Living with Florida's Atlantic Beaches: Coastal Hazards from Amelia Island to Key West
Living with Florida's Atlantic Beaches: Coastal Hazards from Amelia Island to Key West

Living with Florida's Atlantic Beaches: Coastal Hazards from Amelia Island to Key West



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Living with Florida's Atlantic Beaches: Coastal Hazards from Amelia Island to Key West by David M. Bush, William J. Neal, Norma J. Longo, Kenyon C. Lindeman

From Amelia Island just south of Georgia to Key West’s southern tip, beaches are one of Florida’s greatest assets. Yet these beaches are in danger: rapid structural development on a highly erodible coast make them vulnerable to some of nature’s greatest storms. The same development that has been driven by the attraction of beautiful beaches and coastal amenities now threatens those very resources. In turn, coastal structures are at risk from sea-level rise, shoreline retreat, winter storms, and hurricanes. Most of the methods for reducing losses associated with storms protect property only in the short term—at a growing cost in dollars and loss of natural habitat in the long term.

Living with Florida’s Atlantic Beaches is a guide to mitigating or reducing losses of property, human life, and natural resources by living with, rather than just at, the shore. This illustrated volume provides an introduction to coastal processes and geology as well as a brief history of coastal hazards and short-sighted human responses. This is the first volume in the Living with the Shore series to discuss the significant long-term impact of dredge-and-fill beach construction on living marine resources. Guidance is provided for long-term risk reduction in the form of tips on storm-resistant construction and site evaluation; maps for evaluating relative vulnerability to hazards are also included. A brief review of coastal regulations will help property owners understand and navigate the various permit requirements for developing coastal property. Living with Florida’s Atlantic Beaches is an invaluable source of information for everyone from the curious beach visitor to the community planner, from the prudent property investor to the decision-making public official.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780822332510
Publisher: Duke University Press Books
Publication date: 06/07/2004
Series: Living with the Shore Series
Pages: 360
Product dimensions: 6.22(w) x 9.56(h) x 1.13(d)

About the Author

David M. Bush is an associate professor in the Department of Geosciences at the State University of West Georgia in Carrollton, Georgia.

William J. Neal is a professor in the Department of Geology at Grand Valley State University in Allendale, Michigan.

Norma J. Longo is a geologist in Durham, North Carolina.

Kenyon C. Lindeman, a biologist, is a senior scientist with Environmental Defense in Miami, Florida.

Deborah F. Pilkey is an engineer in Simi Valley, California.

Luciana Slomp Esteves is a coastal geologist at the Laboratory of Oceanographic Geology at Fundacao University in Rio Grande, Brazil.

Read an Excerpt

Living with Florida's Atlantic Beaches

Coastal Hazards from Amelia Island to Key West
By David M. Bush William J. Neal Norma J. Longo Kenyon C. Lindeman Deborah F. Pilkey Luciana Slomp Esteves John D. Congleton Orrin H. Pilkey


Copyright © 2004 Duke University Press
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-8223-3289-3

Chapter One

From Fort Clinch to Fort Taylor: East Florida's Dynamic Coast

Vocabulary reflects attitude, and the words used in discussing the coast are often military in tone. We armor the shore and draw a line of defense in our battle with the sea. Some regard retreat in the face of sea-level rise as unacceptable. Appropriately in this context, the primary federal agency with authority over coastal activities is the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers; and among the oldest man-made structures along Florida's coast are military forts. Fort Clinch and Fort Taylor not only mark the northern and southern extremities of Florida's east coast (figs. 1.1 and 1.2), they also reflect the extremes of coastal dynamic settings from erosion to accretion, from a foundation of loose sand to solid reef rock, and from temperate climate to tropical climate. Even the way we choose to defend structures from shoreline retreat is mirrored in the history of the armoring of the shores in front of these historic forts.

Florida's oldest fort is the Castillo deSan Marcos. Completed in the late 1600s, it was located on the mainland with command of St. Augustine Inlet. Early settlements commonly located on the naturally protected mainland rather than on the open-ocean shore. But by the 1800s, forts as well as settlements were being constructed on the seaward side of Florida's barrier islands. Fort Clinch, on Amelia Island at the mouth of the St. Marys River, was begun in 1847 and, although never completed, has stood as a fixed reference point next to the changing shoreline (fig. 1.1). Long threatened by shoreline erosion, the fort illustrates how reliance on shore-hardening engineering requires additional projects to hold the shore in place. Groins were constructed seaward of the fort in 1886 and again in the 1930s, about the same time the Civilian Conservation Corps restored the fort and it became a park.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers built a new set of rock groins at Fort Clinch in 1992, but the erosion problem persisted. Yet another set of groins, this one utilizing the T-head design and rock-filled mattresses, was emplaced in 2000, and the cells between the groins were filled with dredged sand in 2001 (fig. 1.1). North Florida is subject to hurricanes and northeasters, large winter storms with associated wave erosion. Fort Clinch's battle with the sea is not over.

