This year the American Shore and Beach Preservation Society named Sandbridge Beach one of the Best-Restored Beaches. Sandbridge Beach has been restored four times since 1998, with nearly 7.8 million cubic yards of sand spread over five miles of Sandbridge Beach in that period. For the recent 2013 renourishment project, 2.18 million cubic yards of sand were scattered between Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge and Dam Neck Naval Facility.
Shoreline restoration isn’t an inexpensive undertaking — Sandbridge’s restoration project cost upward of $43 million. The American Shore and Beach Preservation Society praised the Sandbridge community for committing to restoration instead of building higher seawalls. Seawalls and jetties can cause further erosion by amplifying wave energy instead of absorbing it, as sand does.
Sandbridge Beach partners with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to carefully plan and monitor these projects. After a restoration, the Army Corps of Engineers visits the area every spring and fall to see how much sand is left and estimate when the next renourishment project may need to take place.
Beach Restoration: A Crash Course
Restoration involves replenishing the sand to offset the effects of erosion. Large volumes of sand that mimic native sand are taken from inland or offshore sources. Sand is trucked in and spread with bulldozers to recreate the natural slope and profile of the coastline. The sand is also distributed in a way that wind and waves will naturally carry a percentage 15 to 20 feet offshore in a predictable long-term erosion pattern.
If you’re visiting Sandbridge Beach right after a restoration project, the shore will seem extra wide, and the water may even seem to have a slight Caribbean blue tint. That’s not because sand has been brought in from Caribbean beaches, though. Occasionally, offshore dredging for renourishment sand churns up heavy sediment that causes muddy brown particles to sink. As clear water flows over the sunken deposits, it creates a double refraction that can result in unusually light-blue waters.
If you return to Sandbridge Beach months after a restoration, you might be surprised to find the coastline is narrower than the year before. That isn’t because the project didn’t work, it’s because waves carry an expected amount of sand back offshore and the beach returns to its original width over time.
How Beach Erosion Happens
Beaches erode, or lose width and depth, due to higher-than-normal tides, storm winds, and waves. Shorelines are particularly vulnerable to the kinds of high-intensity storms we’ve seen in the last few years. When waves come further inland than usual, they carry millions of cubic yards of sand back into the sea. When storm waves pound the shoreline, it can appear almost as if the beach has been neatly dug out with a backhoe. Erosion can also happen when natural offshore sandbars shift. When that happens, the beach can erode in one area while being significantly built up in another.
How Beach Restoration Helps
Renourishment helps protect homes, businesses, and infrastructure from damage. The coast acts as a natural barrier between the land and the sea, and the sudden absence of millions of cubic yards of sand can put coastal homes and structures at risk. Because beaches protect the structures behind them, a healthy beach means fewer insurance claims and an extra measure of safety for those who live on the coast.
Important Wildlife Habitat
Healthy beaches also provide habitats for hundreds of species of animals. Shorebirds flock to the quiet stretches of Sandbridge Beach to eat, nest, and rest. We have an incredible diversity of birds living or visiting Sandbridge Beach, including grebes, loons, boobies, gannets, cormorants, ospreys, bald eagles, rails, coots, stilts, avocets, oystercatchers, lapwings, plovers, sandpipers, gulls, terns, skimmers, and so many others.
Sandbridge Beach is also a significant nesting ground for endangered Loggerhead sea turtles, Kemp’s Ridley sea turtles, and occasionally the rare hawksbill sea turtle. Of course, Sandbridge Beach is also home to the beautiful blue crab, as well as sand crabs and the beloved and elusive ghost crab.
Affordable, Accessible Vacations
Besides the ecological importance of coastal restoration, Sandbridge Beach provides an affordable, accessible vacation to thousands of visitors every year. Beaches are our most extensive national parks — meaning America’s shores have more recreation space than all of the U.S. national parks combined.
Beach communities such as Sandbridge also rely on visitors for revenue. While our beautiful shoreline creates memories for vacationers, it also creates jobs and improves life for locals.
We’re honored and proud to be counted among the best-restored beaches in America. Our beautiful beach is not only a haven for animals and people; it’s a haven for visitors who come to enjoy everything Sandbridge Beach has to offer.