A nonprofit surfing and conservation group gave Florida a “D” in coastal management, because the state keeps allowing homes too close to the ocean, relies too much on seawalls and beach renourishment to guard them, and is ill-prepared for sea-level rise.
The Surfrider Foundation found that 74% of coastal and Great Lakes states, in addition to Puerto Rico, earned “C”, “D” or “F” grades and are therefore doing a “mediocre to poor” job or are entirely failing to protect the nation’s coasts. Only 26% of states earned above a “C” when graded on policies to protect the nation’s coastlines.
Surfrider’s 2019 State of the Beach Report analyzed 31 U.S. coastal and Great Lakes states, and Puerto Rico. The group graded on government response to erosion and sea-level rise based on 12 criteria separated into four major categories of sediment management, development, coastal armoring and sea-level rise.
Only California scored an “A.”
“As 11,000 scientists just banded together to let the world know that we have reached a ‘climate emergency,’ it is imperative for our nation’s state and federal governments to proactively prepare and take action,” Surfrider Coastal Preservation Manager Stefanie Sekich-Quinn said. “It’s critical that states take action now to protect our nation’s coastal communities for the future.”
The report also highlights that Florida and other Southeastern and Gulf of Mexico states — the ones most heavily impacted by storms and rising seas — are the least prepared to handle climate change impacts. In the past four years, hurricanes, including Dorian, Florence, Maria, Harvey and Irma, have devastated communities in the lowest-graded areas.
Almost half of the states assessed scored a “D” or “F,” including areas that fared the worst in recent hurricanes and extreme weather disasters. While the Northeast and West Coast states earned a “B,” the Southeast and Gulf of Mexico states collectively scored a “D” or below average.
The group found some positive news: Since Surfrider released its inaugural report in 2017, six states improved coastal policies, advancing in sea-level rise planning and coastal resiliency in light of climate change. The group examined policies, regulations, planning and implementation based on existing literature, online resources, communication with coastal zone management agencies and local monitoring by the Surfrider Foundation network.
Surfrider gave Florida points for having a beach management plan, updated in May 2018, that takes into account sediment budgets, inlet management and beach replenishment projects, and for tracking sand movement with a regional offshore sand source inventory. But the state relies too much on sand pumping projects to bulk up beaches, Surfrider says, often at the expense of more environmentally friendly alternatives to erosion.
Florida Department of Environmental Protection official’s defended the state’s coastal management track record.
“Florida has one of the most comprehensive beach management programs in the nation, combining data acquisition, environmental resource monitoring and protection, regulatory support, strategic beach and inlet management planning, and funding assistance in one agency,” Dee Ann Miller, a DEP spokeswoman, said Tuesday via email.
By 2050, Florida needs to be prepared for at least two feet of sea level rise,” Miller added. To help meet that challenge, Gov. Ron DeSantis appointed the state’s first statewide resilience officer, Julia Nesheiwat.
DEP’s Office of Resilience and Coastal Protection also continues to provide technical and financial help to local governments deal with coastal flooding, erosion and ecosystem changes.
Florida’s 2020 budget provides $8 million for the Resilient Coastlines Program and for coral disease response, and $8.5 million is included in the budget request for 2021.
“In terms of coastal resilience, our reefs are literally the first line of defense in Florida, and we recognize that healthy, resilient coral reefs safeguard against extreme weather, shoreline erosion, and coastal flooding,” Miller said.
But the local chapter of Surfrider and other environmentalists have opposed Brevard County’s plan to widen shores along Satellite Beach and Indian Harbour Beach for years, because of the natural reef the project will bury.
In a $20.5 million project, Dutra Dredging is dredging sand from Canaveral Shoals — an area about 5 miles off of Cape Canaveral — and stockpiling it on the beach between Spessard Holland North and South parks. The 350,000 cubic yards of sand will be hauled by truck north on State Road A1A to be placed in the Mid Reach in coming months. They’re hauling sand by truck to minimize burial of nearshore rock reefs.
“The Mid-Reach Shore Protection Project exemplifies the shortsightedness of ‘dredge-and-fill’ beach projects,” said Matthew Fleming, a local activists opposed to burying the natural reef. “It’s completely unsustainable, and it gives development interests a false sense of security. Not only are we spending tens of millions of dollars to essentially bury a natural reef, the plan is for the foreign beach material to wash away.”
Brevard should prepare for a long, slow retreat from rising oceans, Fleming said.
“My argument continues to be that there is more value in leaving the reef uncovered by using a much smaller volume of beach fill,” he said. “At the very least, they shouldn’t be approving the use of inland material.”
Surfrider’s State of the Beach Report Recommendations for Florida to improve grade:
- Reduce reliance on and frequency of sand replenishment.
- Establish statewide restrictions on shoreline armoring and remove exemptions from the rule.
- Prohibit seawalls or coastal armoring for new developments.
- Remove exemptions that allow any development seaward of the minimum setback line.
- Update and implement inlet management plans so there is no net loss of sand (as most coastal erosion is caused by the state’s many engineered navigational inlets).
- Create new policies that incentivize the landward siting of new coastal development.
- Implement post-disaster redevelopment policies that prohibit building in the same vulnerable locations after storms.
- Establish coastal land acquisition programs through direct purchase or conservation easements.
- Reform the state’s 25-year-old coastal development laws that allow development on the frontal dunes of critically eroding beaches.
Read Surfrider’s State of the Beach Report or find out more at Surfrider.org.
Jim Waymer is environment reporter at FLORIDA TODAY.
Contact Waymer at 321-242-3663
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