Category Archives: Beach of the Month

Cabanas Velhas, Algarve, Portugal; Carlos Loureiro

By Carlos Loureiro, Universidade do Algarve, Portugal

Cabanas Velhas, meaning old huts, is a small embayed beach located in the southern Algarve, about 20 km east of Cape St Vincent.

The beach is in the easternmost stretch of a 110 km-long Natural Park that includes the entire southwestern coast of mainland Portugal. Composed of pre-Ordovician shale and greywacke cliffs in the west and Jurassic to Miocene limestone and marlstone cliffs in the south, this rocky shoreline is punctuated by several embayed or pocket beaches. These are often associated with small estuaries, which are biodiversity hotspots within a rugged, yet diverse landscape, where human activities, related mostly to agriculture and fisheries, can be traced back to the Middle Stone Age.

The short and narrow beach of Cabanas Velhas is bordered in the east by a limestone headland, and an abandoned quay that served a limestone quarry in the late 40’s, but nowadays is only used by fisherman. This headland partially protects the beach from the southeastern waves generated within the Gulf of Cadiz by local winds (Levante winds).

The beach is fully exposed to southwesterly waves and storms from the North Atlantic. Storm waves in excess of 4 meter reach the beach almost every winter, turning a sandy beach into a boulder beach in just a few days.
—Carlos Loureiro

The beach is, however,fully exposed to southwesterly waves and storms, from the North Atlantic. Storm waves in excess of 4 m reach the beach almost every winter, turning a sandy beach into a boulder beach in just a few days.

The sand veneer that covers the beach is rapidly eroded from the beach,exposing the pebbles and boulders to wave action and being transformed into a pebble beach. As wave action continues, the pebbles and smaller boulders are moved around and frequently sorted into well-defined storm cusps.

Dramatic natural changes occur not just at Cabanas Velhas but at other similar beaches around the southern Portuguese coast, with sandy beaches in the summer becoming completely stripped of sand during the winter. Recovery of sand veneers during the milder summer season does occur at least partially on most beaches, yet some may remain devoid of sand for several years, before sand returns to the beach from natural offshore storage areas. In nearby embayments, where small fishing boats are dragged through the sand, to and from the sea, fishermen have adapted their methods for accessing the sea using wood logs to prevent hull damage when the sandy beach is absent.

The photographs show different views of Cabanas Velhas beach and the abandoned quay. A striking contrast between the beach in the late summer of 2007 and just a few months after, when stormy waves that easily reach the cliff base at high tide, strip the sand out of the beach.

Charleston’s vulnerable future, through the eyes of an artist; By Celie Dailey

By Celie Dailey

Artist Mary Edna Fraser lives on an intertidal creek in Charleston, SC. Although having depicted coastal regions around the world, it is this landscape that she knows best. Sitting on her dock at dead high tide, it was quiet on the evening of Saturday, August 27th as Hurricane Irene’s 600-mile wide reach churned offshore waters. (The eye of Irene had gone ashore earlier that morning, at Cape Hatteras about 450 miles to the north.)

Without much rain, the high tide was six inches from the bottom of her dock, a rare high water mark that coincided with a brilliant sunset. This peaceful moment provided a reflection on the potential power of storm surge—with a real hit from a storm at high tide, her home, at relatively high elevation in Charleston, and her eroding creekside bank, would be in danger. The downtown Charleston peninsula could face flooding of an even greater degree.

Much of the city of Charleston lies at about eight feet above sea level and when high tide (especially a spring high tide) combines with a little rain, flooding is rampant all over the city. Storm drainage systems run slowly and pools of water collect city-wide. A 1949 map of Charleston showing the original high-tide lines reveals that much of the city was actually marsh and estuary before it was filled in to create the 2 mile-wide downtown peninsula of today.

