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Beaches hold up well after Irma

By Staff | Sep 21, 2017

The living shoreline project at Lighthouse Beach Park withstood Irma's wrath.

For the most part, the beaches on Sanibel remained unscathed after Hurricane Irma made landfall in Southwest Florida Sunday, Sept. 10.

City of Sanibel Natural Resources Director James Evans said this was due to the storm making an eastern turn before it reached Sanibel.

“The southern eye wall started to break down as it was passing by which means that when the storm passed, we had really strong northeast winds but we didn’t get those west and northwest winds that would have hammered Sanibel. We really lucked out, a number of different variables worked out. We didn’t get the surge they were predicting either – that’s because of the easterly track and the eye wall breaking down on the south side,” Evans said.

Evans also said the living shoreline projects did their job – especially the ones that were installed at Bailey Beach and Lighthouse Beach Park.

“We did lose a lot of vegetation, but the (living shoreline) structures themselves did a really good job of protecting the shoreline,” Evans said. “This is one of the first storm events that we’ve had where we haven’t actually had to close down the access road to the lighthouse. We’re going to replant that because a lot of the vegetation was destroyed. That’s really how these projects are designed. They’re designed to essentially buffer the storm and protect the public areas like roads or properties.”

The bay side and Lighthouse Beach Park also experienced some accretion which is a buildup of sand. Evans said this was due to the direction of wind blowing across the San Carlos Bay.

“Instead of erosion, we actually had accretion which is very surprising,” he said.

On the west end, near Blind Pass, Evans said sand was transported to a near shore bar.

“We’re watching to see if that moves on shore,” he said.

Like many other places in Florida and the Bahamas, Irma was so strong that it actually sucked away some of the water in the San Carlos Bay. According to a graph from the SCCF Marine Laboratory’s River Estuary Coastal Observing Network (RECON), the water depth dropped to -5.8 feet as the barometric pressure dropped.

The living shoreline project on Woodring Road took the hardest hit. Evans is in the process of waiting on permits to help restore 1,000 linear feet of shoreline.

“We hope to complete that sometime this year. That shoreline took a beating. We lost a number of red mangroves and some buttonwoods along that shoreline. This storm really demonstrated how well the living shorelines performed during these types of events and certainly they’ll be a tool we’ll be using to address these vulnerable shorelines in the future,” Evans said.

Evans said that typically, there is an adjustment period the beaches go through after a storm like Irma.

“That adjustment period could be anywhere from two to three weeks after the storm. We’re inspecting things weekly just to see how things change and adjust over time,” Evans said.

In the next few weeks, an annual beach survey will be conducted. After the survey is completed, Evans will know exactly how much sand was either lost or accreted from the storm.

“Overall, our beaches fared very well during the storm,” Evans said.