Category Archives: Beach of the Month

Walton County Beaches, Florida; By Robert Young

Walton County Beaches, Florida

By Rob Young

The oil has not reached the “sugar-sand” beaches of the Florida Panhandle yet, but the fear has. All along the Florida Gulf Coast booms are being readied and occasionally deployed. The state is carefully monitoring water quality looking for even hints of petroleum. So far, Florida has been lucky. Prevailing winds have pushed the spill offshore and towards the west. Bad news for the wetlands of Louisiana is, unfortunately, good news for the tourist beaches of Florida.

Local fisherman report that they have travelled 60 miles offshore and seen nothing. Yet, for many families planning summer vacations, the uncertainty is too much to take. Local newspapers around the Panhandle report significant cancelations for summer cottage rentals, hotel rooms, and even weddings. The economic impact of the spill is already being felt here, even though the oil has not arrived.

In Louisiana, local officials and the Governor’s office are proposing to build a 70 mile-long artificial sand barrier by burying some of the existing barrier islands and outer wetlands with sand and mud dredged from the nearby Gulf at a cost of $250 million or more. There are many in the state who have wanted to do this for a long time to provide some degree of storm protection. Many of the areas they plan on burying are federally protected lands and critical habitat for a variety of species. I understand the desire to “do something” since BP is having no luck shutting down the flow of oil, but I question anyone’s ability to this the right way without any planning or detailed investigation. What are the chances that even a well-intentioned effort to block the oil may do more harm than good when we still have no idea where the oil is going? Pretty good.

Meanwhile, NOAA’s latest 72 hour projections show the oil shifting back towards the east and the north. Everyone here in Florida feels a looming sense of dread. At the moment it is beautiful—paradise. But everyone is wondering if we are on the cusp of the greatest economic and environmental disaster to hit the state. At the moment, all we can do is wait and watch.

Elwha Beach, WA; By Robert Young & Adam Griffith

Elwha Beach

Elwha Beach, near Port Angeles, WA, USA

By Rob Young and Adam Griffith
Program For The Studies Of Developed Shorelines

Elwha Beach sits where the Elwha River meets the Strait of Juan de Fuca in northern Washington on the Olympic Peninsula. The beach runs east to west and is primarily a cobble beach, as seen in photos A-C. The eroding Olympic Mountains serve as sediment for the beach and the sediment is carried to the ocean by the 45-mile long Elwha River. Two dams on the Elwha River built about 90 years ago trap sediment that would have reached the beach. Scientists estimate that 14 million cubic of yards of total sediment are being prevented from washing down stream. Six million cubic yards is thought to be sand.

Photo A shows the cobble beach looking west, but this beach has not always been primarily cobble. Prior to the construction of the dams, the sand and cobble formed the beach together, but deprived of much of the sediment, the beach has been steadily eroding.

Looking to the east, photo B shows the remains of a beach access walkway in the form of two concrete plugs that used to be buried on the beach. The erosion the east is more severe than that to the west because the littoral drift is to the east from the Pacific into the Strait of Juan do Fuca towards the Strait of Georgia.

Prior to 1911, the Elwha River (the mouth of which is shown in photo C) supported 10 stocks of salmon and steelhead. Elwha Dam was built on the Elwha River in 1911 and Glines Canyon Dam in 1925. Neither dam accommodated fish passage limiting anadromous fish to the lower 4.9 miles of the river and severely reducing or eliminating runs. The dams also caused the inundation of important riverine habitat and degraded water quality (increased temperatures and reduced nutrients). The ecosystem within Olympic National Park has been adversely affected by the lack of marine-derived nutrients. In 1992, Congress enacted PL 102-495 directing the Secretary of the Interior to “fully restore the Elwha River ecosystem and anadromous fisheries”. An extended period of examination of many alternatives determined that removal of the Elwha and Glines Canyon dams was the only way to fully restore the ecosystem and all fisheries. Today, the project is in full swing with the National Park Service (NPS) as the lead agency and the Bureau of Reclamation (USBR) providing technical support. The natural restoration of marine derived nutrients (via salmon carcasses) to an entire watershed from where they have been absent for almost 100 years will provide a unique test of the resiliency of upstream riverine and terrestrial ecosystems. The dam removal will restore the natural flow of sediment to the Strait of Juan de Fuca shoreline. Thus the dam removal adds an important element of coastal restoration unique to this project.