In “Charleston Airborne Flooded,” Mary Edna’s batik-on-silk rendition of the area that would be inundated by a 4.5-foot sea level rise, the water appears to mimic the original high-tide lines. The city still floods along these historic tidal creeks. A well-known area of flooding is Market Street, the location of the city’s outdoor market that spans several blocks inland from the Cooper River. During Hurricane Hugo in 1989, the open market became a rushing river. Originally the location of Major Daniel’s Creek, this area was used as a shipping canal until closed off by the construction of Governor’s Bridge in 1747. It was then that the wetlands began to be drained and built up to create more city lots.

Matt Pendleton, a spatial analyst with IMSG for NOAA Coastal Services Center in Charleston, SC prepared a map which shows projected sea level rise of 4.5 feet by the year 2100 which Mary Edna rendered in “Charleston Airborne Flooded.” To create the batik, Mary Edna brushed hot wax over the land that is lightest in color so that it would resist the dye bath that followed. She then dyed, in green, the area that would be inundated by the sea, seen along the land’s edges. Successive layers of removable wax and dye were used to build color and line in this illustration.

Charleston is by no means the worst off as far as susceptibility to sea level rise. So many cities were created by landfill, for example, the rims of Boston and New York. Miami tops the list as the world’s most vulnerable city (according to the value of threatened property). It sits atop porous limestone with no higher ground on which to migrate. For Miami, the options are to build a seawall at great cost or to abandon the city at even greater cost. Among the options for Charleston are marsh expansion projects, storm water retention ponds, elevated roadways, drainage canals, and seawalls.

The flatter coastal planes of eastern North and South America make these margins more threatened by sea level rise than the west coasts with their higher and steeper coastal zones. Hurricanes add to this vulnerability in North America.

As sea level rises, the potential of tides and storm surge to penetrate further inland increases.

Mary Edna Fraser addresses many aspects of sea level rise with her art in Global Climate Change: A Primer, co-authored by Orrin and Keith Pilkey. Together, in a visually stimulating format, they present the fundamentals of climate change science, as well as uncover the politics of denial and address the human costs.


Global Climate Change: A Primer, Orrin and Keith Pilkey, Duke University, 2011

Alfred O.Halsey Map, Preservation Society Of Charleston
Alfred O. Halsey’s Historic Charleston on a Map,1680 – 1949. Showing original high tide water lines, fortifications, boroughs, great fires, Historic information, etc. Compiled and delineated by Alfred O. Halsey, May 1949. Superimposed upon City Engineers map drawn by Jos. Needle – 1946.

Proprietary Records Of South Carolina, Vol.3

Visualizing Sea Level Rise to Engage Municipal Government Officials in Coastal South Carolina, NOAA

Caminada Headland, Louisiana; By Joe Kelley

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

Caminada Headland is a 22.5 km (14 mile) long beach (part of which is called Elmer’s Island) that projects out in to the Gulf of Mexico from the central Mississippi River Delta. This undeveloped beach was once an unbroken stretch of fine sand with extraordinary fishing and bird-watching opportunities. The birds and fish remain, but unfortunately hurricanes have breached the beach in many places, limiting driving access.
Its vulnerability to storms is a result of very low topography. Sand dunes are rarely more than a half a meter high (2 feet), and storms wash ocean water across the beach many times per year.

This undeveloped beach was once an unbroken stretch of fine sand with extraordinary fishing and bird-watching opportunities.
—Joe Kelley

Caminada Headland is situated on the former site of the mouth of the Mississipi River. Known today as Bayou Lafourche, the former river channel was abandoned long ago when the river began to grow to its present location in the east. Vessels use the Bayou still, however, and on the western end of the Caminada Heaadland is Port Fourchon, a jump-off point for the Louisiana Oil and Gas industry. The offshore production platforms are not hard to see from the beach, and when the beach rapidly erodes (which is often), pipes connecting the offshore to land become visible. Most of these were once embedded in salt marsh peat behind the beach, but as the beach has moved landward, they have become exposed, along with thick deposits of peat, along the coast. Because of its importance to the offshore industry, Port Fourchon is sheltered from storm waves to some degree by a series of rock breakwaters and an artificially replenished beach.