Construction of Fort Taylor on Key West began in 1845 but was not completed until 1866. Hurricanes, the bane of South Florida, were among the reasons for the delay. The fort was constructed 1,000 feet offshore, on the bedrock of a key, with walls 5 feet thick to withstand both cannonballs and waves. In 1976 the fort became the property of the Florida Park Service, and in 1985 it was opened to the public. Visitors to the park will notice that the fort is now landlocked because sedimentation has gradually filled the shallow water around the fort, aided by some dredge fill (fig. 1.2). The fresh water supply was a problem, as it is for the Keys in general, and the fort had one of the earliest desalinization plants.

Houses, hotels, and high-rises may not be looked on as forts, but if your home is your castle, and a castle is a fortress, the analogy may fit-especially if the building is sitting on the shoreline! Every building on the shoreline is subject to the same problems that beset Florida's old forts. And East Florida's shoreline is crowded with buildings that house both year-round residents and visitors by the millions.

Coastal Images

Name a community along the coast of East Florida. What image do you associate with that community? Each community may conjure up a unique image: Ocean Drive on Miami Beach, spring break in Fort Lauderdale, beach traffic on Daytona Beach, elegant homes on Palm Beach, Cocoa Beach in the shadow of Cape Canaveral, Amelia Island's golf greens, or laidback Key West at the end of the road. Perhaps your image of choice is a glimpse of what Florida's shores looked like before wholesale development occurred: the dunes on Talbot Island, the wetlands behind Apollo State Park, the natural ecosystem of one of the national wildlife preserves, or an unbroken view of sea and beach as seen from an open stretch of Highway A1A. Collectively, Florida's shorelines are its greatest asset.

And all along the east coast, from Fort Clinch to Fort Taylor, these communities, parks, and preserves share a common trait: they are part of Nature's most dynamic system at the interface between the land and the sea. Our focus will be on this dynamism-the constant and endless change that takes place at the shore-and the consequences we face if we choose to live in conflict with such change. The coastal zone is even more dangerous today after the boom in coastal populations that has taken place over the past few decades.

The history of Florida's development and economy is usually described in terms of "boom" and "bust," and is always closely tied to tourism. The formula of recent and continued change includes the resounding boom of the population bomb! And along with the spiraling population come ever-increasing real estate values and all types of development to serve the growing demand.

To live with the coast rather than simply at the coast, we must understand the geology and climate as well as coastal processes and how humans interact with each factor. Knowledge is the basis of survival, and mitigating (reducing) the impact of storms and shoreline erosion is essential to reducing economic losses at the shore. What lessons can we learn from both natural history and human history?

Geology: The Basis of Environment

The great peninsula of Florida illustrates the principles that geology is a fundamental component of our environment and that all things change. Although the great age of the Earth might lead us to believe that natural change is gradual and not of concern on the human time scale, the geologic record suggests that rapid change is often the rule. The longer history of change also provides the answers to some simple questions. For example, why is Florida a relatively low-lying peninsula?

Figure 1.3 lists events pertinent to Florida through geologic history. Far back in time, the rocks deep beneath the state were once part of a much larger continent that included Africa. That ancient continental mass collided and merged with North America and other land masses to form a supercontinent, Pangea, which subsequently broke up into the present continents. A fragment of ancient Africa remained attached to North America and became the base on which the Florida Platform grew. The distinct Florida peninsular outline is the emergent portion of this much larger Florida Platform (fig. 1.4), a mass of buried limestones (carbonates) that formed in persistent shallow marine environments like those found today in the Bahama Banks and the Florida reef tract. These limestones began forming as much as 145 million years ago, and continued into Pleistocene time in South Florida.

