Last week, after a high tide event, part of the sidewalk and nearby trees fell into the water at much loved Kaanapali Beach. The area affected was around the Kaanapali Alii Resort, which fronts the oceanfront walk between the Hyatt Regency and Black Rock. It wasn’t unexpected either, following 40 years of continuous beach erosion. Most recently, the State says that the severity is increased with sea level rise and record high water levels. This is only expected to get worse.
Clearly, things will have to change as climate change pushes the shoreline to where condos and hotels are currently located.
State DLNR said, “Right now is literally the time when it’s most affordable and easiest for us to get engaged in managed retreat. Figuring that out is a problem, but we’re not the only community in the world that has this issue. Literally, every coastal community does.”
DLNR has proposed a Kaanapali Beach restoration project which could provide extra time needed before bigger changes ahead.
Beach access will be limited.
There will be heavy equipment during the work, and the site will be considered active construction with limited public access. That will include all areas at or around the work project to protect beach visitors from dangerous contact with the equipment and materials.
The project is scheduled to take two months, which in Hawaii might mean it will take significantly longer. Work is planned 12 hours/day, 7 days/week. The project is scheduled to take place from October until December.
First approach: Sand nourishment. Long-term approach: retreat from eroding locations.
The Kaanapali Beach Restoration Project will bring about 75k cubic yards of sand to the area. While that’s said to be equal to two dozen Olympic swimming pools worth, it’s just a drop in the bucket. The State plans to “restore coastal sandy habitat that extends across the terrestrial/marine boundary for immediate short-term remediation.” In concert with the Kaanapali Operations Association, the State plans to preserve the beaches with sand restoration and berm enhancement.
The project is intended to temporarily mitigate rising water levels and coastal erosion.
Not only will this improve the situation for visitors, but the State adds that “restoring the beach back to its former width and volume to make Kaanapali Beach more resilient to the impacts of coastal erosion and high wave overwash. It will increase the beach width by 41-78 feet.
How will this project happen?
The system for increasing the sand volume at Kaanapali Beach consists of using a moored crane barge with a clamshell bucket, two additional sand transport barges, tugboats, pus two landing areas at both ends. The crane barge will pick sand up from the seafloor and drop it onto large barges. Once filled, the barge will be taken to off-loading sites, then transferred to the shore along a bridge and trestle system using a to-be-determined methodology selected. Equipment on the beach will transfer the sand to the placement area. The entire process will move daily as the project continues. No excavation is planned, with the new sand merely being added onto the existing beach.
Minimal environmental impact planned.
The state “has developed extensive best management practices through the environmental review process and consultation with natural resource management agencies to ensure that coral and other marine organisms and resources are protected throughout project construction.”
This seems like wishful thinking, given that all parts of the shoreline are natural habitats, and the long-term effects of such shoreline manipulation are temporary at best. Studies conducted in California and Australia on the effects of such manipulation, often referred to by the euphemistic term of “nourishment”, have shown huge impacts on the diverse community of invertebrates that populated these areas. There is little reason to think that the same would not hold true for Hawaii beaches.
Throughout the State, many beachfront properties have employed seawalls to both hold back the waves and expand the footprint of useable land right up to the waterline. Such stop-gap measures are expensive, detrimental to shorelines, and ultimately ineffective. Natural beaches move and shift with the seasons and weather, with the sand being naturally replenished both through wave action bringing sand onto the shore, and by natural erosion from the shore itself.
Even without climate-driven sea level rise, the natural progression of the shoreline on all of the Hawaiian islands is inward (except for some parts of Hawaii island).
Sea level rise has only accelerated this trend, and efforts to create coastal barriers and “shore up” existing ones only exacerbate this loss in the long run. Studies and experience have shown that such shoreline armoring speeds up shoreline erosion by altering the interaction between ocean currents and the shoreline, leading to the loss of beachline directly in front of the walls, as well as accelerated erosion of nearby unarmored areas. Beaches directly adjacent to the seawall experience an effect known as “flanking erosion” which causes a further loss of sandy beaches. Heavily armored shorelines also experience a dramatic loss of biodiversity due to the erasure of the various habitats inherent to a naturally sloping, sandy shoreline.
Truth be told, many of these properties should never have been allowed to build so close to the shoreline.
Significant money has been made in developing and marketing what is seen as prime real estate. The long-term effects of such development have largely gone unexamined or been ignored in the interest of short-term profit. We are now faced with a sticky situation where scads of multi-million dollar properties cluster along the beaches and former beaches, with no easy solution in sight.
While the sensible thing to do would be to surrender to inevitability and return most of these properties to their natural State, there is little hope for this outcome. The government cannot afford to buy them back through eminent domain, not to mention paying for the actual restoration cost. “Homeowners” (let’s be honest, most of these are strictly visitor-driven enterprises), will be unwilling to surrender what are currently valuable and lucrative assets, and will likely invest in expanded and reinforced shoreline armoring, kicking the can down the road and further exacerbating the problem.