On a 7-mile stretch of beach in East-Central Florida...
Everyone who has been to Florida knows that our beaches are big, sandy, and beautiful. Not as many are aware of a near-shore and on-shore reef system that starts just south of Cocoa Beach near the Pineda Causeway and Stretches South into Indialantic. This section of shore-line is known as the 'Mid-Reach'. It's unique feature is a reef that is exposed during low tides. This reef is home to over a thousand speecies of organisms. Crabs, Mollusks, Fish, Algae, Coral, Grasses...more than can be named here including the endangered Sabellarid Coral and Juvenile Green Turtles. It is a beautiful living thing, and while its individual features evolve with the ebb and flow of the ocean, it's character remains consistent.
Many an afternoon has been spent lazily walking this reef in amazement at the diversity of life found in it, collecting shells, observing fish, crabs, birds, and watching sea turtles and dolphins appear momentarily from under the surface of the water to breathe. On good days, the water from small waves drifts in and out of it, over its ledges, around its coral heads, into wading pools alive with juvenile fish and crabs, and back out into the surf. It is truly an amazing thing to discover and experience.
This reef system extends offshore as much as a half-mile and is home to one of the worlds premier fishing and surfing locations. Famous names in surfing who cut their teeth here include Kelly Slater and The Hobgood Brothers. What makes the area so good for surfing is the short paddle out, the warm water, good swells, and the subtle but consistent breaks that can be found along this natural reef.
Our near-shore reef is designated as 'Essential Fish Habitat' by the National Marine Fisheries Service.Anyone can, and thousands do, spend a day fishing out here and catch up to 20 or more different species of fish with nothing more than a rod and reel casting from shore. Just past the surf break, its an easy paddle out with a kayak or paddle board to what is known to offshore fishing captains as 'Pelican'. It's a fishing ground where almost all species of fish which can be caught offshore come in to feed on the schools of bait that use the near-shore reef for shelter and food.
Sea Turtle Nesting
This beach has long been a prime location for sea-turtle nesting, and the reef serves as a habitat abundant in both food and shelter for juvenile sea turtles. There has been little to no effort to study the impacts of these projects on turtle nesting and juvenile turtle populations along the reef. We have even heard government officials point to 'record numbers' in the Archie Carr preserve as proof that these projects are not having a negative impact, this despite the fact that FWC numbers showed an almost 50% decrease in total nests along the mid-reach after the project in 2014. A decrease that was reflected in 2015 and 2016 as well. The Archie Carr preserve is 10 miles south of the mid-reach, and both the amount of material and the design of the projects are radically different from what is being done here.
Only long-time residents remember the piles of sea shells that could be found along this stretch of beach. There were conchs, pen-shells, olive shells, whelks, augers, shark-eyes...more than can be listed. People used to come here to find these little treasures and they have all but disappeared with the burial of our beach by previous projects. Only Sanibel could rival the number and diversity of our sea-shell covered beach, and it too has been all but destroyed by nourishment. The good news is that the shells are still there, they are just buried. If we stop these projects, they will return.
What is happening now...
Emergency dune Re-nourishment and Beach Widening
Irresponsible development of the coastline which resulted in dozens of structures being built on the edge of an eroding dune, has led to a demand for the protection of these structures as the dune erodes. It is anyone's right to demand action from the government, and they have succeeded in getting the State and County to undertake two previous beach 'nourishment' and dune reconstruction projects, and a third emergency re-nourishment is underway as we speak. These projects have dumped hundreds of thousands of cubic yards of foreign material onto the beach, degrading this natural treasure in a number of ways. Most notably by burying sections of the reef with sandbars, clouding the water, and using material that compacts making it difficult for sea turtles to dig nests in. These projects have cost tax payers tens of millions of dollars over the last 12 years, will cost hundreds more into the future.
What we are seeing now is NOT the beach widening project that we are fighting to prevent. This emergency nourishment is using 30-40,000 cubic yards of material, the project that is scheduled for the next two years will use over 600,000 cubic yards of material. This is enough to bury the entire reef under ten feet of sand/dirt.
These projects have been sold to us as many things by many people...
- The only option. 'There is no other way to protect the entire barrier island from washing into the ocean.'
- A necessary evil. 'If we don't do this, the owners of the condos will begin to put up sea walls which will be much worse.'
- A not so bad thing. 'Engineers have looked into it and the impacts of this project will be minimal.'
- A great idea. 'No one wants to swim where there's a bunch of rocks.'
- We don't know, lets wait and see. 'They don't really know what the effects will be.'
The truth is that this project has undergone years of debate, other options were not explored, and this was pushed forward despite several concerns from The National Marine and Fisheries Service, Environmental Groups, and Scientists. Concerns that were never fully addressed. There is an unbelievable amount of misinformation out there. What has been tried before to stop this from happening hasn't worked, it's time for a new approach.
We believe that this has to end in favor of a more intelligent long-term policy.
The difference...side-by-side you can see beach sand vs. 'beach quality sand'
Photo from December 2013. These samples were taken from our beach. One of the original sand, one of the material that was put down. If you frequent the beach you have seen this for yourself.
The two projects that were done previously were labeled 'Dune Reconstruction Projects' the third of which is happening now. The project we are the most concerned with is different and radically larger than the previous ones. Right now anyone can see the barge placing concrete 'pads' on top of the near-shore reef about 200-300 yards out from the beach. The next step is to widen the beach by almost 100 feet(the project design says 10 feet, but that does not take into account what happens when the material begins to erode). To say that this is tons more material than the last project is a vast understatement. This will be done using material that has not yet been specified as anything other than 'beach quality sand' which we know from three years ago is a statement that is not to be trusted. 'Upland sources' means dirt from a hole in the ground. 'Shoal material' means sand dredged from the Canaveral Shoals area about 3 miles out from the beach. None of these is natural beach sand, and both will have dramatic effects on the health of this reef system and quality of our beach.
We need your help right now to put an end to this disaster and protect our natural reef and beach for EVERYONE.