15 Feb Why does the beach look different?
By Captain Brian Holaway
“The only thing that is constant is change” – Greek Philosopher Heraclitus
Being a shelling guide over the years, I get a lot of questions about the beach and why have things changed. The million-dollar question is “Why does the beach look totally different than the last time I was here? If I had a sand dollar for every time I get asked that, I would have a bucketful of sand dollars. The human mind remembers the same beach or same shells, so when one returns and things don’t look how your mind left it, questions arise.
Imagine in 365 days, over 700 exchanges of the tide (high tide low tide) occur, along with full moons, new moons and winds all impacting pieces of sand. Things are going to change.
Tides, where would we be without tides? Stagnet. Like Capt. Ron said, ”They can work for you or against you.” In one year’s time we have at least 700 tide changes. A lot of water moving up and down the beach bringing with it new treasures, also taking them away.
Wind, the wind can change the beach in many ways. If you have ever been on the beach on a windy day, you have probably seen the sand moving along the beach. These fine grains of sand move along the beach until they find a place to land usually at the base of a dune plant or even the side of a shell on the beach. The sand landing at the base of the dune plant will continue to collect more sand. The little sand dune will in turn be a place for more dune plants to grow and the cycle continues. Dune plants help to keep the beach in place.
The barrier island beaches of Southwest Florida are nothing more than a sand bar with unique plant communities holding it together. These sandbars are constantly ebbing and flowing, gaining and losing sand. Last year on North Captiva a sand bar offshore emerged and soon after connected to the island and keeps growing. There is probably 3 acres of new land formed in an 8-month time period. A great example of how beaches change with the wind and tides.
Storms having been changing the landscape of Florida for centuries. Tropical storms like Debbie a few years ago churned out in the Gulf for a week giving us high water for 7 days. When I say high water, I mean over the docks high water. Sanibel Island had no beach for a week during Debbie because the water was so high. Tropical storms change the landscape quite dramatically even if we don’t have a direct hit. In October of 1996 we had tropical storm Josephine push a lot of sand up on the southern end of the bayside of Cayo Costa. This extra sand and a little bit of elevation created a whole new beach dune ecosystem flourishing today.
Next time you are out on the beach wondering why things don’t look the same as they did a year ago, think of 700 tides, winds, full moons, new moons, storms and the beauty of the islands that are always changing.