The great carbonate bank was separated from North America by a trough, the Suwannee Channel, which effectively kept the sands and muds eroded off the Appalachian Mountains from reaching Florida (fig. 1.4). Later in time, the trough filled with sediment and the platform became attached to the mainland, allowing quartz-rich sands to move south along both the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico shores. During the Pleistocene Ice Age the sea level fell during the times of glaciation and rose during the warmer interglacial episodes. When the sea level was lower, one can imagine that more sand was carried down the rivers from the Appalachian Mountains, and then along the coast from north to south, supplying Florida's ancestral beaches with sand. The abundant shells of marine animals also were broken up by waves to become beach sand. These two sources account for differences in Florida's natural beaches. Beaches rich in quartz sand tend to be whiter, finer grained, and firmer, like Daytona Beach in the days of beach racing (fig. 1.5). Shelly sand beaches are less firm, slightly coarser, and brownish tan. Today's beaches often don't have the same character as the original beaches because many are now artificially maintained with sands that are dredged from offshore.

During times when the sea level was rising, conditions were favorable for the formation of barrier islands-emergent sand bodies that paralleled the coast, separated from the mainland by a lagoon, marsh, or mangrove swamp. Some of these barriers migrated landward as the sea level rose, and their migration rates are well within the time frame by which we measure human history. The story of these continuing changes does not bode well for the future of coastal development.

Some of the earlier Pleistocene barrier islands welded onto the mainland or were left high and dry when the sea level fell during the next cold-climate episode. The most recent low stand of sea level was about 18,000 to 15,000 years ago at the end of the Pleistocene, when the sea level was 300 to 400 feet below its present elevation and the shoreline was out at the edge of the continental shelf. Large amounts of water were tied up in the massive glacial ice sheets (like present Antarctica and Greenland) that covered parts of North America, Europe, and Asia. The great sea-level rise that followed, known as the Holocene transgression, was one of the most significant predetermining events relative to the origin of the present shorelines. As the ice caps melted, the postglacial sea-level rise (fig. 1.6) caused the shorelines to migrate across Florida's continental shelf as much as 130 miles to their present positions.

Climatic warming and melting of those icecaps was well under way by 10,000 years ago, and the sea level was rising at a rate of 3 to 4 feet per century until 5,000 to 4,000 years ago when the rate decreased (fig. 1.6). Although scholars disagree on the details, the sea level has continued to rise since then, although at a much slower rate, perhaps on the order of 4 to 8 inches per century. This slower rate of sea-level rise across the low coastal plain favored the formation and development of new barrier islands. Most of these barriers welded onto older Pleistocene islands or the mainland shore, sometimes forming spits. The northernmost two islands of East Florida, Amelia and Little Talbot Islands, are like the Sea Islands of Georgia-composites of modern islands that have merged with Ice Age (Pleistocene) islands. Although much of the remaining coast has an artificial aspect and a different origin, the principles that control shoreline erosion, storm response, and how engineering structures impact the shore are the same all along the East Florida shore.

A hundred years ago, there were 11 natural inlets along the approximately 365-mile East Florida coast between the Georgia state line and Key Biscayne. Today, the same reach has 21 active inlets, although only 5 (Nassau Sound, Boca Chica, Matanzas, Norris Cut, and Bear Cut) are natural, unjettied inlets (figs. 1.7, 1.8, and 1.9). Inlets are more common south of Cape Canaveral, with 14 of the state's 21, including what were once natural inlets at Jupiter, Boca Raton, and Hillsboro (these were later jettied; figs. 1.8 and 1.9). The other inlets were dredged or in many cases blasted through rock, mostly in the 1920s. Almost all are now routinely dredged to maintain artificial channels. A century ago, before these artificial inlets were cut, the equivalent of a 150-mile-long barrier island extended on either side of Cape Canaveral, from Ponce de Leon Inlet south of Daytona Beach to Jupiter Inlet near Palm Beach. This barrier island was the longest in the world, longer than 135-mile-long Padre Island in South Texas.

Palm Beach, the "wealthiest barrier island in America," once sat in front of a freshwater body called Lake Worth. In 1917, Lake Worth Inlet was opened by mule, drag pan, and dynamite. When South Lake Worth Inlet was opened in 1927, Palm Beach became an island.

Lagoons of several origins back the East Florida islands. Behind some islands are freshwater marshes. At one time it was possible to wade through the marshes to get to the islands, albeit with some difficulty. Other open-water lagoons have river or lake names, reflecting their origins. Examples include the Halifax River behind Daytona Beach, the Indian River behind Melbourne Beach, Lake Worth behind Palm Beach, and Lake Mable, which became the Port Everglades turning basin near Fort Lauderdale. Today the Intracoastal Waterway is behind the entire coast and sometimes constitutes the only reason for the designation "island."

