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Hilton Head Island Beach Erosion

My family (including me) came to Hilton Head most years during my childhood. Many times we stayed in Sea Pines where the beach was terrifically wide and there was always some dry sand even at high tide. Later in the mid 1970s we stayed more in the "heel to arch" part of the island. The beach here was not as wide and there was rip rap to prevent the further erosion of the beach. At high tide, there was no beach. I remember there being talk that people were going to lose their houses.

This morning I Googled "Hilton Head beach erosion" and this was the first article that came up -- on the Hilton Head town website. Not the point that the beach is 200 feet wider now than it was in 1990. That's astounding:

Beach Renourishment Program

The heart and soul of Hilton Head Island is the 12 miles of beautiful beach that visitors and residents enjoy year-round. The beach is also the mainstay of the Island's environment and economy, and is why thousands live here and millions more visit.

In order to preserve our beach, an infusion of sand is needed along some of the coast to ensure the sandy shoreline is wide enough for everyone — visitors and residents alike — to play and relax in the surf and sun.

What is beach Renourishment?

Renourishment replaces sand lost to natural erosion and maintains a wide beach to ensure the health of our shoreline.

Why is beach renourishment important?

A wider beach safeguards a natural environment for endangered sea turtles and sea birds, and provides extended storm protection for oceanfront homes, villas and businesses. It also allows beach-goers to spread out, ride bikes and bask in the sun.

Hilton Head Island is the second largest barrier island on the East Coast, and most beach erosion is a naturally occurring phenomenon. Geologically, the Island is a "transgressive" relic coastal barrier that has migrated landward over the last several centuries. Controlled by forces of the Port Royal and Calibogue Sound, beach sand moves from the center of the Island toward its ends. The daily ebb and flow of water continually shapes the shoreline.

What is the beach renourishment process?

  • Before a project begins, coastal engineers conduct a sand search to locate a grade of sand that approximates the same size, color and texture of the existing beach. The shoreline is also evaluated and sand is placed to make up for erosion lost from previous years.

  • The new sand is excavated by hydraulic dredge from offshore sites and moved through miles of submerged and floating pipeline, from the ocean floor to the beach.

  • After the mixture of sand and seawater makes it to shore, the water runs back out into the ocean, and bulldozers and other construction machinery construct the elevation and form of the beach with new sand.

How often is beach renourishment needed?

A beach renourishment is necessary every seven to 10 years, depending on weather conditions and storms.

What happens after a beach renourishment project is complete?

Beach renourishment is an ongoing process. There are more than 60 beach monitoring stations that we maintain to observe sand from recent beach renourishment projects. Aerial photos are taken annually to monitor how the coastline changes.

Beach Renourishment Program Summary

  • 10.7 Million cubic yards of sand placed (restoration and renourishment)

  • Atlantic shorefront is 200 feet wider, on average, than pre-1990 conditions

  • Construction Costs To-Date: $60 Million

  • Value of First Tier Shorefront: $3 Billion

And I found this article, too:

More than two million cubic yards of sand will be dumped on about eight miles of Hilton Head Island beach to fend off years of erosion, starting Wednesday. This is the town’s third major renourishment since 1990, the last being in 2007. Its purpose: to bulk up the town’s top tourism draw for the next eight to 10 years.


About 1.5 miles of shoreline between the Barker Field area and the island’s heel along Port Royal Sound, east of the Westin Resort, will be renourished between mid-June and mid-July. About one mile of shoreline at Sea Pines near South Beach will be completed between late July and mid-August. About 5.5 miles between South Forest Beach and The Folly at Singleton Beach will be completed between late August and October. Work will move south to north in Forest Beach through September, stopping short of Palmetto Dunes. It will then head to The Folly and work its way south in October.


Tourists are primarily paying the $20.7 million tab. The money was collected through the town’s 2 percent beach-preservation fee that is charged to visitors staying in short-term lodging. The rebuild requires about 19 years worth of collected revenue from the beach-preservation pot, which generates about $1.1 million per year.


A hydraulic dredge excavates sand from Barrett Shoals in Calibogue Sound for the southern renourishment and from Baypoint Shoals across Port Royal Sound for the northern work. The sand is pumped through above-water and underwater pipes onto the beach, where bulldozers move the sand into place.


Work will occur 24 hours a day on 1,000-foot sections of beach at a time. Those sections will be closed during the work, and the town will provide temporary beach access ramps for beachgoers. After each 1,000-foot section is finished, the area will reopen. The new sand will appear dark because the dredge also picks up mud and shells. After a few days, the sun oxidizes the shells and mud to match the beach’s original lighter sand color, according to town officials. Islanders Beach Park will also be used as an access point for equipment, which will cause parts of the beachfront and parking lot there to be closed at times. In the past, the biggest noise complaint has been at night concerning the beeping of bulldozers and other vehicles when they are in reverse.

5. WHAT ABOUT BIRDS AND SEA TURTLES? The renourishment will affect sea turtles, whose nesting season is between May 1 and Oct. 31. As of Thursday, volunteers with the Sea Turtle Protection Project had relocated about 70 of the 130 nests on the island’s beaches. The project also has to consider that the hatchlings of those first nests need careful placement so as not to be disturbed when they emerge in about two months. The project documented 325 nests last year, up from 131 in 2014. The work should not affect the endangered piping plover and red knot, which have already migrated from the Port Royal Sound area.

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