Caminada Headland is important as it erodes as a source of sand to nearby beaches like Grande Isle and East Timbalier Island. The erosion has come with both loss of land for Louisiana and loss of life. The beach is moving landward at more than 3 m (10 feet) per year, and over the past hundred years or so, many have died here during hurricanes. There is a movement in Louisiana to make this a protected state seashore.

Jekyll Island, Georgia; By Blair & Dawn Witherington

By Blair and Dawn Witherington

Jekyll Island is a 12-kilometer long ark meeting the Atlantic Ocean as part of the Georgia coastline, southeastern US. The island is an exquisite exemplar of coastal processes, both geological and human-influenced.

The north end of Jekyll is sinking. Although sufficient open sand remains at low tide, each high tide brings the Atlantic into the maritime forest of live oak and slash pine. The result is a boneyard beach scattered with a skeletal testament to coastal change.

A little farther south on Jekyll, the ocean washes up at the feet of human endeavor. There, tides advancing on beachfront buildings and parking lots have compelled human intervention in the form of granite revetments dumped onto the beach. It’s more difficult to walk on and comparatively less picturesque that the adjacent, stately, ghost forest, but the rocky battleground does offer its own interesting philosophical instruction.

The dynamic drift of sand that has impoverished Jekyll’s northern beaches has fattened the island’s southern shoreline, where tall dunes front a maritime forest of salt-spray-tortured bonsai-shaped oaks. The line of dunes stretches south, ending at a broad sandy fan at the island’s southernmost tip. The expanse invites resting seabirds and provides living space for a splendid variety of imbedded marine animals. Some of these are visible at low tide, and others exclaim their presence only by their skeletal remains—the knobbed whelks, baby’s ears, shark eyes, and other shells prized by collectors of beach-trip souvenirs.

Jekyll Island is among the most easily accessible of Georgia and South Carolina’s “sea islands,” many of which are strikingly beautiful and similar to the landscape occupied by the Native American Guale people who persisted for hundreds of years as frequent coastal visitors. These folks were vanquished by European conquest and assimilation, rather than by natural forces. The winners of this cultural battle now occupy Jekyll Island and other laboratories of coastal change. Amidst some messy experimentation, there remains some beautiful scenery and wildlife.

Living Beaches Of Georgia And Carolinas, By Blair and Dawn Witherington

Colombian Pacific Beaches at the Mouth of Bahia de Buenaventura; By William J. Neal & Orrin H. Pilkey

By William J. Neal and Orrin H. Pilkey

Among the world’s most remote beaches are those that line the 62 barrier islands of Colombia’s Pacific Coast. Only two roads lead over the Andes to access points from which the islands and their few, very small, subsistence coastal villages can be reached by boat.

The largest community is the port city of Buenaventura (population ~325,000), well inland at the head of Bahia de Buenaventura, with boat access to the local tourist village of La Bocana at the mouth of the bay. Near this village are small headland beaches, and across the mouth of the bay are the barrier-island beaches on El Soldado and Santa Barbara islands.The only other coastal city on the Pacific Coast of Colombia is Tumaco (population 90,000) near the border with Ecuador. There are a number of small villages on the islands, most with populations of a few hundred.

The origin and character of these beaches are representative of much of Colombia’s Pacific Coast, and their near-natural state means that island and beach dynamics have been little influenced by humans. This character and their location on a tectonically active plate boundary are what led us to make coring expeditions to the islands in search of historic tsunami deposits.

Located just north of the Equator, the islands are covered by tropical rainforest and backed by extensive mangrove swamps, rather than the more familiar salt marshes of mid-latitude barriers. Rainfall here is about 200 inches per year, and on the nearby crest of the Andes, 25 miles from the coast, as much as 300 inches per year. The islands formed on the edge of the narrow coastal plain adjacent to the Northern Andes.

