Locally, our New England weather is a major contributing factor to coastal erosion. Each nor'easter or seasonal hurricane pounds our beaches and washes away sand, beach grass, rocks, trees, and sometimes, homes. Powerful storms displace tons of sand along the beach and modify off-shore sand bars, creating breaks in local barrier beach systems, allowing a previously protected area to become highly vulnerable.
Since erosion is a natural occurrence, what can be done to work with nature to provide an ecologically sound balance? In the wake of recent super storms that devastated coastlines, some believe the best response is retreat; they believe that some communities should not be allowed to rebuild. This does not bode well with property owners and communities with a vested interest in protecting the properties. At first glance, it may make environmental sense to leave the coast in its natural state. However, coastal retreat is illogical in the minds of many shorefront community members. Instead, communities often join together to rebuild and to protect the shoreline by responding proactively to the effects of erosion. This leads to a demand for environmentally sound solutions that are practical and economically feasible.
Seasonal and year-round people flock to the Cape and Islands because of our beautiful and thriving beaches. Healthy beaches are invaluable to coastal communities in that they are a major draw for vacationers, generate much needed tourism dollars, and create job opportunities. Healthy beaches also protect what lies upland of their sandy shores - roads, water lines, septic systems, hotels, commercial buildings, and private residences. Environmentally, healthy beaches protect wetland resources and habitat for a wide variety of flora and fauna.
Cape Codders have learned to be proactive about thwarting erosion and, for decades, have helped coastlines survive by making them resilient. Since erosion occurs on our bay-side, sound-side, and outer Cape beaches, a widespread approach that addresses the particular characteristics of each system is necessary.
Experts agree that stabilizing the shores of our beaches, bays, rivers, and canals is the best defense against coastal erosion. Stabilization projects involve what coastal engineers term shore protection in conjunction with a beach restoration and maintenance plan. Shore protection is generally categorized as "soft" or "hard" solutions.
Generally speaking, "soft" solutions include beach grass plantings, sand/snow drift fencing, and fiber roll technology. A fiber roll is a collection of coconut fibers rolled together, encased in organic netting, and anchored at the base of the coastal slope.