La Faute-sur-Mer and l’Aiguillon-sur-Mer beaches, Vendée, France; By Claire Le Guern

La Faute-sur-Mer

The Memory of Risks

By Claire Le Guern

The very last day of February 2010.

It is 4:00 am. Howling winds, whipping rains, infuriated seas, and eight meter high (26 feet) crashing waves, are muffling the desperate cries for help…4:00 am… Twenty nine human lives are being swept away, drowned in the frigid and salty ocean waters. They were in their sleep, in their beds, in the comfort of their home. They did not understand, they could not react, most of them too old, too frail, or much too little to run for safety and climb on the rooftops, like most of the survivors did. That very night, hundreds of survivors were trapped for hours, trembling with fear and piercing cold, in agony, and battered by rain and incomprehension. Only lit by the full moon, in the darkest night of their life, all were waiting for the emergency crews and help to arrive.

Modern mankind appears to be the only species on Earth whose propensity is to migrate its habitat counter-intuitively, solely ruled by will, preference, and or greed, against Nature’s evolution.
—Claire

These are horrifying facts, eventually, yet tragically surpassed by an intolerable truth. The potentiality of such a disaster was well foreseen, and highly expected to occur. And it did, in France, one of the most developed and industrialized countries in the world, in the southwestern coastal towns of La Faute-sur-Mer and neighboring l’Aiguillon-sur-Mer. 

When daylight unveiled the disaster, Prime Minister François Fillon held an emergency cabinet meeting and afterward called the storm a “national catastrophe.” French President Nicolas Sarkhozy, declared: “We have to find out how families in France in the 21st-century can be surprised in their sleep and drowned in their own houses.” Mr. Sarkozy added, “We have to shed light as urgently as possible on this unacceptable and incomprehensible tragedy.”

As much as this tragedy is utterly unacceptable, it is all too comprehensible and sadly, previously announced by warnings from many scientists, locals, and even more relevantly by an official 2008 report from the Vendée Equipment Department, DDE. The risks of marine submersion were known to the Vendée DDE, which strongly addressed and questioned coastal safety, citing in particular the fragile sea walls in L’Aiguillon-sur-Mer and La Faute-sur-Mer, as well as their existing location and development in flood-prone areas. “There is no doubt about the vulnerability of the Vendée coast to marine submersion”.

La Faute-sur-Mer and l’Aiguillon-sur-Mer beaches are the most southerly beaches on the Vendée Atlantic coast. Blue flagged for cleanliness, gently sloping with fine golden sand, these beaches attract a myriad of visitors from around the world, each summer.

On the Atlantic side, 8 kilometers of fine sand beach and dunes pass by the town of La Faute-sur-Mer, located on a 10 kilometer long and 2 kilometer wide Peninsula, with the Atlantic Ocean on one side, then onward the Pointe D’Arcay. On the other side, there is an estuary and the Lay Bay with the Lay River. In front, lays l’Aiguillon-sur-Mer, the neighboring town. La Faute-sur-Mer fragile environment of sand dunes is stabilized by 200 hectares of pine forest and Holm Oak (evergreen Oak) which were planted nearly 150 years ago. This forest domain is continued by the Reserve Ornithologique of la Pointe d’Arcay.The Beach in the town of l’Aiguillon-sur-Mer is based around two man made lakes and has been developed with families in mind.

These coastal communities, however, have been built on areas that used to be swamps. The towns are 2 to 2.5 meters below sea level, on a polder, in other words, in a bowl. A 5 kilometers sea wall, the “Digue du Géni”, was built in 1860 at l’Aiguillon, and originally meant to protect the land for agricultural purposes. As for la Faute-sur-Mer, a sea wall was built in 1929.

L’Aiguillon-sur-Mer is the French capital of the mussel industry with over 20 percent of the nations production being cultivated in the estuary of the River Lay and the Anse de l’Aiguillon. The main attractions of the coastal towns besides the beaches are the Nature Reserve, and the off shore mussel farms.

