Nourishing Your Beach, Nourishing Your Soul

Hurricanes, erosion and rising seas are threatening to take your dream vacation away from you but with tax subsidies and extensive sand dredging, the beach of your childhood can last for all eternity

“Find your beach” advises the slogan of Corona (no relation) Beer, the popular tropical-getaway-themed, mass-produced alcohol product. This hurricane season, as you find yourself huddled in the dark, with your energy infrastructures crippled by increasingly “unsurvivable” hurricanes landing on your nation’s coasts, these are words to keep close. For it is hard to imagine where you’d be without the escapist fantasy of “your beach” in these tumultuous times. No doubt many of you have even been to the beach this summer—thrown corona-virus-restrictions to the wind (along with your exhalations), to get the taste of sweet escape at the edge of that oceanic oblivion. And who could blame you? Without a break at the idyllic beach of your Corona beer fantasies, what chance could you ever have at maintaining sanity in times like these?

And if Arthur, Bertha, Cristobal, Dolly, Edouard, Fay, Fonzalo, Hanna, Isaias, Josephine, Kyle and of course Laura, haven’t made it obvious— the set design for your dream vacations are not the kind workings of natural, coastal erosion nor geological convenience—your climate would never be so generous—no, the beaches you likely frequent have time and time again been ripped apart and made unrecognizable as suitable tourist destinations. With hurricane season continuing to up-the-ante, the beach you visit every year with your exhausted loved-ones is bound to be erased as handily as an etch-a-sketch doodle.

Thankfully, the picturesque beach vacation is eternal—impervious to your obnoxiously rising seas, thanks to the design methodology known as beach nourishment. The complex landscaping practice involves moving sand from a place where water or wind has greedily hidden it, to private property and sometimes public beaches along your nation’s coastline. Beach culture, the eternal image of fun in the sun, is under attack from global warming and everyday it threatens to make your time in the sun no fun at all. To ensure that your generous allowance of a week or two of vacation per year is preserved along with the increasingly valuable beaches, stay as they are forever, your United States Army Core of Engineers (USACE) alongside private contractors have been working for more than half a century to design your nation’s coasts to make sure they look the same way you left them last summer.

Littoral Stimulation

USACE knows that the key to keeping your beaches pleasurable is keeping things flat, predictable, and most of all, sandy. For the past half century, across the over 350 miles of regularly nourished beaches along your East and Gulf coast, the costly and energy-demanding process of filling a beach with sand only for it to be swallowed up by the ocean again has been speeding up. In the 21st century, beach towns have been blowing their nourishment budget that was supposed to last them fifty years in under two decades. Beach front properties are losing their beach due to erosion, rising seas, increasingly powerful hurricanes, very impressive engineering projects like big dams, canals, and artificial water retention ponds built for increasingly necessary flood control (you know because of the more hurricanes). Which is to say, the disappearance of your nation’s beaches can be blamed solely on a tempestuous ocean and writhing waterways that just refuse to sit still.

Yet you will be pleased to know that despite the accelerated erasure of the nation’s coastlines you can continue to spend your work break daydreaming about sipping your favorite beach-themed alcohol on a flat and endless beach. Thanks to the infallible logic of the market, because there are more beach nourishment projects happening more frequently, coastal property value is going up. Land developers are building on the coast more than ever before, building up more infrastructure, and the property value of your boss’s beach front home—is shooting up. Do you really think that your nation would retreat from a coastline that is being assaulted by the sea? On the contrary, as the USACE phrased it in a 2007 information brochure, “retreating from the shore, leaving property, structures, and infrastructure behind – some $3 trillion along the East Coast alone – is rarely practical or politically feasible. It is difficult to reverse some 300 years of development”. How could you argue with that? America’s coastal tourism market has, according to the USACE, been a critical economic asset since the turn of the 18th century, so—as you’d no doubt agree—it would be a slap in the face of your founding fathers (who were no doubt beach bums themselves!) to stop or even reconsider developing land closer and closer to the sea.

The importance of your beach’s design is made evident in your nation’s willingness to invest countless tons of one of the Earth’s most precious natural resources for it to happen: sand. In fact, besides water, sand is perhaps the most precious resource in the world—without it there would be no cities, nor smart phones, nor computers, nor megadams, nor houses, nor malls, nor office buildings as we know them today. If your nation’s willingness to give you so much sand for your beaches, especially as the global sand budget deficit is skyrocketing, isn’t a sign of your nation’s undying love for you, what is?

