Some Treasure Island hotel owners want to curb festivals and parking on beach

02/24/14 Seán Kinane
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Tags: treasure island, beaches, Pinellas County


Much of the wide section of Treasure Island beach is devoid of dunes, like these on Sand Key.

photo by Seán Kinane / WMNF News (Sept. 2009).

Some hotel owners on Treasure Island in Pinellas County are challenging the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and the City of Treasure Island over what they’re calling overuse of the beach. They contend using the beach for things like festivals and allowing cars to drive and park on the beach is hindering the development of dunes, which could lead to more erosion. To make that case, they’ve hired beach expert Robert Young, director of the Program for the Study of Developed Shorelines at Western Carolina University.

"The primary problem is we have a nice wide beach here at Treasure Island. This beach has received nourishment sand since the 1960's funded both by federal government, state, and the locality. So you have what you would want to have along any stretch of coast in the US. In the central part of the beach especially. Big wide beach and on some portions of the beach, especially since the 90's there's been significant development of sand dunes and I think pretty much everybody in Florida understands the value of dunes. They have eco-system values but maybe even more important they add elevation and they add roughness and provide storm protection and they can knock down waves and reduce storm energy for the community behind those dunes. When your having intense activities on the beach, whether it's driving, using it for parking, using it for a carnival, doing intense beach cleaning or raking you prevent those dunes from taking hold naturally. Much of the dunes here on Treasure Island have expanded and formed naturally. So the central part of the beach is basically devoid of vegetation, it's completely flat and there's this barren flat ramp that extends from the gulf to the central and most densely developed part of Treasure Island. That creates a storm hazard that's significantly higher than the areas to the north where the vegetation has been allowed to flourish and where the dunes have been allowed to form. From a coastal management perspective, that's a problem."

This lack of dunes on the central part of Treasure Island, could that be because of the driving that's allowed on the beach?

"It's unquestionably because of the way the beach is managed there. It's probably a combination of the driving and the intense activities that compacts the sand and literally prevents vegetation from taking hold. In addition, probably the regular raking or beach cleaning or maintenance that occurs there in order to maintain the area that's going to be utilized for these kinds of events. What's troubling about this is the reason we do these beach nourishment projects in the US today is primarily for storm protection. The Corps of Engineers calls these beach fill projects, storm protection projects now. So preventing dunes from forming or having an area of beach where you're not allowing the dunes to form, provide that protective buffer, to build elevation, to build roughness that would knock down waves is really contravening the reason that we do these beach fill projects as storm projects."

The storm protection you're talking about, how is that connected to sea level rise and the types of storms that might be predicted in the future?

"Primarily the impact of not having dunes are immediate but certainly as sea level continues to rise those areas that are not protected by reasonable elevation and roughness provided by dunes are going to be even more vulnerable. We're not just talking about the immediate oceanfront here, we're talking about the entire island that sits behind those areas that don't have it, that kind of elevation protection. We saw very clearly during Hurricane Sandy in New Jersey where the entire island width can be made vulnerable by areas where there was not significant dunes. I think that the solution here is fairly simple. We just need a management strategy that would restrict the use of the beach into corridors. If there's going to be any beach driving it should simply be for normal patrolling or maintenance. And it should be restricted into very narrow transportation corridors. The central part of the beach that doesn't have any vegetation right now could very easily, five years from now, look like the northern part of the beach with some fairly robust dunes and dune vegetation and you wouldn't even have to plant it. The dunes that are out there right now, the beach is so wide, those dunes are trying to expand and in many areas the expansion of those dunes is being prevented by these activities. You wouldn't even need to go in there and do a major dune restoration project. If all we did was change our management approach to that particular beach we would have the protection and aestethic value and the environmental value of those dunes in a few years without having to do very much at very little cost."

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