The sand supply for the beaches comes from numerous short streams that feed large volumes of sediment directly to the inlets and thence to the beaches. The immediate Andes sediment source for the beaches is reflected in the color and composition of the sand. The fine-to-medium sand is dark green-to-gray with white specks of shell fragments. The sand is well sorted, that is, there is little variation in grain size on the beaches, except in the form of occasional shell lags. The dark color is due to the dominance of sand-sized rock fragments derived from volcanic and metamorphic rocks. In addition, the sand contains abundant dark heavy minerals such as magnetite.

Tiny mica flakes are also abundant; the flat, glassy mineral grains provide the beach with a beautiful reflective sparkle on sunny days. The presence of mica is an indication that the sand has not been transported far or weathered for very long.

The beaches of the Pacific coast of Colombia are, for the most part, peaceful, quiet, pristine and stunning in their beauty. The quiet is usually broken by birdcalls from the jungle and countless splashing, diving pelican.
—William J. Neal and Orrin H. Pilkey

Beach sand composed of abundant rock fragments and diverse minerals is an indication of immaturity. Mature beach sand such as that on Moroccan and southeastern U.S. beaches has generally lost many of its original and more unstable minerals from the source rocks except for the very stable quartz and feldspar grains and is light colored. To achieve such maturity may take millions of years.

Apparently there is a local belief that the black sand has some therapeutic effect. We watched an old man being buried by his friends as he lay on his back in a shallow ditch. He held an umbrella in his hand to ward off the rain on his still exposed head. He claimed that occasional burial in beach sand helped reduce the aches and pains from his arthritis.

The tidal amplitude here is close to 4 meters, the presumed upper limit for barrier island formation. “Dry” beach width (above the high-tide line) is narrow (tens of feet), and the high tidal range and frequent rainfall keep the beaches wet. Beach sediment is transported by longshore currents, and spits are common at the ends of the islands. Strong tidal currents carry sand out to form horn-like sand bar tidal deltas that extend far seaward from the ends of barrier islands adjacent to large inlets. These submerged ebb-tidal deltas are a navigational hazard even for the ubiquitous dugout canoes with Yamaha outboard motors. Dugout canoes are now manufactured in lumberyards.

Although storms here on the Equator are infrequent, short-term fluctuations in sea level do occur, particularly during times of El Niño when the spring high tides are at a maximum, and during which beach erosion is common (as much as 3 feet of beach retreat on a single tidal cycle). Longer-term erosion is due in part to the global sea-level rise and can be estimated from air photo studies, as well as from field evidence such as stands of dead mangrove trees being actively eroded. With the exception of the accreting spits at the end of the island, from 1961 to 1992 (dates of available air photos) El Soldado showed an average rate of erosion of 16 ft/yr, maintaining the concave seaward shape of its coast. During the same time interval, Santa Barbara Island eroded at even higher rates along its southern shore (up to 27 ft/yr), while accreting at about 33 ft/yr along its northern reach, with an even higher rate in the spits.

On average, it is likely that sea level rise is quite rapid here. Apparently, as the forces of colliding plates cause the Andes to rise, the coastal margin, including the barrier islands and beaches, subsides. Subsidence events are usually accompanied by earthquakes. The Tumaco Earthquake of 1979 caused one 50-mile-long coastal segment to subside as much as 5 feet overnite, resulting in significant and sudden beach retreat. This earthquake also caused a tsunami that resulted in 220 deaths and significant damage to the village of San Juan de la Costa.

When storms do occur, particularly at high tide, these low islands are easily over-washed, as there are no significant beachfront dunes to block the path of storm waves. Perhaps the lack of dunes occurs because the beach sand is continually wet, and sand does not readily blow landward to form dunes. Countering this is the fact that we could feel sand on our legs on windy days, indicating that sand is being transported by wind. J.R.L. Allen, British sedimentologist, made the same observation on the tropical beaches of the Niger Delta barrier islands and was puzzled about the lack of dunes there.