Not anymore.

In the early hours of February 28th 2010, a well-forecasted storm named Xynthia swept through France with powerful winds of 160km/h 90 miles, leaving a trail of devastation, and 53 victims. About half the French death toll was attributed to marine submersion and breach of the dilapidated and too low sea walls of La Faute-sur-Mer and l’Aiguillon-sur-Mer, allowing waves and sea waters to flood the villages, trapping people in their homes.

Brice Hortefeux, France Interior Minister, declared, “What happened in Vendée, was an exceptional combination of facts.” Corroborating observers such as, P.Bouteloup, a physicist who specializes in tides, or Eric Mas, director of Météo Consult, said that a chain of events was to blame as well as “extraordinary coincidences”: unusually strong winds, enormous waves and, above all, very low atmospheric pressure drawing the sea level even higher, (on that full-moon night, the tide measured 105 to 108 on a scale of 20 to 120) creating a potentially fatal combination for these communities located on the Atlantic coast.

Unfortunately, in light of what was previously known by the DDE, even though not ordinary, these events were obviously far from being just and simply coincidental, and actually followed an all too announced plausible, and furthermore, predicted scenario.

France has up to 9,000 kilometers (6,200 miles) of sea walls, with some of them built in the 17th century, according to Secretary of State for Ecology, Chantal Jouanno. More relevantly, about one tenth of them, 1,000 kilometers (620 miles), “can be considered a risk”. The European Center for Flood prevention, estimates that of the 9,000 kilometers of sea walls, at least 3,600 kilometers have no existing or identifiable owners, thus no responsible entity to maintain, rebuild or repair the dilapidated or inadequate sea walls.

 “The sea wall that broke dates back to the Napoleon era. Either we build (new) sea walls, in which case they need to be taller, or we have to build further inland,” said Philippe de Villiers, President of the General Council of Vendée.

When sea walls or levees are needed, it is obviously to “protect” a land naturally flood-prone. And indeed, how strong can a sea wall possibly be in comparison with the unfathomable power of angry waves? How high can sea walls possibly be? Scientists are warning us that, due to climate change and rising seas, storms are expected to be stronger, fiercer and more frequent than ever before. The France Nature Environment group says the recent tragedy should serve as a “shock treatment” to the nation. The group added, “By 2100, global warming will cause sea waters to rise by one meter, allowing a small storm to do the same damage as powerful Xynthia did.”

A “Plan Digue” (a Sea Wall Project) has been ordered by the Government to be completed within the next two months. Financing and responsibilities are to be reassigned and already the pre-plan opens doors to polemics, in term of responsibility, financing, costs of repair and construction, as well as to fundamental debates.

Sea walls are currently owned by eclectical entities: towns, syndicates, even individuals. The State is not much involved in ownership (1,000 kilometers of levees, mostly on La Loire river). Furthermore, most of the sea walls and levees are owned by entities that do not have the necessary financial power to maintain them. According to Anne-Marie Levraut, director of natural and water risks, Ministry of Ecology, most often the existing sea walls were built to allow farming, then population rose but the response did not rise to the new situation.

The Plan Digue is expected to contain a five-year financing project; 1 million euros per kilometer is the estimated investment on building and repair of the French sea walls. However, a fundamental debate is needed as per the sea wall’s relevance as acceptable defense in itself, specifically when comparing to the Netherlands’ levees never-ending reviews to see whether standards should be raised in light of various threats. In 2008, the Netherlands announced more than 100 billion euros (then $140 billion) in new spending through the year 2100 to prepare for the effects of global warming.

As much as the sea walls were a large part of the problem, solutions should not be built up solely on such a questionable base. Squandering taxpayers money and more catastrophes are to be feared.

As l’Aiguillon mayor, Maurice Milcent, said “The breach in our sea wall, that was not the problem! The waters just rose at once, overflowing our communities, built on swamps, on a flood-prone area. The problem has been known since Napoleon’s era ” and added, “According to our regional construction codes, houses had to be “fishermen style.” Tragically indeed, at L’Aiguillon and La Faute-sur-Mer, most of the houses located right on the shorelines, were one story homes, to conform with local plans and legislation forbidding two story houses. This explains in part why so many drowned, unable to escape to higher levels.

