Here they come — look to the east and you will see them — floating goliaths, hopper dredges, those federally appointed defenders of the barrier island.
Brevard’s latest round of beach renourishment commences next week. Great Lakes Dredge and Dock will be sucking slurry sand from Canaveral Shoals at a rate of 1,000 cubic meters per hour and expelling it onto the beach at Indialantic, where bulldozers await their discharge.
This is a basic 21st-century coastal reinforcement tenet: imported sand creates a buffer zone, a sacrificial killing field where storm surge impacts can be dampened and mitigated. So far, the strategy has proven effective: had the Army Corps not been replenishing Brevard County’s shoreline for the past 15 years, waves might now be lapping into sliding doors from the Cape down to the Inlet.
Like all effective policies, the Dredge has its opponents. Tea partiers (inland ones, usually) take offense to the full federal funding of the project; they suggest local municipalities protect themselves and shell out their own cash for the sand. Primalists, youthful idealists who would prefer nature take her course, argue that a barrier island is meant to migrate, to roll back and forth as the seas swell and spill.
Beachside centrists tend to favor renourishment, at least in the short run. One marketing director suggests: “People from all over the country come to Cocoa Beach. Isn’t it in everyone’s interest to keep it looking beautiful?”
Regardless of politics, rising seas don’t bode well for our narrow stretch, which is one of the most vulnerable areas in the nation to storm surges. According to NASA-funded predictions, by the time my 6-year-old daughter is 40, the foundation of my house stands a 50 percent chance of being submerged by ocean water.
Officials with the Army Corps, ever the pragmatists, are vigilantly monitoring the situation. They are taking note, drawing up meticulous reports. Dredging is just one weapon in the Corps’ coastal-protection arsenal. Others include raising the dune systems or jacking up existing infrastructure: homes, pipes, roads, bridges. And the solution of last resort: strategic retreat.
Surfers remain torn about the beach renourishment. A surfer knows the sandbars are well-shaped right now, and while pockets of barreling shore pound might form after the dredge, the dreaded trough will ultimately come. A surfer knows that next summer, he will be driving long miles in search of a decent break and lamenting, “remember when we used to ride our bikes at low tide?”
In time, the ashtray sand will sift and blanch, as all things do in the sun and salt wind. A beach is a wash zone, after all. Sand is just a trillion shattered bits of older things — shells, bone, ships, castles and societies long gone. I love Cocoa Beach more than anywhere else in the world, but when I built my house here, I couldn’t help but consider that long-forgotten quote about the wise man who builds his home on the rock, and the other fellow who builds on the sand.
Will the renourishment give us another five, 10 years? Probably. Will it stop the big one from folding the sea over the river, or cracking our towns up like the Outer Banks? With no long-term municipal planning to raise the island in place, the only plan then, I tell my daughter, will be to seek higher ground.
And for now? What else, but to look east and laugh like fools? Onward, ye churning leviathans!