Sea walls in Palm Beach County
8:29 am
Tue February 19, 2013

Sea Walls Designed To Save Beaches May Actually Speed Up Erosion

Hurricane Sandy and seasonal high tides destroyed much of Fort Lauderdale's beach.
Hurricane Sandy and seasonal high tides destroyed much of Fort Lauderdale's beach.
Credit daspader / Flickr Creative Commons

The beach is emblematic of Florida life, so it computes that waterside residents in Palm Beach County are scrambling to find ways to keep the beach from crumbling into the ocean. Unfortunately, proposed sea walls -- meant to slow the beach erosion widely seen throughout South Florida -- actually hasten the problem, according to some environmental groups and government officials. 

Multiple condominiums in Singer Island have applied for permits to build sea walls, joining a growing number of oceanfront properties along the county's coast calling for similar measures, according to the Sun Sentinel

The push for more sea walls comes one year after the County Commission scrapped plans for building $14 million erosion-fighting beach groins to help keep sand on vulnerable beaches. A year before that, cost concerns and environmental objections also killed plans for building offshore breakwaters to buffer eroded stretches of the county's coastline. Now in the wake of Hurricane Sandy's shoreline damage, more Singer Island condominium tower residents are deciding they can't wait any longer for erosion protections. 

Groups like the Surfrider Foundation oppose sea wall construction -- a form of "armoring" -- and say the structures actually encourage erosion. Instead, the group recommends restoring sand dunes to address the problem. Likewise, a county deputy director of environmental resources management quoted in the story said sea walls "tend to accelerate erosion of the beach."

Another cause of concern with artificial sea walls is the impact on wildlife, including nesting sea turtles. The Sea Turtle Conservancy contends, "sea walls prevent turtles from nesting by destroying nesting habitat and also contribute to further beach erosion, causing beach loss for people as well as turtles." Meanwhile, a 2010 study by the Department of Education & Science at Disney's Animal Kingdom showed that sea wall construction impacted nesting loggerhead turtles. The study, which appeared in the Journal of Coastal Research, concluded "armoring is expected to multiply as sea levels rise and storms become more frequent" thereby threatening nesting turtles in the long term. Florida is home to 70 percent of the nation's sea turtle nests, according to Nova Southeastern University. The South Florida sea turtle nesting season is March 1 through October 31. 

Meanwhile, in Fort Lauderdale, work started this week on sections of State Road A1A where storm surge from Hurricane Sandy and seasonal high tides last fall caused substantial coastal destruction. The beach and sections of road were washed into the ocean, and some businesses suffered damage in the storm. CBS Miami reports construction crews will install steel sheets between NE 14th Court to NE 18th Street to "act as a seawall along the road." 

Check out a video of the Fort Lauderdale beach damage below.