A Line in the Sand: Beach Preservation
Delaware's Beach Preservation Act of 1972 serves as an acknowledgement that humans have been infringing on natural habitat which has led to negative impacts, such as erosion and loss of storm protection. The purpose of this act is to enhance, preserve, and protect the beaches of the state and minimize impacts from development.
Limiting construction on the coastline
Coastal development adds stress to beach systems, especially to the dunes because it interrupts the normal sand migration patterns. Dunes are sand storage areas that help protect the beach during storms. The developed structures on the coast often rely on the protection of the dunes to prevent property damage and health and safety risks. Increased erosion and vulnerability of the beaches may cause impacts to the economy, residents, businesses, and state and local governments. To ensure that beaches and dunes are able to perform their protective and recreational functions, construction must be kept off them.
Maintaining the beaches
To enable beaches to continue to provide protection and recreation, DNREC works to manage eroding beaches to enable continued protective and recreational use through science-based dune and beach management practices, such as beach nourishment, planting beach grass to promote dune growth, and fencing dunes to protect them from pedestrian traffic. Historically, other methods of armoring the shores have been utilized in an attempt to stabilize the coast. Hard structures like groins and jetties obstruct the natural sand transport processes. While they may aid in the protection of one specific area, they worsen erosion in other areas and still require additional sand resources to fully maintain the beach.
Delaware first began protecting its coasts with hard structures in 1898 with the construction of the first breakwaters. However, in recent decades, other methods of restoration or nourishment have been used, which physically add sand to the system to elevate and widen the beaches. Adding sand to the system allows for a wider recreational beach that also offers storm protection. Beginning in 1940, the graph below illustrates the shift from hard structure projects to beach nourishment projects. The large spike at 1962 reflects the impact of the "Ash Wednesday Storm" that year, which is still regarded as one of the most destructive storms ever to hit Delaware.
Changes in Nourishment Practices
The beachscape of Delaware's first resort town, Rehoboth, has changed a lot over the years. Since being devastated by the large storm in 1962, beach nourishment activities have been conducted in Rehoboth on a fairly regular basis. In 2005, a major project to widen the beach and create a protective dune took place. Nourishment projects can be funded through state and federal sources due to the magnitude of their impact on the tourism economy and the safety of coastal residents and businesses. Keep in mind, different projects at different times have different needs.
Increasing sustainability by restoring natural processes
Delaware is unique in its utilization of a sand bypass system to transfer sand that builds up on one side of Indian River Inlet to the other in order to maintain the shoreline north of the inlet. In their natural state, inlets commonly migrate up and down the coastline with natural sand movement. In order to make Indian River Inlet permanent for boat navigation between the Inland Bays and the Atlantic Ocean, jetties were built perpendicular to the shoreline in 1939. Because of these barriers, the sand that would normally get transported by a current along the beach builds up on the south side of the inlet and erodes away on the other side. In an attempt to restore the natural northward movement of the sand, in 1990 DNREC and the Philadelphia District of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers began operating a sand bypass system that pumps roughly 100,000 cubic yards of sand from the south side to the north side of the inlet each year. This method of sediment management is considered to be more sustainable as offshore resources become depleted and dredging becomes more expensive.
Page reviewed 7/22/19