Is beach replenishment bad for fish and wildlife? That depends on who you ask. Although the various agencies involved in beach replenishment (also called beach nourishment) point to studies that show these projects are a boon to fish and wildlife, these studies often reach the desired conclusion – that sand pumping is beneficial – by depicting things in the best possible light and/or ignoring troubling details. They can also utilize studies that have little bearing on actual conditions.
As one example, the Army Corp of Engineers highlights the study “The effects of beach replenishment on the benthos of a sub-tropical Florida beach” to show that sand pumping is benign. The study concluded there was “…no indication of significant negative effects of beach nourishment.” But if you read the study, it clearly states the organisms on that particular beach were “dominated by only two species… …the coquina clams Donax variabilis and Donax parvula.” And that “Negative biological effects
of beach nourishment may have been minimized… …due to a seasonal offshore movement….”. In other words, the clams had moved offshore before sand was pumped, and returned afterwards. That’s a great way for these clams to avoid problems, but not applicable to most beaches.
As another example, the increased nesting habitat produced by a wider beach for beach and dune – nesting birds is certainly a benefit. A big plus, right? But they fail to point out that while nest sites may increase, the forage species these birds rely on for food along the shoreline have been buried under millions of cubic yards of new sand.
The creatures these birds eat, such as Atlantic Mole crabs, are wiped out by beach replenishment projects and can take years to recover. And while adult birds can fly to better foraging sites, their recent hatchlings can only travel as far as their tiny legs can carry them. To make matters worse, some of these birds, like the Piping Plover, are on the endangered species list, and with their numbers already low, cannot afford any new problems.
Beyond the shoreline, fish like striped bass look for clams, aquatic worms, mole crabs, lady crabs and other fare in the near-shore area. All of these are decimated by the pumping of sand. You can see these changes with your own eyes. Note this locally made video by Art Nelson called Beach Rich, Fish Poor.
And, it gets worse. Not only do these projects impact the places where they occur, the pumped sand has a tendency to drift, carried by waves and currents to create similar damage in areas miles distant. Since the new sand is removed quickly, by storms, tides, and currents, the sand pumping must be repeated, over and over, often before any real recovery of the original life has occurred.
Those and other issues are covered in this three-part series that appeared in Florida Sportsman, written by Terry Gibson in 2011.
Article 1 of 3 Florida Sportsman
Article 2 of 3 Florida Sportsman
Article 3 of 3 Florida Sportsman
In addition, the sand that is pumped onto beaches often differs greatly from the original sand, making it difficult or impossible for organisms to recolonize these places. See the section on poor quality for sand for more on that.
But don’t take our word for it. Below are a few studies for you to review to learn more on the tragic consequences of beach replenishment. We need to stop the madness! The time is now. See our section on alternatives.
Multi-year persistence of beach habitat degradation from nourishment using coarse shelly sediments; Peterson, Bishop, D’Anna and Johnson. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24802271
Exploiting beach filling as an unaffordable experiment: Benthic intertidal impacts propagating upwards to shorebirds; Peterson, Bishop, Johnson, D’Anna, Manning. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0022098106003509
The effects of beach replenishment on the benthos of a sub-tropical Florida beach; Gorzelany, Nelson