The most serious “fly in the ointment” is trash (garbage), lots of it, at least on the beaches closest to the entrance to Buenaventura Bay. The problem is that some residents of Buenaventura dump their refuse in the bay and when the winds and tides are just right, the cans, bottles and plastic float away to land on the nearest beaches. In recent years, La Bocana and the associated tourist beaches have been kept cleaner by regular trash removal, in an effort to encourage ecotourism.

The beaches of the Pacific coast of Colombia are, for the most part, peaceful, quiet, pristine and beautiful. The quiet is usually broken by birdcalls from the jungle and countless splashing, diving pelicans in numbers far larger than we have seen elsewhere. The Colombian coast and its beaches are stunning in their beauty.

Correa Arango, I.D. and Restrepo Angel, J.D., 2002, Geologia y Oceanografia del Delta del Rio San Juan: Litoral Pacifico Colombiano. Fondo Editorial Universidad-EAFIT, Medellin, Colombia, 221p.

Martinez, J.O., Gonzalez, J.L., Pilkey, O.H. and Neal, W.J. 1995. Tropical Barrier Islands of Colombia’s Pacific Coast: Journal of Coastal Research, v 11, p 432 – 453.

South West National Park, Tasmania; By Johnny Abegg

South West Marine Debris Cleanup

By Johnny Abegg

Have you ever dreamed of a place as a child that you always wanted visit?

I was lucky enough to visit South West National Park in Tasmania, chartering the South and West coast by boat for the annual South West Marine Debris Cleanup. Growing up in Tasmania from the age of 4 to 15, this is that place of wonder for me. A childhood dream realised.

Sipping on a warm cup of coffee in my comfortable abode in Byron Bay, I got the last moment call up from Patagonia to have a slot on the trip. I couldn’t believe it. Suddenly I was touching down in Hobart to familiar sights and surrounds, that only a childhood could breed.

The initiative has been running for over a decade, facilitated by Environmental Scientist Matt Dell from Hobart. The cleanup aligns itself with Patagonia‘s ethos of giving back to our planet, donating 1% of profits (grossing $40 million to date) to grassroots initiatives such as the South West Marine Debris Cleanup. Through Dell’s passion for the Tasmanian natural environment, a love for the South West (a World Heritage area), and with the support of companies like Patagonia, the trip is a very important endeavour in highlighting the facts, that even in the most remote and isolated areas of the planet, our influence is felt.

A group of 23 volunteers was orchestrated this year to aid Dell in the week-long cleanup (the biggest contingent in the cleanups history). Thousands of pieces of rubbish (some bigger than others) wash up onto these isolated shores with no access to the public. Chartering a group of fishing vessels, we were able to enter these wanderlust areas, doing our bit by collecting the debris, hauling them onto our boats, sorting the rubbish by night into categories, and getting to breath and taste the remote wonder of Tasmania’s main jewel in it’s crown.

As an added bonus, we also got the chance to surf!

The might of the Roaring Forties is a constant influence on Tasmania, a world owned by Mother Nature. Radio is the only means of communication with daily forecasts of 3-4 metre seas bombarding portions of our trip, with fluctuating weather and wind, and the adjusting sea-legs for those in new territory. The empty white sand beaches and new footprints governed, we were explorers to a foreign shore. The serenity was shadowed by jagged ranges of mountainous teeth in our peripherals. The ying/yang beauty was unfortunately desaturated by all the colours of the rainbow in plastic, bottles, rope, bait straps, fishing nets, beer cans and so much more.