Most people would not call the southeastern Florida shore a rocky coast, but in fact, this coast has a foundation of rock covered with a thin layer of sand (see appendix C, ref. 56). Underlying many of the barrier islands and most of the beaches is coquina rock or limestone, hard Pleistocene rock (Anastasia Formation) originally deposited as barrier islands or coral reefs and believed to have formed during the 120,000-year sea-level high. So the current barrier island chain coincides with the ancient barrier island chain. Due to the shallow rocky substrate, the Intracoastal Waterway behind the islands was blasted rather than dredged for much of its length. According to Florida coastal geologist Charles Finkl, the typical thickness of sand over the rock is only 3 to 6 feet. Hutchinson Island, Singer Island, Hillsboro Beach, Fort Lauderdale Beach, Dania Beach, and Miami Beach are examples of rock-cored islands. On Palm Beach a ridge of coral reef limestone forms the spine of the island; it can be seen in a local road cut on the island.

The facts that the post-Pleistocene sea-level rise probably reduced sand delivery from the more northerly sources and that Florida's rivers neither drain high uplands nor carry sand to the coast have serious coastal management implications. Given that the continental shelf has very limited sand reserves, the barrier islands depend largely on the reworking of their own sands, and to a lesser degree on the erosion of shelly sands from coquina rock units such as the Anastasia Formation. Because there are relatively few inlets along the East Florida coast, sands derived from inlet-associated tidal deltas are of only local importance. In effect, the existence of East Florida's beaches depends on limited sand resources of ancient origin-that is, fossil sand. The Atlantic's waves and currents are reworking deposits from earlier times. This geology dictates prudent sand management.

The geologic record illustrates that climate and sea level are in a constant state of flux, and whether one accepts the premise of the greenhouse effect or not, the climate and the level of the sea are changing over both the short and long terms. We need to go back only to previous interglacial warm periods to find that the sea level was 150 feet higher than at present, inundating well over half of the present land area of Florida-an inundation likely to be repeated in Florida's not-so-distant future (fig. 1.10). The geologic lesson is that sea level falls and rises, sediment supplies change, and we should not expect the shorelines to remain as they are today.

Short-term events can have effects just as important as long-term events. Hurricanes and smaller storms, and even the day-to-day wind and waves, reshape beaches, dunes, shorelines, and inlets, obliterating buildings that have their foundations in such mobile features (fig. 1.11). Repeated storms leave platted lots behind in the surf while accreting new ephemeral shores in your former fishing spot!


Excerpted from Living with Florida's Atlantic Beaches by David M. Bush William J. Neal Norma J. Longo Kenyon C. Lindeman Deborah F. Pilkey Luciana Slomp Esteves John D. Congleton Orrin H. Pilkey Copyright © 2004 by Duke University Press. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

List of Figures, Tables, and Risk Maps xi

Preface xvii

1 From Fort Clinch to Fort Taylor: East Florida’s Dynamic Coast 1

Coastal Images 3

Geology: The Basis of Environment 4

Coastal Landforms 14

Coastal Processes and the Importance of Sand 14

Climate: A Fundamental Component of Environment 16

Prehistoric Life: Early Humans 18

Access: The Key to Development 19

Lighthouse Lessons 21

Population Explosion in the Coastal Zone 24

Prospects of the Future 27

2 The Vulnerable Coast: Living With Storms 28

Hurricanes 33

Hurricane Probability 35

Ranking Hurricane Intensities 38

Hurricane History: A Stormy Past 39

Early Hurricanes 40

Recent Hurricanes 41

Winter Storms 43

Other Storm Related Hazards 44

Coastal Storm Processes 44

Natural Processes: Energy in Motion 45

Wind 45

Storm Waves 45

Currents 45

Storm Surge 45

Storm-Surge Ebb 47

Human Coastal Modifications: Altering the Response to Natural Processes 47

3 The Variable Coast: Beaches, Barrier Islands, and Coastal Processes 49

The Significance of Barrier Islands in Hazard Evaluation 51

Barrier Island Evolution 53

Stationary or Grounded Barrier Islands 55

Rolling Sandbars: How Islands Migrate 56

The Role of Shoreface in Barrier Island Evolution 59

Geologic Framework of the Coast: Know Your Shoreface 59

Beaches: Nature’s Shock Absorbers 61

How Does the Beach Responds to a Storm? 61

How Does the Beach Widen? 62

Where Does Beach Sand Come From? 65

Why Are Our Shorelines Retreating? 65

If Most Shorelines Are Eroding, What is the Long-Range Future of Beach Development? 65

