For Sure Shores

by Monica Maldonado, Assistant Editor; Civil Engineering, 345 E. 47th St., New York, NY 10017,

Serial Information: Civil Engineering—ASCE, 1996, Vol. 66, Issue 10, Pg. 57-60

Document Type: Feature article


Fighting a long history of beach-destroying structures and man-made inlets, coastal engineers are finding that the answer to beach erosion lies in a deeper understanding of its dynamic process. It has been said that it is much easier to send a spaceship to the moon than build a coastal structure, says Bill Baird, a coastal engineer in Ottawa, Canada. For a beach erosion problem, there is never a simple solution. Today, those who approach the problem have many factions to consider—property owners, business developers, federal and local regulations and, of course, the fragile ecosystem of the coasts. Protecting and restructuring the coasts requires a multi-disciplinary effort, and, as many engineers admit, the science is complex and the regulations are few and hard to enforce. Property owners naturally have a vested interest in the preservation of their beaches, but many argue that the worldwide popularity of our nation's shores compels the federal government to further invest in beach protection and restoration. They point to the numbers. In the December 1995 CERCular, a newsletter from the Coastal Engineering Research Center (CERC), James Houston, CERC's director, wrote that travel and tourism is the largest industry in the U.S., contributing $746 billion to the country's gross domestic product. Coastal states earn 85% of all tourist revenues, mostly because of the attraction to the beaches. Miami Beach, Fla., for example, takes in over twice as many tourists annually as Yellowstone National Park, the Grand Canyon and Yosemite National Park combined. Today, coastal engineers recognize erosion's unpredictability and have committed themselves to acquiring a deeper understanding of the shore system. The knowledge they seek is not just for building new structures that control erosion, but also to ammend structures that have undermined that natural flow of the sand and the ecosystem of the beach. The complicated interaction between waves and the shore has challenged many a computer model, and frustrated practically every engineer trying to master it. But recent advances in monitoring and modeling by the Army Corps of Engineers promise to deliver more information about coastal processes. Though 90% of the Corps' shore protection dollars go toward beach nourishment projects, innovative designs of coastal structures might also put coastal engineers a few steps closer to balancing the human need for beaches with the ocean's pull on the sand.

Subject Headings: Shores

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