Like any coastal area, Sanibel & Captiva Islands are by no means immune to gradual beach erosion to our barrier island coastline. This is a natural occurrence for any coast along a major body of water such as the Gulf of Mexico. So what measures are in place to help prevent Captiva and Sanibel beach erosion? We’re glad you asked!
Image of the 2013 Beach Nourishment Project. (Image courtesy of mycepd.com)
There’s actually a whole organization developed to tackle this important topic on Captiva Island, and that is the Captiva Erosion Prevention District (CEPD). This independent special beach and shore preservation district was established nearly 60 years ago in 1959, under the provision of Chapter 161, Florida Statutes. The organization is governed by an independently elected board of directors, who carry out the mission to protect, preserve and restore the barrier island’s coastline.
What is Beach Erosion?
Just so we’re on all on the same page… When we say “beach erosion,” we’re talking about the loss in volume of sand along the shoreline, which usually moves down the beach or out into deeper water. The same motion and current that can take swimmers offshore also moves the sand in the same way. Beach erosion can be dangerous to the coastline when strong storms, winds and tides occur. If not handled properly, eroded beaches can result in loss of land, vegetation and wildlife habitat – which you know we are very conscience of here on the islands.
Image courtesy of Eric Vaughn – Flickr
How To Prevent Beach Erosion
Beach erosion is countered with what we call “beach nourishment programs.” The Captiva Erosion Prevention District has great information on their website about the different beach nourishment programs that have occurred over the past 50 years. The most recent program was completed in 2013, where more than 783,000 cubic yards of shoreline was restored along Captiva Island’s gulfside beaches, stretching all the way from Blind Pass up to Red Fish Pass. The project rehabilitated existing sand dunes as well as installed more than 318,000 plants for vegetative protection and a habitat for wildlife.
During beach nourishment projects, a floating plant called a “hopper dredge” sucks sand from the sea floor of a designated area usually a couple miles off-shore and loads it into a hold. The ship then comes closer to shore where it is pumped through large pipes onto the shoreline. Once on shore, bulldozers like the one pictured below are used to spread the newly pumped sand along the beach, according to the levels established in the programs plans. These programs usually occur every 9 or 10 years for areas where there is a lot of sand movement such as Sanibel and Captiva Island.
The Coastal Research Amphibious Buggy (CRAB) measuring sand levels during the 2013 Beach Nourishment Project. (Image courtesy of mycepd.com)
What About Sanibel Beach Erosion?
While Captiva has its own Erosion District, Sanibel Island also pays close attention to the beach levels along its coastline. The city regularly hires surveyors and contractors to monitor Sanibel beach erosion with what they call “Physical Monitoring of Coastal Erosion and Accretion.” You can find reports of past year’s Sanibel beach erosion surveys on the City of Sanibel’s website here.
While Sanibel hasn’t conducted any recent beach nourishment programs, City Council is working with contractors to create plans for “living shorelines” that will address reoccurring Sanibel beach erosion along Lighthouse Beach Park and Woodring Road, located on the bay side of the island. Living shorelines are a natural means of protecting the beach from erosion, using a combination of plants, aquatic vegetation, oyster reefs, and rock rip-rap to armor the shoreline from harsh weather, tides and current.
According to NOAA, the benefits of living shorelines include:
- Stabilization of the shoreline
- Protection of surrounding riverbanks and the shoreline area effected by tides
- Improvement of water quality via filtration of upland run-off
- Creation of habitat for marine life and wildlife
Example of a Living Shoreline Profile – Image courtesy of westrhoderiverkeeper.org
Since this method uses native plants and vegetation, it has a positive effect on marine life and the delicate natural ecosystem of Sanibel Island. Plans for living shorelines will help Sanibel to stop beach erosion where it is most prevalent, while allowing the vegetation and wildlife habitat to remain established in these areas. The plans will also serve as a pilot project for future protection of shorelines and Sanibel beach erosion.
Image courtesy of Pete Markham – Flickr
While beach erosion is often considered an ugly topic, it is important to remember that all coastal cities are subject to this natural occurrence of mother nature. What’s good to know is that the Islands of Sanibel and Captiva continually monitor our shorelines, and search for the best solutions to preserve our beautiful barrier islands.
If you have any questions or concerns about beach erosion in Southwest Florida, we’re happy to answer any questions. Shoot us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org or call our office at 239-472-1950.