The 2008 DDE report, preceded by published studies as early as 1999 and 2001, clearly stated that Aiguillon and La Faute-sur-Mer have been built: “On flood-prone areas, on soil temporarily won from the sea, without taking into account the “memory of risks”. That is where the problem resides and the solution rests! Unbridled urbanization on risk-prone areas along beloved, yet, hazardous coastlines.

The storm has definitely exposed major flaws in a well-developed western country’s housing planning.

Flooding is the number one natural risk in France. One out of three communities are potentially threatened, i.e. 5,1 million French people.

The last fifty years, the rate of urbanization of coastal and flood prone areas has dangerously increased. La Vendée, as most other coastal regions, has experienced an increase in popularity, attracting a population of more than 80,000 in the past decade, generating the construction of new houses perilously close to the country’s poorly protected shoreline. Many retired citizen flock to the western coast for its clement climate and more affordable lands.

As most industrialized and developed countries, France has adopted environmental laws addressing risks factors and management in determined areas. The Littoral Law of 1986 forbids construction at less than 100 meters from shoreline for buildings, and 2 kilometers for roads. Yet exemptions could too easily be obtained. A 1995 law, Major Risks Prevention Plan law, (La Loi Barnier du 2 Février 1995) was adopted, completing a 1982 law. It defines risk zones from white, to blue (dark blue and light blue) and red, and regulates construction interdiction levels from strict to permissible with specific requirements (regarding architecture and material used). The law was meant to install a flexible approach that would easily adopt to the needs of local and regional authorities. Under pressure, local executives, Mayors and General Council Presidents, continue to deliver construction permits, reluctant to recognize and comply with zoning. Since 2007, the French Government has had authority to intervene by expropriating any construction should a clear and present danger exist.

The Secretary of State for Ecology reported that 860 communities are below sea level in risky areas, but only 46 have Risk Prevention Plans defining zones where building is permitted, calling that “very insufficient”. To date, only 7600 Risk Prevention Plans have been approved. Since 1999, 100 000 homes have been approved to be built in coastal zones, known to be flood-prone.

“Each time a house is built, it’s money for the community,” said Léon Gendre, the mayor of La Flotte-en-Ré, an ancient town on the Ile de Ré, impacted by the flood as well. “Money is running all this.”

Chantal Jouano added, “We have to tighten up the rules regarding construction in flood-prone zones and behind sea walls, regardless of pressures.” President Sarkhozy declared that, “A reflexion must happen on urbanism. We cannot be lenient with safety.”

Before this very catastrophe, were all the cards not already on the table?

Under mounting scientific and environmentalist awareness and reports, as well as occurrences of announced and preventable disasters worldwide, concepts such as “the territorial intelligence” (see link) are developed. While opening necessary concerted actions between politicians, scientists, environmentalists and the people as a whole, implementation of knowledge to practical, sustainable and safer territorial development is promoted.

The point of all discussions should remain focused on stopping unbridled urbanization and preventing avoidable deaths and the gushing influx of taxpayers money by replicating past mistakes or investing in palliative, political and unadapted quick-fix solutions.

Modern mankind appears to be the only species on Earth whose propensity is to migrate its habitat counter-intuitively, solely ruled by will, preference, and or greed, against Nature’s evolution. Attempts to control disharmoniously the ultimately uncontrollable forces of Nature bear too costly a price for us, and future generations.

“We must be reasonable, and build further inland.” said Philippe de Villiers. We must be courageous as well, and seek implementation. In a speech to the victims, on March 16th, President Nicolas Sarkhozy declared he would ensure that, “All lessons were learned from this disaster, and would request local authorities to prevent zones devastated from being reoccupied.” To date, 30 construction permits recently granted in La Faute-sur-Mer and l’Aiguillon flood-prone areas, have been revoked.

Today, the memory of the tragedy is vivid and raw, as France is grieving and solutions are sought. In less than two months, the official report will be released, sadly titled “Plan Digues”… Will the “Memory of Risks” prevail?

“The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over expecting different results.” -Benjamin Franklin.

May cease the insanity, as the Seas are rising… ineluctably.


