Vacation Not-Spot? South Florida Is Running Out of Sand

Erosion, jetty construction, and rising sea levels have combined to push South Florida sand to the brink of extinction.

Has the sun really set on the sand in Miami's South Beach? (Photo: Gerrit Wenz/Getty)


Aug 26, 2013· 1 MIN READ
Salvatore Cardoni holds a political science degree from the George Washington University. He's written about all things environment since 2007.

A beach haven without sand?

This is the doomsday scenario facing officials in South Florida after decades of storm erosion, replenishment projects, and rising sea levels. All have combined to practically strip the area of its offshore sand reserves, which will be depleted in February.

"We've pretty much vacuumed everything up," Stephen Leatherman, of Florida International University, told NBC.

Yes, the obvious concern is economic—I mean, what tourist with their head screwed on straight pays to vacation at a sand-less beach?—but there are far bigger health issues at stake.

"These beaches, people think they are recreational, but they are storm damage reduction," Jason Harrah, the Army Corps project manager in charge of the Miami-Dade beach restoration, told The New York Times. "They are meant to sacrifice themselves for the loss of property or life. In the event we have that kind of storm, we wouldn't have the means to replenish them."

The problem is, in part, exacerbated because of "jetties, or cuts to build seaports, that have proliferated, which causes sand to pile up on one side of the jetty but not the other."

Pressured by local chambers of commerce and tourism boards, officials in two South Florida counties, Broward and Miami-Dade, are scrambling to figure out a way to escape the hole they've dug for themselves.

Some have floated the idea of grinding up recycled glass (like they do for sand traps at golf courses), but it is cost prohibitive. Plus do vacationing parents really want their kids burying each other in ground-up glass?

The Times says that another idea is to ask for sand handouts—no, literally.

The situation is so dire that two counties to the north — St. Lucie and Martin — are being asked to donate their own offshore sand in the spirit of neighborliness.

“You have counties starting wars with each other over sand,” said Kristin Jacobs, the Broward County mayor, who has embraced the recycled glass idea as a possible stopgap. “Everybody feels like these other counties are going to steal their sand.”

St. Lucie and Martin Counties are none too keen to sacrifice their sand for the pleasures of South Florida. The last time the idea was mentioned, in 2006, it engendered accusations of subterfuge and raised so much ire that it was dropped.

And then there's this remedy: Import the sand from nearby Caribbean islands.

Just think, one day in the not so distant future, you could be vacationing in South Beach, decked out in gear from Tommy Bahamas, sipping on a Bahama Mama, and with your toes burrowing into sand shipped from the Bahamas.