Beaches to get new sand

The sand on Anna Maria Island’s beaches is a major tourist draw. - Cindy Lane | Sun

ANNA MARIA ISLAND – Island beaches are scheduled to get new sand, beginning with a minor repair to Coquina Beach this year, followed by a major project on Coquina Beach and Holmes Beach next year.

Sand from the dredging of Longboat Pass will be placed on Coquina Beach this year, Manatee County Parks and Natural Resources Director Charlie Hunsicker told Manatee County commissioners last week.

For nearly 30 years, the sand from maintenance dredging of the pass has been shared with the Town of Longboat Key. Last time, Longboat Key got all the sand, he said; this time, Anna Maria Island probably will need most of it.

Longboat Key plans to build five groins on its northernmost beach to protect homes threatened by erosion, Hunsicker said.

Early next year, Coquina Beach and Holmes Beach will be renourished in two major projects. The Coquina Beach project is estimated to cost $6.5 million ($3.25 million in state funds and $3.25 million in local funds) and the Holmes Beach project is estimated to cost $16 million ($8 million in federal funds, $4 million in state funds and $4 million in local funds), said Thomas Pierro, principal engineer for APTIM, the county’s beach consultant.

Coquina Beach is not eligible for federal funding because there are no homes there, and the federal government does not assist with renourishment for recreational properties, Hunsicker said, adding that one-fifth of tourist taxes collected in the county are reserved for renourishment. The state helps the county with state funding because Coquina Beach provides ample parking for beachgoers, he added.

Other projects include replacing the jetty, or terminal groin, at the southernmost tip of Anna Maria Island in Longboat Pass, replacing the groins on Coquina Beach and building a 2-acre limestone boulder mitigation reef.

Mitigation efforts

Renourishment impacts the seabed and its marine life, covering hardbottom areas with sand, said Lauren Floyd, senior marine biologist with APTIM.

While Anna Maria Island does not have hard coral reefs like those in the Florida Keys, soft corals live on the exposed hardbottom, a rich habitat for sea life.

The county builds artificial reefs in areas not impacted by renourishment to give marine life a place to go when their habitats are covered with sand, she said.

Project managers also work with Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch and Shorebird Monitoring to avoid impacting shorebird nests, making buffers around bird nesting areas, Floyd said.

Why renourish?

Beach renourishment protects property, roads and lives, makes nesting grounds for sea turtles and shorebirds and provides a beautiful place for beachgoers to enjoy, Hunsicker said.

In renourishment projects, a freighter sucks up sand from the bottom of the seabed and pumps it through pipes onto a beach, where it is bulldozed out into the shallow water, creating a wider beach. Without renourishment, the beaches would lose an average of 10-12 feet of sand annually, he said.

Manatee County began renourishing beaches in 1992-93, when Island beaches were severely eroded, with seawalls and rocks exposed and water lapping at the foundations of homes. Subsequent major projects in 2002, 2005-06, 2011 and 2013-14 and several smaller projects, including the recent replacement of the three erosion control groins at Twin Piers in Cortez Beach, have continued to keep homes and roads high and dry.

“We can resist up to four feet of sea level rise,” because of renourishment, Hunsicker said.