Latest Developments:

Xynthia Deadly Storm: The Trial Opens
Four years after a deadly storm devastated part of France west coast, killing 29 people in La Faute sur Mer town, the trial opens. Four elected officials and a real estate agent are indicted for aggravated manslaughter…

Le maire de la Faute-sur-mer René Marratier placé en garde à vue, Le Figaro, April 13th 2011
Les investigations sont menées dans le cadre d’une information judiciaire ouverte aux Sables d’Olonne pour “homicide involontaire”, “mise en danger de la vie d’autrui”, “abstention de combattre un sinistre” et “prise illégale d’intérêt.”

Xynthia : a Year Later, in Coastal Care

Xynthia : les chiffres de la tempête, un an après, Le Figaro

500 million Euros Plan to Strengthen Levees in France

1500 Homes are ordered to be destroyed, Euronews

1500 Maisons à détruire, Le Figaro

Black Rock, KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa; By Andrew Cooper

Black Rock

By Andrew Cooper, University of Ulster

On the northeast coast of South Africa, one of the longest and most beautiful beaches in the world runs unbroken for 150 km between the inlets of the St. Lucia and Kosi Estuaries. It is entirely within the iSimangaliso Wetland Park, a UNESCO world heritage site since 1999. The beach of coarse quartz sand is backed by a high forested dune that reaches heights of over 100m. At several locations along the coast are small rocky headlands made of the cemented remnants of Pleistocene dunes and beaches. These rocky remnants are also found submerged and they have provided a suitable substrate for the growth of coral reefs on the KwaZulu-Natal coast. Onshore, these are the only solid rock outcrops on the coast. Black Rock (27o04’S; 32o50E) is one such rock outcrop, south of the Kosi Bay Nature Reserve. The large southerly swells on the south side of Black Rock produce a coarse sandy beach that is very steep (the finer grains of sand are kept in suspension and are not deposited). Plunging waves break close to shore and there is very strong swash up the beach. North of Back Rock the beach is locally sheltered from the dominant swells and is made of fine-grained sand. Wave energy is also lower because the waves are refracted around Black Rock. The beach is more gently sloping and is a favoured swimming spot. Black Rock changes the plan shape of the beach by acting as a headland, and a typical zeta bay (or fish-hook-shaped) bay occurs to the north of it as the beach adjusts its shape to maintain equilibrium with the wave energy. Although it acts as a barrier to wave energy, the rock does not stop wind-blown sand from moving north. A “headland-bypass” dune carries this sand from one side of the rock to the other. This usually means south to north, but occasionally, the wind blows in the opposite direction, reversing the transport path.

Being the only rock outcrop for several kilometres, Black Rock is home to a lizard that is not found anywhere else in Africa, although it is found in Madagascar and the Seychelles. It is variously known as Coral rag lizard, or Bouton’s snake eyed skink or Cryptoblepharus boutoni. It seems that the ancestors of the present population must have arrived on driftwood carried by the Agulhas Current and have survived only on Black Rock. There it outcompetes the local lizards by living among the salt spray, but is unable to leave the rock because of competition from the local lizards.

South Nags Head, North Carolina; By Orrin H. Pilkey, Norma Longo & Joseph T. Kelly

South Nags Head

By Orrin H. Pilkey, and Norma Longo, Duke University And Joseph T. Kelly, University of Maine

South Nags Head, North Carolina, is a 5 mile long, 200 meter wide, strip of beach cottage development at the south end of town of Nags Head. The town borders on the Cape Hatteras National Seashore to the south. This stretch of shoreline is subjected to relatively high wave energy by east coast U.S. standards. Typical wave heights are around 3 feet but much higher during the frequent winter nor’easters. The net longshore transport of sand on this beach is to the south, probably at a rate of roughly 500,000 cubic yards of sand per year.

At the north end of South Nags Head, where the Comfort Inn Motel is situated, the erosion rate historically has been about 3 feet per year, and it progressively increases to the south, reaching an annual rate of 10 feet per year at the southern tip of the community. The sand beach is medium, slightly shelly sand with a high heavy mineral content. It would be an excellent beach for swimming, except for the fact that debris from fallen homes still exists in the intertidal zone. A number of cottages have fallen in along this shoreline and the city has not required much beach clean-up afterwards.

