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Sand replenishment equals ecological degradation

Observations from the Edge
Robert T. Nanninga
Coast News
January 14, 2009


Arne Naess, the Norwegian philosopher and the founder of the Deep Ecology movement died last week at the age of 96. I mention this because the world needs more deep ecologists not less. Here in Southern California those of use with a clear understanding of man's adversarial relationship with nature are voices in the disappearing wilderness.

Deep ecology calls for a fundamental rethinking of environmental thought that goes beyond the shallow sensibility and short-sighted environmentalism that seeks only to mitigate environmental degradation and the unsustainable use of natural resources. Deep ecology is a radical philosophy that seeks to create profound changes in the way we conceive of and relate to nature.

Unfortunately, most Americans would rather sacrifice the future well-being of their children, and their children's children to protect a paradigm of pollution and plunder.

Man fears what he does not understand and destroys what he does not value. Of course when I say "Man" I mean human culture. Propelled by anthropocentrism there is nothing humans won't rape and pillage in order to make things easy, or aesthetically pleasing. Some will invest millions to protect bad investments.

Ignorance and indifference have always been the biggest threats to environmental sustainability and ecological balance. The elected leaders, regional bureaucrats in coastal San Diego County have elevated environmental ignorance to a game of greed and graft, and municipal myopia to an art form.

Coastal ecosystems are dynamic habitats that existed long before humans decided it was wise to build homes on shifting sand and eroding bluffs. Having evolved with the ebb and flow of tidal processes the non-human species that exist on the beaches in no way benefit from anthropocentric manipulations.

Disturbances created by beach nourishment efforts such as sea walls and sand replenishment cause immediate ecological damage to sandy beach habitats and indigenous plants and animals in the areas of artificial replenishment. The ecological impacts to beaches receiving sand transplants include: complete mortality of resident intertidal biota, lasting reductions in biomass, significant declines in shorebird use, alterations to habitat, including decreased sediment quality and increased intertidal slopes.

Beach nourishment also has the potential to damage adjacent marine habitats such as rocky reefs, estuary mouths, surf grass beds and kelp forests due to the increase in sediment transport and the generation of turbidity plumes. Compaction, crushing, exposure and direct mortality of intertidal species, including clams, crabs, and soft bodied species and grunion eggs, result from vehicle use on sandy beaches.

Sand replenishment efforts will artificially expand the width of beaches for a brief amount of time, but do so at great long term expense. Such efforts are unsustainable and will eventually be washed away during the winter months, and should not be mistaken for ecological stewardship.

Without a commitment to ecological restoration and the removal of groins, jetties and other man made impediments, no amount of green washing or wishful thinking will reduce the negative impacts of sand replenishment and environmental ignorance.

Sand replenishment is a fools errand.

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