Over the days, which turned into a week, the grand total of rubbish collected off six beaches was 18357 items, totalling around 3.5 tonnes. This is the biggest recorded haul in the Cleanup’s history. In material terms 93% of the rubbish was plastic comprised mainly of rope, bottles and miscellaneous plastic pieces, and 4.5% was metal mainly as aluminium cans. Small pieces of plastic, caps and lids continue to be found in increased numbers, and these along with small pieces of rope and bait box straps accounted for over 70% of the rubbish items collected.

The lesson…To respect what we have, to find ways to sustain, and let places like this flourish and be wild, unmarked by mans lack of accountability.
— Johnny

This humbling figure came down to the team recovering 11,317 items in just five hours off a 1.5 kilometre length of coastline. A series of rocky coves were home to kelp riddled foreshores of cross thatched nature and garbage. An eyesore as far as the eye could see. The prognosis was no better in the opposite direction, where sharp rocks and cobblestones where home to an ambush of florescent, we had found Tasmania’s ‘Garbage Patch’. There is still more to obtain next year.

This year the team finally recovered ‘temples de rope’ – three huge rope balls weighing between 200-400 kg each that Dell had observed over the last few years. There awe and size took at times 10-12 people to move the monsters, and hours of deliberation and digging. The rope was finally hauled aboard by a Hiab, lifting them from the water, and leaving the beaches beautiful.

The more unusual items found on the shore this year included a fridge, a bodyboard, a cold full can of beer and an assortment of toys including a still inflated party balloon. Once again there was rubbish from all corners of the globe including numerous Japanese, Chinese and Korean oil and food containers, fishing buoys and trawl nets.

A selection of the rubbish was displayed at Salamanca Market on the 7th of May 2011.

The trip was a dream come true for me. The South West National Park is like stepping into another world. A place where you can breath the freshest air, marvel at the wild country, and know that you as a human being are a part of Mother Nature.

This is the lesson. To respect what we have, to find ways to sustain, and let places like this flourish and be wild, unmarked by mans lack of accountability.

South West Marine Debris Cleanup: Video By Johnny Abegg

Filmed and Edited by Johnny Abegg
Music by Any Noise

The South West Marine Debris Cleanup is an annual trip orchestrated by Environmental Scientist Matt Dell to the remote wilderness of Tasmania, where tonnes of rubbish can be found on the beaches of this pristine and isolated environment.

This is his story.

Thanks to Patagonia for their ongoing support of environmental issues.

For more about the cleanup, or to make a donation visit: marinedebris.blogspot

Durham Coast, England; By Andrew Cooper

By Andrew Cooper, University of Ulster

Remarkable actions are being taken to restore an industrialised coast heavily impacted by over a century of coal mining to restore the sedimentary system and make the coast attractive for recreation.

The 18km-long coast of County Durham in northeast England was once the centre of a thriving coal mining industry. Mining ran from the 19th century and the coast was lined with collieries, many of which had shafts extending far beneath the North Sea.

During the active mining period millions of tons of colliery waste were dumped on the coast where it became the main contributor of sediment to beaches. Wide beaches of colliery spoil material developed along the coast as the waste was sorted and transported in longshore drift toward the south. The mine waste was, however, chemically active and contains a mix of various rocks together with bricks and old mine machinery. The beaches that it formed are chemically active and have highly acidic conditions that cause the rocks to crumble, making the beach a hostile environment for living creatures and an unpleasant environment for people to visit. Consequently, they were little used by local communities.

The mine waste beaches were discoloured by the chemical reactions taking place within them and various shades of green and yellow are produced by chemicals being precipitated on the surface.

In the early 1990s mining stopped abruptly and the collieries were shut. Since the dumping of waste stopped, the waves have continued to work on the accumulated material in the beaches, eroding and sorting the material once again, and cleaning them as they do so to produce active and useable beaches.

A special initiative called “Turning the Tide” set out to clean and restore the coast and its beaches for conservation and recreation. Amongst other things, this initiative assisted in the cleanup by removing more than a million tons of colliery material from one beach alone. The waves continue the process by eroding and cleaning the former waste beaches and as the coast is slowly reverting to its former natural state, it is beginning to be used by people once again.