The seven-story Comfort Inn Motel was the first high-rise along the beach on the Outer Banks of North Carolina. It was built well back from the shoreline, but inevitably erosion caught up with it and now seven rows of rooms stand out on the beach. This presents a marvelous opportunity for a good view of the sea and the waves breaking on the beach, providing a storm isn’t coming. This would be a motel that you would want to check the weather forecast before checking in! The nose of the building, sticking out on the beach, is protected by sand bags — the multi-ton variety.

Farther down the length of this community, at least two dozen houses stand out on the beach seaward of the high tide line. Examination of aerial photos reveals that around Seagull Drive the buildings that front the beach today were on row three 25 years ago. The dream of owning a beachfront cottage has surprisingly come true for a number of cottage owners but their stay at the beachfront will be a short one! Seagull Drive used to be a U-shaped drive, but the end of the U has been removed by erosion.

In November 2009, South Nags Head was hit by a relatively minor nor’easter, exposing a number of septic tanks and causing around 40 buildings to be condemned. If past history is any indication, dump-truck sand will cover up some of the septic tanks and the house rentals will continue unimpeded. But with each storm, a few more houses are abandoned.

All of the houses on the beach are protected with sand bags. The history of South Nags Head clearly shows that there is no difference between a concrete seawall and a sand bag seawall. With time, usually within a decade, as erosion proceeds in front of the wall, the beach narrows and disappears. At several locations before the November 2009 nor’easter, it was not possible to walk along the beach even at low tide. In other words, the seawalls had completely taken out the beach. This phenomenon occurs because when seawalls are placed on an eroding shoreline, the erosion problem is not addressed. Thus, the beach continues to retreat until there is nothing left in front of the wall.

South Nags Head also has lessons for us regarding sand bags. The sand bags rarely last more than five years. Typically they are torn up by storm debris, such as boards with nails sticking out of them, floating down the beach.

The bottom line is that our Beach-of-the-Month designee is an example of how not to manage a beach. Houses are allowed to creep out on the beach as the shoreline erodes, sandbags are put in place which take away the beach, the septic systems that are frequently exposed by storms are surely polluting the waters, and concrete blocks, pipes, and cables from fallen houses continue to litter the beach.

Anegada, British Virgin Islands; By Andrew Cooper

Anegada Beach

By Andrew Cooper, University of Ulster

Anegada, the most northeasterly of the British Virgin Islands is a sandy island that sits on top of a Pleistocene reef that is now exposed above sea level. The island’s northern shore has a wide modern reef terrace that supplies broken down shell materials for a sandy beach that runs along the entire northern shore of the island for almost 20km. The fine white sand of the beach, palm trees and the aquamarine colour of the sea create a classic tropical beach landscape. The sparsely-inhabited island has a few tiny beach resorts (comprising a bar and/or a few holiday cottages) such as Cow Wreck Bay (named after the wreck of a ship carrying a cargo of cows), and Loblolly Bay.

Although the island is exposed to Atlantic waves, most of them break on the wide reef and lose most of their energy before reaching the beach. The beach is therefore well protected and historically the shoreline has been quite stable. Despite this, there are local areas of erosion that are probably created by local sediment scarcity as sediment moves along the shoreline. At one such area, west of Cow Wreck Bay, the coastline has been retreating for a few years. Unfortunately, this was one area in which a few holiday cottages had been built. One cottage has now (October 2009) been undermined by shoreline recession and is falling into the sea. Another will soon go the same way. Not far away along the coast to the east, is an undeveloped area where, ironically, the beach is advancing. That area, however, has a well-defined dune scarp that indicates that until recently, it had been eroding. The situation of alternating areas of erosion and accretion suggests that this stretch of coast, while protected from high wave energy, advances and retreats locally as the available sand moves along the coast creating local deficits and surpluses. Fortunately no shoreline stabilization has taken place on the north side of the island and the coast remains free to fluctuate in response to waves and sediment variability and so retain its natural beauty.

The photographs show the natural beauty of the Anegada north shore beaches on a stable section of coast, an area that was once eroding but which is now accreting seaward, and an area of active erosion. The collapse of a holiday cottage is also shown, which, while bad news for its owner, is good news for the beach.

