The city’s new six-part plan to restore Sunset Beach Park on Oahu’s North Shore, following last winter’s severe erosion, is the first to take climate change into account, according to Jim Howe, director of the city’s Emergency Service Department.
The Sunset Beach plan may serve as a model approach for other eroding shorelines on Oahu, Howe said.
As the plan was announced Wednesday, city crews removed what remained of a damaged bicycle path at the beach.
Starting Monday, crews will begin an approximately weeklong project of pushing sand up from the Paumalu Stream side to rebuild the dune that once existed there. After that, the North Shore Community Land Trust will invite volunteers to help put in native, coastal plants. The city will then establish designated beach access pathways to mitigate foot erosion, reinforced with fencing and signs.
Nine months ago, the city held another news conference to warn the public to stay away from the area because the severely eroding shoreline had created an unstable cliff at Sunset Beach.
|BRINGING IT BACK
Six-step Sunset Beach dune restoration:
1. Remove damaged bike path
2. Move sand to rebuild the dune
3. Plant native coastal plants on the dune
4. Designate beach access pathways
5. Install features to protect dune within pathways (for example, an ADA accessible mat similar to the one in Waikiki)
6. Put up fencing and signage requesting use of pathways
Winter swells wash away portions of the North Shore coastline every year, but authorities said the erosion at Sunset Beach in December was “unprecedented.” It was so severe, it crumbled the bike path and forced the relocation of a lifeguard tower and the removal of an Ocean Safety storage shed.
“Over the last nine months, a tremendous amount of planning, thought, outreach and community effort has gone into creating this plan,” said Howe. “And this plan, we hope, is going to … mitigate some of the impacts of what is happening so we can save Sunset Beach.”
“What we cannot control and what we will not be able to manage is the surf,” he said. “The surf will do what the surf is going to do, so even with this effort, if the surf decides to take it, the surf will take the sand away as it has in years past. The difference of what we’re doing today is we’re not just going to simply move sand. We’re going to now engage in a process of actually trying to hold that sand through dune restoration.”
Key to the plan is the establishment of the designated pathways to help prevent foot erosion.
Foot erosion, according to Howe, occurs when visitors walk on the beach, then bring sand back to the car or shower at home, resulting in the reduction of sand at the beach. When thousands of visitors visit the beach each week, the collective impact adds up.
Doug Cole, director of the North Shore Community Land Trust, said last winter’s erosion was a wake-up call.
“I think it’s essential we start taking steps now to protect the shoreline in a natural way, by restoring the sand dune and educating the about their impact on the shoreline,” he said. “The surf and wind are going to do what they’re going to do, but we do have an impact on the thousands of people coming to the shoreline throughout the week.”
The public is welcome to help plant naupaka and other vegetation along the dune, starting in September, he said.
Through its digital platform, which reaches millions of surf enthusiasts around the world, the World Surf League will partner with the city to help educate others about the fragile nature of dunes, said Jodi Wilmott, World Surf League’s general manager for Hawaii.
“Surfers are, after all, some of the greatest stewards of the beach,” she said. “The coastline is their lifestyle, their home and everything they think about, and so I think we have a very active audience, a very engaged surfing following that we can really activate to become part of the solution here.”
Longtime Sunset Beach resident and former surf promoter Randy Rarick said he was glad to see the city taking action.
Back in the 1960s, Rarick remembers healthy sand dunes, along with naupaka, and pathways through them to get to the beach. The dunes were leveled out for the bike path about 20 years ago, and erosion got worse.
“The main thing is, once you do rebuild something, you have to maintain it,” he said. “If they maintain those walk-through areas, it could be a win-win for everybody.”
The project is a collaborative effort between the city and numerous groups that also include the University of Hawaii Sea Grant program, the North Shore Outdoor Circle, various community members and the state Office of Conservation and Coastal Lands. Many are volunteering time, as well as finances, to the project.
Sunset Beach is among the shorelines on Oahu that are chronically eroding, meaning the shoreline is retreating over the long term, not just during winter swells.
Ocean and beach systems have a natural ability to manage themselves, but need time and space to breathe, according to Office of Climate Change, Sustainability and Resiliency coastal and water program Manager Matthew Gonser.
“We can’t expect the beach to provide those benefits if we continue to trample on it,” he said.
Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell issued a directive for all city departments to begin integrating climate change into their daily decisions, while longer-term policies and solutions are being mapped out in a report on resilience strategy for Oahu due in early 2019.
“We hope this collaborative effort helps to give the community a sense of ownership in helping to combat the effects of climate change and sea level rise,” said Caldwell in a news release. “Projects like these demonstrate the kind of dedication that is needed on multiple levels to help address our increasingly changing environment.”