increasing in most areas, much of it induced by alterations to the natural beach. Barrier islands are eroding in many parts of the world and sea level rise is probably the major factor contributing to accelerated erosion. The 2007 Nobel Prize winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change commissioned by the United Nations estimates the current rate of sea level rise to be 3 millimeters per year. With higher sea levels, not only will storms cause destructive erosion, but flooding from simple high tides with on-shore winds will occur with greater frequency.

Additionally, natural beach sand is the foundation for a functional ecosystem. Without sand, plants can not grow. Without plants, animals can not find food and make homes. Without vegetation, the shifting sands have little hope of becoming stabilized.

Beach sand mining must end or we will systematically destroy our planet’s beaches. This petition will be sent to leaders of various countries and also to the United Nations Environment Programme.

Petition on Hardened Beach Structures

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After decades of observation, the situation is clear.
—Coastal Care

After decades of observation, the situation is clear.

Sea walls and rock jetties accelerate beach erosion.

North Carolina law prohibits the use of groins – steel, rock or wood walls built perpendicular to the beach in order to trap shifting sand – and other permanent erosion control structures along ocean shorelines.

This North Carolina law is progressive with regard to the United States and the world and was implemented in 1995 thanks to coastal scientists in the state, but the ban is threatened frequently. Each year, the ban is attempted to be overturned by politicians catering to special interest groups – wealthy home owners and private communities.

hardened beach structures
These hardened beach structures on the North Carolina shore were built before the passage of the current ban. Lifting the ban would permit jetties like these pictured above on North Carolina beaches. Photo: Program for the Study of Developed Shorelines

Overturning the ban would be a major step backwards in the fight for natural beaches, public access to beaches, and ensuring what is best for the future of the beaches of North Carolina. People living in areas experiencing erosion sometimes think that the use of hardened beach structures at their beach is justified. But why is their beach more important than the beaches that will erode as a result of the hardened beach structures?

The ban is based on:

  1. Extensive studies and technical data documenting the detrimental impacts of erosion control structures and;
  2. 150 years of documentation of the negative impacts of shoreline stabilization on the barrier islands in New Jersey.

The data are clear: when hardened beach structures are used, accelerated erosion is the result. Our petition seeks to support the ban on hardened beach structures on North Carolina beaches. Our petition will be sent to political leaders in NC to continue the ban on hardened beach structures.

More Resources

NC Coastal Scientists Position on Terminal Groins

North Carolina Coastal Scientists Statement Regarding Senate Bill 832:

The following statement represents the opinions of the vast majority of this state’s coastal geologists: Dr. Rob Young (WCU), Dr Len Pietrafesa (NCSU), Dr Stan Riggs (ECU), Dr. J.P. Walsh (ECU), Dr. Steve Culver (ECU), Dr. Dave Mallinson (ECU), Dr. Pete Peterson (UNC-CH), Dr. Tony Rodriguez (UNC-CH), Dr. Matt Stutz (Meredith), Dr. Duncan Heron (Duke).
We are not anti-development. Nor are we an environmental lobby. We are simply electing to play our role in helping the state develop sound, science-based policy. These opinions do not represent the actual, or implied positions of our host institutions.

  1. In 2003, the North Carolina Legislature voted unanimously to ban the construction of new, permanent erosion control structures from North Carolina’s ocean shorelines (including inlets) Session Law 2003-427. There were no dissenting votes in either chamber! This unanimity results from the recognition that the CRCs ban on coastal hard structures enacted in 1985 had served the state well. It was, and is, sound fiscal, environmental, and management policy. Overturning or weakening this ban would be a mistake.
  2. S832 would permit the construction of “terminal groins”. As proposed, these structures could/would be constructed at inlets or “on an isolated segment of shoreline where it will not interrupt the natural movement of sand.” In other words not just at inlets.

The following comments argue against permitting this exception to our state’s long-standing, hard structure ban from a scientific perspective:

  1. Any coastal structure designed to trap or hold sand in one location will, without question, deprive another area of that sand. In simple terms, any structure (including terminal groins) that traps sand will cause erosion elsewhere. Permitting the construction of terminal groins will harm the coast and place downdrift property at risk.
  2. An open letter signed by 43 of the country’s top coastal scientists reports: “There is no debate: A structure placed at the terminus of a barrier island, near an inlet, will interrupt the natural sand bypass system, deprive the ebb and flood tide deltas of sand and cause negative impacts to adjacent islands.”
  3. Proponents of S832 point to the terminal groins at Beaufort Inlet and Oregon Inlet as success stories.  These structures have also been referred to as jetties in the past, but we will use the terminology in S832. Our data indicate that beaches in the vicinity of both structures have required huge volumes of beach nourishment for decades (at least 20 million cubic yards of sand at a cost $43 million, without an adjustment for inflation) Therefore, these two structures have at best, had no impact on the stability of the island adjacent to the structure, and at worst, have caused downdrift erosion necessitating massive renourishment. Dr. Stan Riggs has published detailed analyses indicating that the structure at Oregon Inlet has impacted the stability of Highway 12 on the Outer Banks and required its constant maintenance.
  4. The structures proposed in places like Figure 8 Island and Ocean Isle are on the downdrift side of the neighboring inlet. A shore-perpendicular structure, placed at the downdrift side of an inlet, will block the natural flow of sand onto the island where the structure is located. This will cause an increase in shoreline erosion in front of oceanfront homes downdrift of the structure. Protecting homes at the inlet will be at the expense of a larger number of homes down the beach.
  5. The unfettered flow of sand through natural inlets is an important mechanism maintaining barrier island health. Blocking this flow of sand will inhibit the ability of the barrier island to respond to rising sea level and storms.
  6. Project proponents indicate that the structures will be made “leaky” or permeable so that sand will move to downdrift beaches. This is a classic example of “having your cake and eating it too.” The principle of conservation of mass indicates that one cannot build a structure that will both trap sand and still allow the constant flow of the original budget of sand down-drift.
  7. Groins can impact nearshore circulation by directing currents offshore, especially during storms. Groins can be particularly destructive following storms if a significant portion of the nourishment project is transported offshore, leaving the groin uncovered. During this period, the groin will block all longshore transport until the cell is filled in again.

Additional considerations:

  1. One of the many benefits of the hard structure ban to North Carolina coastal communities is the general lack of lawsuits related to erosion control structures. In contrast, the state of Florida which permits coastal hard structures is awash in constant lawsuits (property owner versus property owner, community versus community). This leaves many coastal management decisions up to the courts. This poor method of public beach management is one that we have largely avoided in North Carolina. If terminal groins are built along the North Carolina coast, rest assured that there will be lawsuits and legal battles related to those structures and the erosion that they may, or may not have caused.
  2. Because the S832 does not define the size or specific design of a terminal structure, the bill leaves the door open to building structures that go well beyond a simple groin. The design floated for Figure 8 Island is not a terminal groins as much as it is an inlet shoreline seawall. Structures like these would destroy the natural function of the adjacent inlets.
  3. In short, we believe that the science overwhelmingly supports maintaining the state’s ban on hard structures. Terminal groins are not new technology. They will harm downdrift property owners.

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