The photographs show the beaches near the former collieries of Seaham and Easington where the waves are eroding the old mine waste and creating an active beach. On these beaches the contrast is quite striking between the chemically active former beaches (with a yellowish colouration) and the new beaches being formed as the waste is eroded and cleaned by wave action.

Sebastian Inlet, Florida; By Eddie Jarvis

By Eddie Jarvis

Around 1885, a local turpentine baron named David Gibson decided that his land on the Indian River should have more direct access to the Atlantic Ocean. His solution to this problem was to dig an inlet, connecting the Indian River Lagoon to the Atlantic Ocean, and essentially cutting North Hutchison Island (sometimes called Orchid Island) in half. After all, barrier islands are sometimes pesky little buggers and often get in the way of commerce. Unfortunately for Gibson, the inlet was filled in a decade later when a tropical storm, followed by a Category 3 hurricane hit the central Florida coast.

Today, Gibson’s attempt to tame Mother Nature is called “Gibson’s Cut” or “Gibson’s Folly,” depending on who you ask. 63 years and hundreds of thousands of dollars later, Gibson’s dream was realized when a “permanent” inlet was established. The reincarnate of Gibson’s Folly was dubbed Sebastian Inlet.

Sebastian Inlet is not alone in its manufactured appearance. Practically every inlet on the East Florida coast is man-made. The long sand spits that historically protected the Eastern Florida seaboard have forever been altered. Presently, the Sebastian Inlet is the sight of the second most popular state park in Florida and home to one of the premier surf spots on the East Coast.

Last March, I packed my 2003 Toyota Matrix with camping gear, three surfboards, and two buddies and drove to Sebastian Inlet State Park. It was the perfect time for a road trip: the economy was in the tank, millions of sharks were making their annual migration down the Florida coast, and midterms Coastal Carolina University were two weeks away. I had been checking the surf report religiously and was confident that there would be an ample amount of waves to satisfy our thirst.

Every year, thousands of pilgrims flock to the Central Florida coast, braving irate fishermen and an abundance of sharks, to surf the tasty barrels created by the north jetty. Legend has it, the first ever aerial on a surfboard was done here. The inlet was the proving grounds for ten-time world champion Kelly Slater. In short, it is the Mecca of East Coast surfing.

Sebastian Inlet State Park straddles two barrier islands, connected by an arching bridge that also serves as a revered source of shade in the parking lot. To the south, towering sand dunes are interrupted by the occasional mansion, usually adorned with a sea wall. This is the product of a combination of money and erosion. The majority of the park lies on the northern island, ensuring far less development. Sand dunes surround the bathrooms, a ranger station, and a snack shop. This is where the throngs of visitors tend to go, so expect massive crowds in the water and on the beach.

The inlet is guarded by two jetties, a smaller rock jetty to the south, and a large curving cement monstrosity to the north. Real estate on the north jetty is hard to come by, as it is generally packed with fishermen, some of whom cast their line directly into the surf lineup. This has created a heated controversy among the park’s surfers and fishermen. The overdeveloped and highly toxic Indian River Lagoon defines the park’s western boundary. Mangroves dot the shoreline, but mansions can be seen in the distance. A pamphlet I picked up at a local gas station titled “A Guide to Living on Indian River Lagoon,” touted the abundance of marine life in the lagoon, including the beleaguered manatee, but admitted 92 percent of the lagoon’s mangroves have been sacrificed to development.

With jetties come erosion, and Sebastian Inlet is no exception. Like most of Florida, the erosion is concentrated on the southern island since it is downdrift from the jetty, which explains the presence of the sea walls. To combat this bothersome process, the inlet is dredged on a regular basis and the sand is used to restore the southern beach. For the past hundred years, the State of Florida and the Army Corps of Engineers have quite literally thrown money into the inlet, attempting to fix a problem that they created in the first place by building the jetties so the inlet wouldn’t fill in, so Floridians can drive their boats from their mansions on the lagoon to the ocean.

