Coastal towns credit beach nourishment projects for minimal dune erosion in Hurricane Dorian

Some projects rely on dredging and moving sand; others focus on planting sea grass and sea oats to help maintain the dune system
Updated: Oct. 1, 2019 at 8:18 PM EDT
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WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) - The dune system is our coastline’s first line of defense when it comes to protecting property from storms.

To keep them strong, many beach towns maintain the dunes through beach nourishment projects.

“I like to say that a wide, healthy beach is like the bumper on the car, it acts as the crush zone whenever there is an accident and that’s exactly what we’ve managed to create with our coastline," said David Hewett, Town Manager Holden Beach. "We’ve been through several storms over the last 12 to 15 years and have actually never had any homes lost.”

Because the North Carolina coastline is very dynamic, nourishment programs differ in their specific needs for each beach.

Ocean Isle, Wrightsville, Carolina, and Kure Beaches work with the Army Corp of Engineers to help plan and manage their projects. Together, they move sand mounds underwater, on the beach or in the dunes to fight erosion.

“We do a long term study to look at what are the requirements for that beach," said Commander Robert Clark, Wilmington District, Army Corp of Engineers. “Every beach is engineered a little bit differently and they are suppose to be natural barriers where the sand can ebb and flow with the natural environment and over time. The renourishment is either a 3 or a 4 year cycle depending on the requirements.”

Every storm is different and can impact beaches in different ways.

“The beaches within the Town of Topsail Beach fared very well during both Hurricane Florence and Dorian,” says Michael Rose, Town Manager of Topsail Beach. “While approximately 1,000,000 cubic yards of sand was lost during Florence, very little was lost during Dorian. The sand management project has performed as designed, utilizing not just the dunes, but the beach and the near-shore sandbars to dissipate wave energy and protect the upland structures and habitats.”

These projects are aimed at using the most natural ways to build up the dunes. Some projects rely on dredging and moving sand, and others by planting sea grass and sea oats to help maintain the dune system and continue to build them higher.

“One hour after I lifted the curfew after Hurricane Dorian people were on the beach Carolina Beach was open for business, immediately,” said Carolina Beach Mayor, Joe Benson. "The dunes stood the test of Florence and Dorian for sure. They prove their value in those two cases and we couldn’t be happier.”

Towns continue to keep improve and maintain their dunes and beaches to make sure the first natural barrier is ready for the next storm.

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