It is no small task finding the right color, texture, size and composition of sand to keep your beach just the way you remember it, it can be quite tricky and may require supplementing sand from outside of the system. And no, maybe the nation has not gone so far as to fund mafias, murder environmental activists, or enslaved children for sand (or perhaps it has, its none of your business anyways) but it has definitely ripped up acres of forest, farmland, dredged miles of creek, river, inlet, and waterway to get your favorite resort or vacation home the sand it needs to stave off the violent waves as well as to keep the fracking and mass urbanization of the nation going. Really the only downside to sand dredging is that it has in fact led to a shortage of sand in many beach resort locations. Luckily sand dredging can get you sand just as easily as it can take it away from you, and you can just find someone else’s beach to source your sand from.

Be it for their beach or yours—in the end it is always your money that’s paying for nourishment. Subsidizing beach nourishment projects to sustain the landscapes of coastal property owners against the worsening climate crisis is the only choice you have. It’s the law. In covering nearly 2/3 of nourishment costs with your tax dollars, you can sleep soundly knowing that the next time you decide to go on a beach vacation it will be there—and if beachfront property owners get their land value driven up by it (which it does) and if they are the primary beneficiary of nourishment (which they are)—well that’s just good for your nation’s economy. In subsidizing the increasing costs of nourishing hundreds of miles of coastal beaches, you’re not only banking more of your infrastructure development on the obviously invincible coastline but more importantly you’re protecting your ability to build future memories around blissful beach vacations.

Life-Cycle Cost Benefit Analysis

Having a bit of “wildlife” in and around your beach can be a fun and engaging aspect of your beach time experience. In fact, USACE will tell you that making beaches wide and flat with some dunes to protect the prime beach real-estate, is great for sea turtle nesting. Which is ideal because sea turtles, possibly the most charismatic of all reptiles (an otherwise economically-useless gang of vertebrates), are slow and non-threatening. Plus their babies are very cute, and might be something for the kids to enjoy. Bird nesting is also cited as a great advantage of the nourished beach, but you should be more cautious of birds due to the fact that they are thieving and can be aggressive when they get the taste for your sophisticated brand-name products. Luckily, bird nests are really only feasible if you designate a section of your nourished beach for them where people would have restricted access—but there is no practical reason to do so.

You needn’t be worried about wildlife gaining priority over your fun however. There isn’t enough evidence to suggest many other species benefit from nourishment but you can rest assured that most of the annoying and harmful wildlife that may otherwise ruin your beach experience is disorientated if not utterly destroyed by nourishment processes. In fact, one of the great advantages of dredging and nourishing is that it often exterminates many of the slimy invertebrates that are not at all fun for beach tourism experiences. It is also known to pollute waterways, destroy reefs, and tear-up marine habitats which for you means less potentially dangerous sea creatures like sharks or other animals with sharp teeth or stingers. Nourishment design is meant to largely remove anomalous formations of sand or rock or tidal pools in beaches for the sake of uniformity. Not only is this more aesthetically pleasing to beachfront property owners but also this leveling process does the work of removing any potential hiding spots or living spaces for non-human beach creatures. A smattering of wildlife can be good for the beach, but like all things, taking care of the wildlife costs you more money than it's worth most of the time and takes up space on increasingly valuable property. Sea turtles are just fine, just as long as they don’t get in the way of your fun.

Beach nourishment is not about nourishing the sea turtle nests or the bird nests or the movement of water or endangered sea grasses or crabs or microscopic invertebrates or reefs or anything else that may define a “beach". What is being nourished is your beach, the beach of your dreams, that place of rest and relaxation where you can take your friends and family for a brief period of time to escape from the real world of coffee-driven work marathons intercut with a few therapy sessions and endless hours of streaming. Those dredgers and giant land movers aren’t just pouring sand into the littoral zone, they’re pouring sand into your weary soul so that once you get back to your real life you can be set upon your duties once more. Reassured that if you work long enough, if you’re able to make it to the old age of 80, you might retire and possibly rent some of the increasingly valuable coastal property that you’ve been paying to have nourished for all these years.

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