Beach nourishment has many positive aspects: Wide sandy beaches protect uplands, provide habitat and a place to nest and rest, and are a vital economic resource for coastal communities and the country as well.
However, there are some consequences associated with beach restoration which scientists and regulatory agencies watch closely. One of them is the impact of dredging and sand placement on a beach on the bottom rungs of the marine food chain – the worms, clams, crabs and other tiny animals generally referred to as benthic infaunals and typically found either on the beach near the wave zone or on the bottom in the nearshore or offshore areas. You may have dug up mole crabs or the tiny clams (Donax) while building a sand castle as the water rushes in and out.
The potential for impact is obvious, since these animals either live offshore (where the sand is taken from) or on the active beach (where the sand typically ends up). Therefore, beach restoration projects are often required to monitor the impact the project has on these creatures, the time it takes them to recover and what conditions help (or hinder) that recovery.
Why should we care? Aside from striving to minimize the environmental impact of an otherwise beneficial activity, benthic infaunals fulfill a number of ecologically valuable roles:
“In general, best management practices of nourishment during the appropriate time of year with similar sand to the native beach sand will help minimize impacts,” said Nicole Elko, the American Shore & Beach Preservation Association (ASBPA) Vice President of Science & Technology (S&T). The ASBPA S&T committee looked at the findings amassed so far, and has drawn some initial conclusions as to “best management practices” for such projects:
“Understanding and implementing best practices for beach nourishment projects are critical for the future health and stability of coastal communities,” said Tiffany Roberts Briggs, Ph.D. Assistant Professor for Geosciences at Florida Atlantic University. “Through the synthesis of recent, relevant literature and summarizing recommendations for maximizing recovery times of benthic infaunal communities after dredging, the committee has provided what we hope to be a useful document facilitating efforts for holistically successful coastal projects.”
Providing project managers and researchers with this background should enable them to make choices that will expedite recovery after a beach nourishment project, as well as to make the permitting and regulatory monitoring aspect of those projects quicker and more beneficial to the overall beach ecosystem.
If we can minimize the inevitable impacts of beach restoration, it will further maximize the overall benefits such projects can bring to all the creatures who rely on the coast for their lives and livelihood.
NOTE: The committee’s complete white paper is available at https://asbpa.org/publications/educational-resources/
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