July 6, 2009: Time to shore up beach restoration

New Jersey’s crown jewel of 127 coastline miles spans from Sandy Hook to Cape May and attracts visitors from all over the world. Especially now in a sagging economy, beaches remain one of the most cost-effective forms of natural recreation (usually costing less than the price of a movie ticket) and provide economic and environmental benefits as well.

Since the early 1990s, the Army Corps of Engineers has spent more than $209 million on beach replenishment programs along the Jersey Shore to combat continuing beach erosion caused by global warming, rising sea levels, as well as an abundance of ports, inlets and navigation channels.

In the past, New Jersey surfers criticized the way beach replenishment was implemented because the projects sometimes created a straight shoreline that destroyed wave action needed for good surfing (the best waves are generated by the natural curve of a shoreline carved by ocean currents). Surfer organizations in the state have now hired a company to keep an aerial record of the beach over the next year, and a team of students from Stevens Institute of Technology will measure the rate of erosion and sand migration.

The recreational benefits of beach restoration are available to everyone. But along with that are environmental benefits that are extremely important to the continued viability of several endangered species such as the sea turtle and piping plover. Beach restoration projects turn eroded beaches into sandy breeding grounds for these species, and provide vital habitat and nesting areas.

As for the economic benefits, beaches are the state’s number one tourist destination and the beach season provides job opportunities and increased revenue. Furthermore, restoring beaches with healthy dune systems protects infrastructure and human lives from hurricanes and storm surges- drastically reducing the amount of damage incurred during a major storm.

New Jersey’s coast is a resource that requires thoughtful management. Not only is beach restoration worth the investment, it is good public policy to boot.