Marconi Station, Cape Cod; By Joe Kelley

By Joe Kelley, University of Maine, Department of Earth Sciences

As the Ice Age began to wan, retreating ice backed northward from Cape Cod in northeastern North America. Melt water from one part of the ice poured into the temporary lake in what-is-now Cape Cod Bay. The lake was deep and the twelve meter bluffs of sand and gravel that form Outer Cape Cod are river deposits from that time.

Today these great bluffs of sand are eroding at about 1 m/yr, but as they do, they supply sand and gravel to the magnificent beaches of the Outer Cape, as well as to Provincetown in the north and Chatham in the south. One can walk for tens of kilometers here with a huge cliff of sand on one side and the open Atlantic Ocean on the other. The desolation and isolation of this area is what brought Henry David Thoreau to visit and write of Cape Cod on 4 occasions. Others have followed for the same reasons, including Henry Beston who wrote of his stay in “The Outermost House: A Year of Life on the Great Beach of Cape Cod”. He came to build a shack and stay for two weeks, but so loved it that he remained for a whole year.

A man with different interests visited in the early 20th Century. Guglielmo Marconi sought Outer Cape Cod to erect one of his wireless transmitter stations. It was from here that the first wireless transmission was sent from the United States to England in 1903. Marconi set the station back from the obviously eroding bluffs, but time and the sea have marched on. In 1993, I visited Marconi Station and saw only the last and most landward concrete footing left from the station. It is gone now, but the beach and the bluff and the desolation remain…at least in the Park. Just to the north of Marconi Station, a community of houses face the same fate as Marconi’s wireless station. But, the continuous loss of the upland to erosion feeds sand into one of the most magnificent beaches in North America; long may it erode!

Kashima Beach, Japan; By Andrew Cooper

Kahima Beach, Japan

By Andrew Cooper, University of Ulster

Kashima, 80 km east of Tokyo, is one of Japan’s most important ports. It is also at the southern end of a 65 km-long sandy beach that faces the high wave energy of the Pacific Ocean, which has an unbroken fetch of over 7000 km between Japan and North America. A succession of human interventions on Kashima beach renders it one of the most heavily engineered beaches in the world.

Its problems started when a river was diverted from Tokyo Bay in the middle ages to reduce siltation. The river instead carried its sediment directly to the coast and helped build the Kashima beach. As the river mouth migrated south under longshore drift, the northern parts of the beach were left without a sediment source and began to erode. The Port of Kashima, which was developed midway along the beach, soon began to suffer from sediment accumulation from updrift. At the same time, wind-blown dunes supplied with sand from the beach began to migrate landwards across the coastal forest. A series of hammerhead groynes was constructed to try and halt the longshore losses of sand, and sand fences were built to trap the sand that was blowing landwards.

Wave energy on the beach is so great that even some of the massive concrete tetrapod blocks used in the construction of the groynes have been thrown landwards. The groynes not only failed to stop the erosion but have created dangerous rip currents. Subsequent efforts to stabilise the beach have involved constructing an artificial dune, placing concrete blocks and tetrapods on the beach itself and finally, beach nourishment. The nourishment material contains a high proportion of mud and where it has been eroded, an unsightly muddy scarp and localised deposits of mud have been left on the beach surface. The water, in the breaker zone, also as high proportions of suspended muddy sediments. The net effect of all of these interventions is to produce an unsightly beach that depends on continued human intervention to sustain it.

The beach is a perfect example of one ill-conceived human intervention leading to many subsequent actions to try and remediate the original problems.

The beach is also home to an engineering research pier to rival that of Duck, North Carolina. Regular measurements of waves, tide, sediment and seabed level are taken at the site.

The photographs show several views of the beach including the hammerhead groynes, (some of which have been decorated with statues), beach armouring, dune fencing and nourished beach sections. They also show the sand fences in more detail, as well as one of the hammerhead groynes with a statue on top. You will notice that the most close-up photo shows two tetrapods that have been thrown over the structure by the waves.

