Beach Re-nourishment vs. Mother Nature

Homes and Condos at Sailfish Point compromised by beach erosion-with newly constructed seawall, 2-12-14
Homes and Condos at Sailfish Point compromised by beach erosion-with newly constructed seawall and birm, 2-22-14.   (Photo JTL)

The trucks come in about once a year and dump millions of dollars worth of tax payer sand on Martin County beaches and other’s throughout our state. Then winter’s storms arrive and wash it back into the ocean, covering and damaging our nearshore reefs. But at least the turtles have a place to lay their eggs…?

Erosion is a natural part of all coastal barrier islands, in fact, time lapse photography would show these islands moving, like giant sea slugs, changing shape, due to  erosion and accretion, over time.

However, it is mostly the man made inlets that change the erosion pattern along our beaches and cause the issues we have today. 

Before modern man settled this area, inlets along the Indian River Lagoon came and went with the whims of Mother Nature. Looking at old maps, one sees documentation of changing  natural inlets over time. Jupiter and Indian River Inlet north of  Ft Pierce were the only long standing opening to the sea in our area most recently. Over thousands of years, others came and went, all along the lagoon. Peck’s Lake in Martin County broke through as recently as 1960 and was quickly “closed…” 

In 1892 in today’s Martin County, then Dade, Captain Henry Sewall’s inspired local men to dig a permanent inlet, by hand. My historian mother has  told me stories of other inlet attempts as well. According to her, one time, the men fell asleep after the exhausting dig, only to awake and find the tide coming in, filling in their work! One local’s pet raccoon was tied to a tree and taken away by the strong waters. Even today, Mother Nature want’s to fill back in the St Lucie Inlet, but we continue to resist her.

Very interesting is that “old maps” also show Jupiter Island on equal “terms” with Sailfish Point. But today Jupiter Island is much “further back” as she has eroded over time and been slowly swept into the sea. This remains an problem of enormous proportions today that is on the verge of law suit. Last year, the Army Corp of Engineers informed Martin County they wish to take the lovely textured, offshore sands of Stuart, to re-nourish,  Dade and Broward Counties beaches. Unbelievable…

The inlets give us access to the ocean, they raise the value of our property, they were and could be again national defense.  Most timely for today, in the case of the St Lucie Inlet,  it allows the putrid waters slugging forth during rainy season from C-23; C-24 ; C-44; and worst of all from Lake Okeechobee, to go to sea.

There are those who believe we should let the inlet close up;  and there are many who believe we should fill in the canals; there are those who believe the inlet is what defines Martin County and we should do everything to keep her open. Hmm…

One thing for sure, fighting Mother Nature is a full time job.

2 thoughts on “Beach Re-nourishment vs. Mother Nature

  1. Nice work Jacqui… the Peck Lake inlet has opened at least three times since 1892 even with the St. Lucie open just two miles away.. 1896, 1949, 1960. All involved high fresh water, and/or a north wind. Your Mom has a map from 1850’s related to the title search of Gilbert’s Bar that shows none of the man made land that now impedes a fetch driven breach at Pecks lake. Nothing between Long Island and the ocean dune.. a strong northern wind had an uninterrupted fetch of 35 miles that piled up the water.. remembering that the Jupiter Narrows from Pecks Lake to Hobe Sound was just 60 feet wide. Hole in the wall is the opening for the original channel that has since been lost to the ICW. Sometime after 1850, mangroves occupied the shallow areas leaving the deeper channel then known as the “north” narrows. You can still see parts of this on Google Earth.

    During the Indian River Colony 1844 opening of “Prospect inlet” led by Captain Davis, it was not yet Governor Ossian Hart that awoke first and saved the day screaming “Life or death, life or death men! The ditch is cut through from river to sea and you have but an instant to save your lines! Up all! Out!!” Manahan’s ‘coons name was Aristophanes.. the only casualty.

    Allen Brech wrote a very good masters thesis called NEITHER OCEAN NOR CONTINENT: CORRELATING THE ARCHAEOLOGY AND GEOMORPHOLOGY OF THE BARRIER ISLANDS OF EAST CENTRAL FLORIDA that teaches the signature of inlets on barrier islands.. He uses Paleo Indian occupation to “date” the open inlets.. good stuff, a little heady in the fractal geometry parts, but still good for the layman. Once you read it, you can look at any barrier island and see, and therefore locate the past inlets, and the direction they drift. The 225 thousand cubic yards of sand that move south every year past any given point on our coast insures that maintenance is the only way to keep inlets navigable and open.. 1.5 million bucks per year. Your Mom and I both have Allen’s thesis if you are interested.

    I wrote a piece to address how important our inlet is to EVERYTHING and EVERYONE when it looked like finger pointing was going to prevent dredging, but they funded it and the piece stayed home. I heard a lot of “I don’t have a big boat, why should “I” pay for dredging”. I made an effort to explain why we ALL have a financial and quality of life interest in keeping the St. Lucie open and navigable.

    I also suggested that big sugar underwrite keeping it open, because if their full discharge turned north and killed EVERYTHING along the twenty miles run to the Ft. Pierce inlet too, public outrage would make it stop… maybe.. so, it was in their best interest in keeping the “close” exit to tide open for their discharges. /sarcasm

    Thanks again Jacqui, great blogs, informative and interesting.

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