4 The Fortified Coast: Living With Coastal Engineering 67

Shoreline Armoring: Engineering Structures 68

Shore-Parallel Structures on Land: The Seawall Family 69

Impacts of Seawalls 73

Passive Beach Loss 73

Active Beach Loss 73

Placement Beach Loss 73

Seawalls, Sediment Loss, and Narrowing Beaches 73

Shore-Parallel Structures Offshore: Breakwaters 76

Shore-Perpindicular Structures: Groins and Jetties 77

Impacts on Groins 77

Engineering Structures: A Final Word 80

Coastal Armoring Policy 81

“Alternative” Devices 83

Redistributing Sediment: Dredging/Filing, Trucking, Scraping, and Bypassing 86

Beach Dredge-and-Fill Projects 86

Trucking Sand 92

Beach Scraping 92

Sand Transfer Plants 95

Dune Building 95

Plugging Dune Gaps 95

Principles of Sand Fencing and Artificial Plantings 96

Relocation: Managed Retreat 97

Are Variances Eroding Beach Protection Efforts? 98

Truths of the Shoreline 98

5 Environmental Effects of Beach Management 100

The Shelf Settling 100

How Marine Animals Can Be Affected by Engineering Projects 102

Beach Engineering Methods and Environmental Effects 104

Large Dredge-and-Fill Projects 105

Engineering Methods 105

Historical Perspectives on Beach Dredge and Fill 106

Environmental Effects 107

Mid-Shelf Areas (35-60 Feet) 107

Intermediate Shelf Areas (12-35 Feet) 108

Nearshore and Onshore Areas (0-12 Feet) 109

Inlet Channel Maintenance 110

Nearshore Berms 110

Importing Aragonite Sand 111

Sand Transfer Plants 112

Comparative Environmental Effects of Beach Engineering Methods 113

The Chronic Absence of Cumulative Impact Assessments 114

Natural Stressors 114

Historical Reef Burials 115

Mitigation and Artificial Reefs 116

Just The Facts 117

The Scale of Past and Future Dredge-and-Fill Projects 118

Current Understanding of Faunas and Impacts of Beach Engineering 118

6 The Rules of the Coast: Assessing Hazards 120

The Flexible Coast 121

Selecting Your Coastal Site 124

Stability Indicators: Reading Nature’s Record at the Coast 127

Terrain and Elevation 127

Vegetation 127

Seashells 130

Soil Profiles 130

Coastal Environments: Your Site in the Bigger Coastal Picture 131

Primary Dunes 131

Dune Fields 132

Overwash Fans 133

Grasslands 133

Inlets 134

The Infrastructure Coast: Water Resources, Services, and Utilities 134

Finger Canals 135

Site Evaluation Checklist: Vulnerability and Risk Potential
Escape Routes: Have an Emergency Plan 138

Know the Escape Route Ahead of Time 138

Use the Route Early 139

7 The Nitty-Gritty Coast: Evaluating Your Coastal Site 140

Nassau County 142

Duval County

St. Johns County 153

Flagler County 164

Volusia County 169

Brevard County 177

Indian River County 189

St. Lucie County 193

Martin County 199

Palm Beach County 205

Broward County 215

Dade County 222

Miami Beach: The Endpoint 232

Monroe County/Florida Keys 232

The Environment 235

Look What They’ve Done to Our Keys! 237

The Storm Threat 241

The Next Step 247

8 The Built Coast: Construction Guidelines 249

Can We Learn from Past Experience? 249

Coastal Realty versus Coastal Reality 249

The Structure: Concept of Balanced Risk 250

Can We Rely on Building Codes? 251

Coastal Forces: Desing Requirements 251

Lessons from Previous Storms 253

The National Flood Insurance Program 255

Construction Type 255

House Selection 255

Strengthening the Exterior Envelope 256

Doors 257

Windows 257

Structural Integrity 257

Building Shape 257

Roofs 258

Connectivity, High-Wind Straps, and Tie-Downs 262

Keeping Dry: Pole or “Stilt” Houses 263

Piling Embedment 265

Connection of Piling to the Floor and Roof 267

Breakaway Walls below Elevated Buildings 267

Concrete Slabs below Elevated Buildings 267

Utility Systems 267

Dry Flood-Proofing 268

An Existing House: What to Look for, Where to Improve

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