Progress is truly amazing.

But I am a hypocrite, as are all environmentally conscious surfers who flock to Sebastian Inlet. The reason Sebastian Inlet has such world class surf in the first place is the very reason the shoreline continues to erode.

The reason Sebastian Inlet has such world class surf in the first place is the very reason the shoreline continues to erode.

Swells barreling in from the northeast run smack-dab into the north jetty, whose slight curve causes the wave to wedge, making for truly amazing barrels, especially when you consider you’re still in Florida, and not G-Land. Surfers have dubbed this spot “First Peak.”

To the north of First Peak are its slightly less industrious twins,” Second Peak” and “Third Peak.” These breaks owe their prowess to the sandbar situated roughly twenty-five yards offshore, but they do not come close to achieving the levels of surf that grace First Peak. However, they do offer a glimpse of what surf would have looked like before the jetty was built.

This begs the question: are we as surfers willing to give up our favorite surf spots in order to restore the environment to its natural state?

It’s hard to imagine a surfer-run environmental organization such as Surfrider rallying around the destruction of the north jetty. It’s one thing to support the demolition of the Elwha River Dam in Washington State, a project that has no bearing on the surf, but quite another to destroy one of the best surf spots on the generally surf deprived East Coast.

I don’t have the answers, but if pressed I would vote to keep First Peak and all of its glory. Anyway, just something to think about…

Kailua Beach, O’ahu Island, Hawai’i; By Chip Fletcher

Kailua Beach

By Chip Fletcher, Associate Dean for Academic Affairs and Professor School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology (SOEST), University of Hawai΄i

Kailua Beach, a beautiful 30 minute drive from busy Waikiki, lies on the east side of the Hawaiian Island of O’ahu. This white-sand beach is the signature characteristic of the bedroom community of Kailua, formerly a sleepy beach town that has been discovered by tourists and is experiencing the bustle of redevelopment. Kailua beach is two and a half miles long and was identified by Conde Naste magazine as the best beach in the United States in 1998. Kailua means “two currents in the sea.” It is a carbonate beach composed of sands produced by the offshore fringing reef (mollusk and coral fragments, grains of calcareous and coralline algae, Pleistocene limestone rock fragments, and echinoderm particles) during the late Holocene sea-level high stand that was endemic to Pacific islands 2,000-4,000 years ago.

Kailua Beach Park lies at the south end of the beach. The 35-acre park, which includes a public boat ramp in the lee of Alala Point, has been the center of windsurfing on O’ahu since the sport was introduced in the 1970s. An area marked by buoys along the park’s shore is reserved for swimmers.

Popoi’a Island, popularly known as Flat Island, is one quarter of a mile seaward of the boat ramp and is easily reached by a competent swimmer. Popoi’a means “rotten fish,” and may refer to offerings that were left at a former fishing shrine in the middle of the island. The tsunami of 1946 destroyed the remnants of the shrine. Landing is permitted on the island’s small sand beach, although Popoi’a is part of the Hawai’i State Seabird Sanctuary. A popular surf site known as Flat Island breaks on a shallow reef on the island’s south side.

Many days are marked by brisk tradewinds blowing onshore which prevent this beach from being an “ideal” tourist setting. But in the lee of Popoi’a, conditions at the beach park are typically enjoyable and dozens of local families set up camp on weekends to enjoy the sun, relatively calm waters, and party atmosphere.

Before heading to any Hawaiian beach, check the beach safety website and ALWAYS swim near a lifeguard:
Chip Fletcher, University of Hawai΄i

Living on the Shores of Hawaii: Natural Hazards, the Environment, and Our Communities
(with contributions from Beaches of Oahu by John R. K. Clark )