Wave of Toxic Green Beaches, France; By Sharlene Pilkey

Saint-Michel-en-Greve, Brittany, France

A Wave of Toxic Green Beaches, Saint-Michel-en- Greve, Brittany, France

By Sharlene Pilkey

With beaches and coastlines all over the world already under attack from sea level rise, pollution, mining, driving, seawall construction and human development encroachment, another menace is mounting an assault. Humans are behind this one too. According to various media reports in France, and the United Kingdom, lethal green algae has invaded heavily used vacation beaches in Brittany, northern France and along England’s coastline from Wales to Portsmouth. Layering in deep piles, up to a meter thick with hard crusting on top, these stinking masses are ticking gas bombs.

Vincent Petit, a 27-year-old veterinarian, was riding horseback on a Brittany beach near Saint-Michel-en-Greve, when his horse broke through the crust and went down. A cloud of hydrogen sulfide gas (H2S) was released from the rotting algae, reportedly killing the horse within 30 seconds. Fortunately a tractor was nearby which was used to clear away algae and drag Mr. Petit to safety. He was rescued in an unconscious state and hospitalized. Now he is suing the local municipality responsible for beach maintenance.

On June 22, 2009 on the Cotes d’Armor, a 48 year old maintenance worker, clearing the green algae from the beach, was stricken and died apparently from a heart attack, but in recent medical reports the lethal green algae is suspected in his death.

This lethal algae on the French Coast was apparently a product of over fertilization of nearby fields with drainage emptying into the ocean. Towns along the Brittany coastline have hired bulldozers to scrape the seaweed away, but the algae keeps right on coming back.

Earlier, on a beach close to where Mr.Petit’s horse died, two dogs strolling by were killed by the sulfur dioxide. In a strange coincidence indicating the global nature of this problem, the death of two dogs running on an algae encrusted beach was recently reported from north of Auckland, New Zealand, not to mention the four dogs killed in 2009 by toxic beach algae near Elkton, Oregon.

The more one learns about this beach hazard, the more apparent its global scope becomes. Last year, the Chinese government brought in the Army to clear away the slimy green growths so the Olympic sailing competition could be held and so observers could safely view the event. In Italy, near Genoa, a sixty year old man had to be taken to the hospital this year because he swam in algae infested water, and last year in Genoa, more than 200 people were sent to hospital after swimming in the algae or inhaling toxins carried to the beach by the wind. This summer, officials in Massachusetts put out a toxic beach algae warning but did not close the beaches. It’s a problem for fresh water lakes as well.

Some are attributing the algae outbreaks to global warming. Although this may indeed be a factor as our seas warm up, it is clear that excess nitrate rich fertilizers, along with animal wastes and poorly treated or untreated sewage, are the main villains.

The problem is deeper than just hazards to humans. When a beach is covered with algae virtually everything that lives on and within the beach is killed while access is denied to nesting and to food for local birds, fish, sea turtles and various crustaceans. Thus, an entire beach/nearshore ecosystem that includes microscopic organisms (meiofauna) living between sand grains at the bottom of the food chain up to sharks cruising offshore, is wiped out. Simultaneously oxygen is usually depleted in nearshore waters, a threat to marine mammals and sea birds.

Politicians at a high level are finally beginning to pay attention to this problem. After all, beaches are a critical part of the economy of most coastal regions. The French Prime Minister Francois Fillon, announced that the “state would take over the responsibility for cleaning the beaches most affected.” He is also creating an interdepartmental committee to fight proliferation of the green algae and to protect the population and beaches. In other countries local municipalities or health organizations are trying to cope. The problem is of course, the coastal communities themselves did not usually create the toxic situation. At fault is the agribusiness along the coast and nearby rivers using fertilizers to boost production of food.

Hot weather, warm water, fertilized farms near rivers running into the sea are the problem, which disappears with the arrival of fall and winter. Unfortunately, it is always summer somewhere on our planet, and the problem flows from the land to the sea. With over 70 beaches in Northern France In trouble, as is the English coastline from Cardiff Bay to Portsmouth Harbor, coastlines worldwide are under attack. We wonder if this could be the toxic green wave of the future for developed coasts.

France Related Green Algae Resources

China Related Green Algae Resources

General Green Algae Pollution Information

French Official Report