Development not a factor in beach recovery, UF study finds

Published: May 5 1998

Category:Engineering, Environment, Florida, Research

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GAINESVILLE — Shorefront development does not appear to influence how fast beaches recover naturally after hurricanes, an ongoing University of Florida study has found.

The study by coastal and oceanographic engineering Professor Bob Dean and several graduate students compares recovery rates of developed and undeveloped beaches in four Florida Panhandle counties struck by Hurricane Opal in 1995. Data collected so far shows no consistent difference in how quickly the beaches have recovered.

“I was hoping for the (sake of) the conservation effort the natural beaches would look better than the developed beaches, but the data doesn’t show that,” said Carrie Suter, a master’s student in coastal engineering.

The study did, however, point out the importance of sand dunes in protecting beaches. Where dunes were damaged, the effects on the beaches were obvious, Suter said. Beaches suffer most when dunes are destroyed by development or when jetties or inlets interrupt the natural flow of sand, Dean said.

The study scrutinized one site each in Escambia, Santa Rosa, Walton and Bay counties, each straddling a developed and undeveloped beach. Visiting the sites every few months since 1996, the researchers measured the distance between a fixed point on the dunes and the ocean out to wading depth at 21 locations on each site — 10 on the developed beach, 10 on the undeveloped beach and one where the two met. They also calculated the volume of sand on the beach at each measurement point.

Overall, the beaches’ volumes decreased slightly, likely the result of a series of strong storms after Opal that interrupted the natural recovery process, Dean said.

But whether individual beaches grew or shrank, there was no pattern at the undeveloped and developed beaches, he said. For example, in Bay County, the undeveloped beach shrank while developed beaches grew. In Escambia County, the undeveloped beach shrank at a slower rate than the developed one.

Dean said many of the undeveloped beaches are in parks, which means dunes likely sustain damage from beach-goers. In contrast, dunes in developed areas are often protected by property owners who rely on them for storm protection, he said.

“A lot of the homeowners I’ve seen out in the western part of the state — they build their own dunes and cultivate and water them and put little fences around them,” he said.


Aaron Hoover
Bob Dean

Category:Engineering, Environment, Florida, Research