What is Beach Nourishment?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Beach nourishment is a practice in which sediment is brought onto a beach to replace sediment which has been lost through erosion. There are advantages and disadvantages to beach nourishment, and in some regions, it is a controversial practice. Because humans like to settle near beaches and enjoy using beaches as recreation areas, this practice is quite common around the world, despite some of the environmental problems associated with it. Rising global sea levels have also contributed to the rise of beach nourishment in many countries.

Storms and incoming waves are a few ways beaches regain lost sediment.
Storms and incoming waves are a few ways beaches regain lost sediment.

Beaches lose material to erosion all the time. The actions of waves, storms, and shifting landmasses all contribute, and, in a healthy beach, new sediment is redeposited as old material is worn away, in a prolonged cycle which keeps the beach more or less intact. Some human activities can increase the rate of erosion, however, allowing the beach to be eaten away faster than it can be replenished. The use of sea walls, artificial sandbars, and other retaining walls can all contribute to erosion, as can filling wetlands and other border areas near a beach with backfill, housing developments, and so forth.

New sediment may be poured onto a beach that has lost sediment due to erosion.
New sediment may be poured onto a beach that has lost sediment due to erosion.

If a beach becomes eroded enough, it may vanish altogether, and the ocean will start creeping inland. Beach nourishment aims to stop this process, at least temporarily, by importing new sediment for the beach. The sediment may be dredged from neighboring waters or trucked in from another location before being spread across the beach, with biologists being careful to use sediment similar to that which exists on the beach naturally.

Beach nourishment is common because of how popular beaches are as recreational areas.
Beach nourishment is common because of how popular beaches are as recreational areas.

The immediate advantage of beach nourishment, also known as beach recharging or beach replenishment, is that the beach stops shrinking. However, the new sediment tends to erode again, often more quickly than the original beach, necessitating a repeat of the procedure. Beach nourishment is also very expensive, depending on the cost of the sediment, and practices like dredging can harm neighboring marine life. It may also encourage people to settle near the beach, increasing the rate of erosion even further by promoting human activities.

Because beach erosion is often heavily influenced by human activity, there are some ethical issues to consider when evaluating a beach nourishment plan. If the beach is eroding naturally, some people advocate for leaving the beach alone, and allowing the landscape to adjust itself naturally. If the erosion has been sped by human activities and it threatens low-lying land or structures which neighbor the beach, however, people may push for beach nourishment, treating it as environmental restoration rather than the creation of an artificial beach.

Beach erosion is often heavily influenced by human activity.
Beach erosion is often heavily influenced by human activity.
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments

OeKc05

@seag47 – I have a vacation home on the beach, and I have heard about artificial reefs being constructed during beach nourishment. From what I understand, just about any structure you can sink can serve as a reef.

I have heard of oil rig frames and parts of old ships being sunk to serve as reefs. As long as coral can stick to it over a period of time, it can become a good habitat. Fish are attracted to anything that can provide them with shelter, and it also provides a surface for sea plants.

Even though it is sad that beach dredging for nourishment harms natural reefs, it is great that something is being done to make up for the destruction. It's kind of like planting a tree after you cut one down.

seag47

I can see how erosion of the coast would require new sediment to be deposited, but since it is much looser than the sand that has been there for years, it could wash back out to sea soon. All that loose sand floating around out in the ocean could cause problems.

I think about all the natural reefs near the shore and how they could get buried in sand from this. That would be a catastrophe.

I have heard of some beach nourishment projects building artificial reefs as part of the process. That way, if a natural reef does get destroyed, the creatures have somewhere else to go.

I just wonder what they use to build an artificial reef. Aren't most reefs made of coral? What could they be using instead?

lighth0se33

@orangey03 – I live in Florida, and I know that there are certain requirements here that must be met before beach nourishment can occur. A lot of time and energy goes into protecting the nests of sea turtles, as well as other creatures.

If a beach is to receive new sediment sometime during nesting season, then workers have to watch sea turtle activity every day. Nesting areas are roped off and protected.

Beach nourishment here has actually helped the sea turtle population. Before, the sand was not dry enough for the turtles to be interested in nesting in it. Since all the nourishment projects, the numbers of nests have gone up a lot.

orangey03

It seems to me that certain animals that live in the sand on the beach might be destroyed by beach nourishment. There are all those tiny white crabs that burrow in the sand and emerge at dusk to scamper sideways across the beach, and there are creatures like sea turtles that lay their eggs in the sand.

If a truck ran over those eggs, it could very likely break them. Also, if loads of sediment are dumped on top of them, they could be unable to reach the surface when the time comes.

I'm sure that the white crabs would be in even more danger of being crushed. I hope that workers take precautions for these animals when doing beach nourishment.

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