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Is the “New Normal” to Blame for the Encroaching Water due to Dune and Vegetation Scarcity?

Waves pounded the shore, sending streams of water as much as the homes on Bonita Beach. The water crept toward the beach access parking lots and formed large pools beside and under homes. It wasn’t a hurricane or perhaps a tropical storm; it was simply a recent stormy afternoon during high tide that sent the water far beyond its usual high tide line.

When Hurricane Ian pummeled the coast in September, it demolished the sand dunes and beach vegetation that lined the back a part of beaches throughout Southwest Florida. The dunes and vegetation form a natural barrier protecting homes, parking lots, and roads. Now every little thing is flat, making it much easier for the water to maintain going.

“The dunes are protection from storms,” said Kathy Worley, Director of Environmental Science and a Biologist at The Conservancy of Southwest Florida. “We really want to get our dunes back and revitalized.”

There are plans to renourish Bonita Beach and replace the sand that was lost within the storm, but there are currently no plans for beach vegetation.

“Hurricane Ian’s storm surge removed roughly 70,000 cubic yards of sand from above the mean high-water line of Bonita Beach from roughly Beach Access #9 south to the Lee/Collier county line,” stated Lora Taylor, Director of Communications for the City of Bonita Springs. “The restoration project would replace sand removed by the storm surge. Dune plantings aren’t a requirement of the project. It’s anticipated to be fully permitted by late summer, assuming it’s, construction would start sometime in the autumn and be finished in late spring of 2024.”

Recently, Bonita Springs City Council approved using $2,180,620.92 in state funding to switch sand taken away by Hurricane Ian.

Collier County officials say they’re working on beach renourishment this 12 months and can give attention to dunes and vegetation next 12 months, but Taylor says without delay there aren’t any plans for dune vegetation on Bonita Beach. A couple of homeowners along the beach have planted their very own vegetation, but no sand dunes. Well-planted and maintained dunes function barriers that protect against storm surge and coastal flooding. They capture sand that might otherwise blow off the beaches, and so they provide necessary habitat for wildlife, including birds, turtles, insects, crabs, and small mammals.

The dunes are especially helpful to nesting sea turtles. Turtle nesting season began on May 1 and runs until October 31. The primary nest laid on Bonita Beach this 12 months was well beyond the high tide line but not far enough away to guard it during a storm.

“In the course of the storm, the eggs were within the surf and rolling on the beach,” said Eve Haverfield, founder, and president of Turtle Time, a non-profit group that protects sea turtles in south Lee County. “We were in a position to gather them up and relocate them.” Volunteers dug a brand new nest higher up on the beach and saved 82 eggs. But Haverfield has other concerns in regards to the lack of dunes and vegetation.

“Sea turtles seek an area that’s barely elevated, in order that they go toward the dunes so they’ll nest at the bottom or within the dunes,” Haverfield explained. “On Bonita Beach now, because we don’t have any dunes, we’re very concerned about turtles crawling onto Hickory Blvd. Dunes are very, very necessary. Immediately, the beach is basically flat and low.”

Chad Washburn, vp of conservation for the Naples Botanical Gardens, has been doing an in-depth study on one of the best vegetation for sand dunes. The study began in 2019 and focuses on identifying one of the best species for the dunes and their roles in helping dunes after disturbances. Washburn discovered that a wide range of vegetation works best.

“We planted these areas to trial it, not realizing that not long after there could be a hurricane that was devastating to our coast,” Washburn described. “We went out to go to our plantings shortly after the storm, and since we planted with diversity, with things that aren’t normally planted, our plantings recovered in a short time after the hurricane, and we had significant regrowth. Our areas aren’t only regrowing, but they’re a number of the most diverse regrowth.”

Many individuals consider sea oats as a option to protect dunes, and Washburn said that’s a vital option to protect the beach. But he pointed to the variability of other vegetation that helps. Beach elder got here back in a short time after the storm surge. It traps sands and helps construct sand dunes. He said the beach elder that was planted in Naples is already helping to naturally rebuild the dunes.

“It has recovered thoroughly and it’s trapping sand,” Washburn described. “There may be already 24 inches of sand. It’s creating its own dunes.”

Railroad vine grows 60 feet long and when it gets covered up with sand, it roots in and grows.

“We’re seeing it come back in a short time,” Washburn said.

Inkberry is an element of a more mature dune growth and helps stabilize the sand. Bay cedar also helps stabilize the sand and is a sexy low-growing plant that is frequently placed on the back side of a dune. Beach tea can also be often known as a sand stabilizer.

“We now have identified about 20 species that ought to be a part of beach dune plantings,” Washburn explained. “The more diversity, the more resilient our beaches shall be. Some plant species hold sand in place, some are colonizers, some help construct dunes, some act to scale back temperatures by shading the sand. Each performs different functions, and we’d like all those functions.”

Washburn touted the importance of dunes and vegetation.

“We want a resilient coast,” he stressed. “It’s our front line of our homes and our communities. In Naples, the mangroves are often in front of natural areas. It’s the beaches which are in front of our homes, so the resiliency could be very necessary. It helps it get better from destruction.”

Experts understand that Naples and Bonita Springs have to focus on replenishing the sand to get the beaches ready for this upcoming hurricane season. That’s the priority. But they need each government and homeowners to know the importance of also protecting that sand with dunes and vegetation.

“The municipalities are taking the proper steps by bringing the sand in because we lost a lot,” Washburn said. “But planting it will help stabilize and construct on the sand that’s brought in. Sand on the beach typically washes away by water or is blown away by wind. Without healthy beach plantings, we are going to lose that sand. We spend thousands and thousands of dollars renourishing our beaches, and if these dunes can protect this sand, there’s an economic incentive.”

The issue of beach erosion isn’t going away, and Washburn said it could worsen.

“We all know we are going to get more day-to-day storms,” he stressed. “We all know the water levels are rising. We all know this area shall be impacted increasingly more because of climate change.”

Washburn plans to proceed to review dune vegetation. He desires to make the variability of successful dune plants more available to each municipalities and homeowners along the beach.

“Something that I even have been pondering of quite a bit is people know loads about mangroves and the way they protect our coast, but people don’t take into consideration beach dunes that way,” Washburn concluded. “But they’re the front line of our community against storms and high tides, and so they are a significant ecosystem that should be protected very like our mangroves are protected.”

Brad Cornell, Southwest Florida policy associate for Audubon Florida and Audubon western Everglades, said one of the best sand dunes are the peak that might occur naturally on our beaches. While beaches on the east coast of Florida often have dunes over six feet tall, our coast typically has ones which are three to 5 feet.

“The Atlantic is more high energy, in order that they need higher dunes than the Gulf does,” Cornell said.

Cornell’s concerns focus more on the long run of our local beaches.

“All of us have been watching the dunes and the beaches come and go along with sea-level rises,” he said. Sea-level rise goes to extend the frequency when those sorts of high tides and winds will impact us.

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