Hunting Island and Coastal Resilence
Hunting Island has experienced erosion most of its natural life. Currently, the State Park applied for state and federal permits to renourish the beach with offshore sand and install four new groins. Given its value as a State Park and public access point to the water, we support the renourishment but do not support the new groins or other use of hard structures.
South Carolina’s state law calls us to “protect, preserve, restore and enhance the beach/dune system” especially when it provides “an environment which harbors natural beauty and enhances the well-being of the citizens of the State and its visitors”. Hunting Island certainly does so.
Beach renourishment is not always a perfect solution or an easy task. It is not permanent and it affects wildlife, most notably the wildlife that we share the beach with, including the Loggerhead Sea Turtle, Piping Plover, Red Knot and Horseshoe crab and the smaller invertebrates they depend on. Beach renourishment must be done properly and carefully, respecting the nesting seasons and behavior of these important species. It involves moving sand with large machinery; so inevitably we are interfering with nature and the natural process. In this case however, given the incredible beauty and the important beach access and wildlife habitat provided by Hunting Island, we believe beach renourishment is the right thing to do.
We do not believe new groins are needed or should be granted with this proposal. Hardening the beach with additional groins does not support the natural process like renourishment alone would.
South Carolina’s CZMA recognizes that “hard structures have increased the vulnerability of beachfront property to damage from wind and waves while contributing to the deterioration and loss of the dry sand beach which is so important.” It calls to “encourage replacement of hard erosion control devices with soft technologies.” Adding sand to a beach in the form of renourishment is an example of a soft technology and a way to support our barrier islands without hardening them with groins, rip rap or sea walls.
The current groins on Hunting Island have been monitored since installation. Aerial photographs show evidence that while the beaches updrift of the groins are generally healthy, the downdrift beaches experience accelerated erosion. Given these detrimental downdrift impacts, authorizing addition groins would not support the overall goal to create and maintain a stable and healthy Hunting Island.
A June 2015 Southeastern Geology publication looked at Hunting Island specifically and concluded “wetland retreat rates were significantly greater after T-head groin installation.” In numerous other scientific literature, groins are recognized as structures that cause accelerated erosion and even, as the US Army Corp of Engineers Coastal Engineering Manual states, groins are “probably the most misused and improperly designed of all coastal structures.”
The bigger picture: As Hunting Island changes, we must wrestle with the larger question of how we protect our coastal places in light of greater storms and sea level rise. The problem is not unique – Hilton Head funds beach renourishment every few years as a band-aid to this problem, and Harbor Island has experienced loss of homes, dunes and nesting habitat without avail. We must consider our State seaward retreat policy and resist the urge to armor our shorelines in light of these growing challenges. This challenge extends inland as we consider rising rivers and marsh migration. The Conservation League will continue to be on the front lines fighting for our communities and our natural resources in this changing environment.