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This is and is not what a beach should look like

March 27 2013 | Beach fill,

Beaches are simple... or at least that's the way we think of them.

Beaches have sand on them, waves rolling up and a palm tree or two.

Beaches seems like an unspoilable concept... how can something so simple, so natural and so pure be co-opted or redefined? 

The picture to the left provides an answer to this question.

This is a beach in Palm Beach, Florida.

The shells in the hand at the top are natural. It's what we expect to see at the high tide line. These are gorgeous, natural shells which will, in time, become sand.

The hand on the bottom holds something different. This is what is found during a process called "beach fill" (you may have heard it called by the more marketing-friendly label "beach nourishment").

Beach fill projects move sand from one place to another.

Sometimes the origin of the sand is another county... and sometimes it's another country.

Some beach fill programs don't start with sand, they start with nearby reefs... and grind them up. When that is done you sometimes get something that doesn't look like sand or shells... it looks like rocks... because that's what it is... ground-up reef... rocks. The lower hand to the left shows what such rocks look like. 

Beach fill projects also are very expensive. They can be as high as $10M to fill a mile of beach. Those funds come from us, taxpayers. Related, the sand doesn't last... it's ephemeral. 

When we were kids we'd build a sand castle and watch the next wave take it away. As adults we are making sandcastles on a grander scale. 

An analysis of beach fill projects on the east coast of the U.S. illustrated that the majority (62%) of projects lasted for 2-5 years and over a quarter (26%) survived less than a year. One major storm can wash away millions of sand dollars.  

As we experience more storms and super storms it's important that we acknowledge the importance of a healthy beach. For more info click on the image to the right.

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