Officials study Irma’s effects on AMI’s beaches

Todaro, Pfeiffer study beach
Gabriel Todaro, of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and Michelle Pfeiffer, of Manatee County beach consultant APTIM, look at what appears to be a sand flat created during Hurricane Irma. - Cindy Lane | Sun

A team studied Anna Maria Island from stem to stern today, agreeing that Hurricane Irma took a bite out of the beach.

The storm, which was a strong Category 2 when it passed over Manatee County, caused “deflation and retreat” on the beach, which means the beach lost some of its depth and width, said Charlie Hunsicker, the director of the Manatee County Parks and Natural Resources department.

Hunsicker, Cortez Beach
Charlie Hunsicker, director of the Manatee County Parks and Natural Resources Department, looks at a newly-exposed erosion control groin that was completely covered by sand at Cortez Beach before Hurricane Irma hit, while U.S. Army Corps of Engineers workers document changes in the beach. – Cindy Lane | Sun

“There has been some loss,” agreed Larry George, an environmental consultant with the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, part of the team that scoured the beach today under the blazing sun.

The beach already was eroded from Hurricane Hermine earlier this month when Irma struck, said Michelle Pfeiffer, of APTIM, Manatee County’s beach consultant.

Todaro measures beach
Gabriel Todaro, of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, measures the beach from the dunes seaward with the help of an assistant. – Cindy Lane | Sun

Gabriel Todaro, of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, took measurements on the beach to compare later with previous mapping information to determine the extent of the erosion.

One clue is the sudden appearance of the tops of 1960s-era erosion control groins that lie perpendicular to the beach and have not been seen in decades. The red “Keep Off” lettering looks freshly painted, as if the team were excavating Egyptian ruins, Hunsicker said.

At Coquina Beach, the storm apparently pulled the sand toward the Gulf, flattening it as it went, and leaving a shallow channel where backwash flowed. Hunsicker said the waves eventually will wash the sand back up higher onto the beach.

Seaweed at Coquina Beach
Seaweed washed up by Hurricane Irma covers Coquina Beach, which remains closed this weekend due to downed trees in the parking lot. – Cindy Lane | Sun

Numerous patches of seaweed on the beach were carried all the way to the dunes by high tides in some areas. Seaweed, known as “wrack,” normally is limited to the shoreline on AMI.

The wrack contains food for shorebirds, which often rest in them, so the county will not rake up the seaweed from Longboat Pass to the first lifeguard stand on Coquina Beach, which is a no swimming area, or from a bird nesting area in Holmes Beach, or from Bean Point in Anna Maria, he said, adding that the county will clean up the seaweed from high-use beaches on the Island including Coquina, Cortez and Manatee.

Manatee County’s beach renourishment program, dating back to the early 1990s, prevented Irma from pushing the Gulf of Mexico over Gulf Drive at Coquina Beach, the Island’s narrowest point and a state-designated critically eroded beach, Hunsicker said.

Coquina and Cortez beaches have long been a priority for county renourishment efforts, with the recent reconstruction of three erosion control groins known as “Twin Piers,” named when the first two were built, he said.

That stretch of beach between Longboat Pass north to Cortez Beach gets no federal funding because no structures are on the beach other than lifeguard stands, Hunsicker said, adding that the county plans to ask the state for financial help to repair all or some of the damage.