WILMINGTON -- Just in the past year we have reported on the problem of beach erosion right here in our area: at Kure Beach, Topsail Island, Ocean Isle and Oak Island. Erosion can be short- or long-term. In the short-term, erosion occurs with big storms, like noreasters or hurricanes. While the erosion may be widespread it's usually not a big concern since the dunes often recover over time. Long-term erosion, however, is much more serious because it can mean houses that were initially sitting on the beach could end up in the water. Erosion specialist Spencer Rogers said, "Erosion is a fact of life along most of North Carolina, and we'll have to live with it one way or another." If we look back in history, we get a better sense of proportion. Rogers said, "Over the past 50 or 60 years the average erosion rate in the state has been two or three feet per year along the oceanfront. And it's varied widely from place to place and time to time, but that's kind of the average were dealing with." Topsail inlet is an extreme example moving south at a rate of 90 feet per year. And topsail is looking at purchasing land because Topsail Island is gaining land while the inlet is eroding badly. The good news is that we do have alternatives to help control erosion, but the bad news is that these alternatives can also have negative consequences. Rogers said, "Historically, North Carolina has often used house movers as a solution for erosion control. Just pick up the house and move it somewhere else to a safer lot. That's done less lately in the last 10 years or so. More common used particularly in New Hanover County has been beach nourishment where it's not a cure for beach erosion, but it's a treatment to the illness. That it doesn't stop beach erosion but it puts enough sand in place that it takes time to wash that new sand away. And in the meantime, we have a beach and dune to use for recreation as well as to provide hurricane protection." Beach nourishment projects -- taking sand from the bottom of the ocean and putting it back on the beach -- took place in the '60s, at Carolina Beach and Wrightsville Beach. They helped manage long term erosion and provided hurricane protection. But what about the future? We still need to avoid building in locations where we know there is or will be high erosion and focus on more environmentally friendly areas. And with all that, Mother Nature can still be the final force in all of this. "One of the things that drives erosion is sea level rise. And we know from tide records that sea level has been rising at between six inches and a foot over the last century. So it's already one of the causes of our shoreline erosion. What we don't know is what climate change may do to the rate of sea level rise in the future," Rogers said. The bottom line is that erosion is a part of life here in southeastern North Carolina and the sooner we realize how to live with it well, the better off we'll be. In an attempt to help slow down the erosion, places like Kure Beach have used sandbags. This is only a temporary solution and as we see more development, we need to focus on the long term solution, which is to build a safe distance away from the beach. Just like beach erosion, storm water runoff is a major environmental concern here in southeastern North Carolina. We'll talk about that next week.
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