Surf City has been pieced back together since the last hurricane, but the sand dunes haven’t yet. Their absence puts the community at risk during the next storm. Families who visited Surf City only a few years before wouldn’t recognize the beach town in 2019. During a full moon, the waves crash perilously close to homes. The sand dunes have eroded and now the ocean isn’t safely kept at bay.
The beach town has vastly improved since people first returned to the island after Hurricane Florence. The wind and days of rain soaked the community through. Most people evacuated and there was no way of knowing if the roof would be there when they got back. When they could finally return it was to find roofs and more in disarray. Some homes had to be demolished and their lots now sit empty.
Since then the beach has been cleaned of errant lumber and tarps. Shingles don’t wash in with the tide anymore. And the roads are no longer lined with drywall, furniture, clothes, and all the other discarded pieces of a gutted home.
As tourists begin to creep back, there’s an effort towards normalcy despite many businesses remaining closed. Properties without dunes make guests uneasy and don’t rent as well. Summer is when the island generates most of its livelihood and this year it is beginning in the red. Statewide, Florence wreaked billions of dollars’ worth of damage on North Carolina. Rebuilding has not been cheap and there are still plenty of homes that don’t have siding in Surf City.
For those whose homes face the ocean, a return to normalcy pales before the daunting task of holding back the ocean. The Town of Surf City has approved a beach nourishment project. Construction is expected to begin in Spring 2020. In preparation, sand has been piled strategically along the beach to allow dunes to reform. Hurricane Florence stripped the beach of an estimated 2.4 billion cubic yards of sand. Beach nourishment will cost an estimated $50 million.
Why are Dunes so important?
Sand dunes are an important, sensitive ecosystems. The fragile vegetation that thrive in the sandhills have delicate root systems that help hold the structure in place during turbulent weather. Birds and sea turtles nest in the dunes. These systems are disrupted and destroyed by foot traffic and damage leads to erosion. Unless left alone, the sand dumps won’t be able to become effective dunes.
Beach nourishment will be an expensive, ongoing commitment for the members of the community for years to come. Despite the investment that the community has made in beach nourishment, the dunes continue to be destroyed by people walking and playing on them.
It’s easy to blame the tourists for what is either ignorance or disregard, but Surf City sustains itself off the revenue from tourism. Without the tourists, the community flounders. And it is not only vacationers who are to blame for mistreatment of the dunes. A large portion of the population in Eastern North Carolina is comprised of transplanted families who may have never lived near the ocean before or be familiar with the importance of beach preservation. Our beaches make an amazing back drop, but photographers should know better than to position people on the dunes for the sake of a great family portrait. Beach erosion impacts everyone in our region, making dune preservation all of our responsibility
It takes a village.
It will take the cooperation of the entire community, regardless of how long their stay in our beach towns may be, to give the sand dunes a chance to become the buffers we need against the waves. If the community does not prioritize preserving the sand dunes, the year-round residents are the ones who have the most to lose during the next storm.