It has been 20 years since the Florida Legislature adopted the current policies protecting the state’s beaches through a comprehensive beach management program. The Coastal Construction Control Line (CCCL) program established a jurisdictional zone on the coast. Within the zone homes have to be built to withstand storms and are set back from the eroding shoreline to protect the beaches and dunes.
The program has succeeded in ensuring that new construction is better built. But it has failed to protect the beaches and dunes for future Floridians by failing to control unwise coastal development. The CCCL program is fraught with inconsistencies and loopholes that continue to allow homes to be built too far seaward.
Almost 40 percent of Florida’s sandy beaches are in a state of “critical erosion.” Much of the erosion is caused by the more than 60 inlets that disrupt the flow of sand on the coast and shove it offshore. Coastal erosion is expected to worsen as sea level continues to rise. Yet all over the state homes and condos continue to be built on the frontal dunes of critically eroding shorelines. Sea walls, even though they increase erosion, are permitted by the score after every major storm.
It’s easy to see that if you continue to increase building density on the frontal dune of an eroding shoreline, eventually the coastline will be lined with sea walls to protect the buildings and the state will be perpetually dredging the ocean bottom and depositing the fill on our beaches. Divers, surfers and environmentalists throughout Florida are joining forces to question renourishment projects. These projects can reduce biological diversity on the beach, impact local fishing, destroy surf breaks and harm near-shore reefs.
It is time for a complete reassessment of Florida’s coastal-management policies. We need to begin asking the difficult questions such as: Are we adequately addressing the underlying causes of coastal erosion? Do current coastal policies encourage risky shoreline development? Are we assessing the environmental impacts of high-density development on eroding beaches? Are statutory changes needed to close loopholes in the CCCL program and provide the authority to enforce coastal setbacks?
The state should conduct a fair assessment of the long-term costs and benefits of coastal armoring and perpetual renourishment projects that wash away with coastal storms.
Is it time to begin exploring “retreat” in the most vulnerable areas? This means instituting an aggressive coastal-land-acquisition program in some areas to bring land into public ownership. It could include the landward relocation of destroyed or condemned coastal buildings, instead of allowing them to be rebuilt in the same vulnerable location.
Florida is defined by its coastal environment, its most precious natural resource. We need leadership from our governor and elected officials to find the difficult solutions needed to ensure our beach/dune resources will be protected for the next several generations of Floridians.
Gary Appelson is the policy coordinator for the non-profit Sea Turtle Conservancy based in Gainesville, Fla. The Sea Turtle Conservancy, formally known as the Caribbean Conservation Corporation, is the oldest and most accomplished sea turtle organization in the world. Since its founding in 1959, the Sea Turtle Conservancy’s work has greatly improved the survival outlook for several species of sea turtles. The Sea Turtle Conservancy has as its mission the protection of sea turtles and the habitats upon which they depend. With loggerhead sea turtle nesting in Florida dropping to all-time lows, the STC is very concerned that recovery under current coastal-management policies will be difficult.
By Gary Appelson
Reprinted from Orlando Sentinel, Copyright © 2005.