Wednesday, January 17, 2018

The Color of Sand

February 1, 2015 by · Leave a Comment 

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The shores of the Bahamas are tinted pink with bits of coral. Shale makes the beaches of Shelter Cove in California a stark shade of grey. Hawaiian sands get their many vibrant hues courtesy of volcanic lava. The captivating bi-colored beaches of Fire Island, New York are made of quartz and feldspar.

color of sand 2Within the finest, whitest sand found on Long Island, there are bands of coarser dark sand typically found closer to the toe of the dune. This Fire Island sand is neither dirty nor polluted; the deep red tones indicate that this sand is actually made of garnet, the official mineral of New York State, and the same stone that may be found in a favorite ring.

Now recognized as a precious jewel, efforts are underway to preserve the sand on the world’s valuable beaches. However, these beach renourishment projects taking place on Long Island and globally threaten to homogenize sand’s unique character and diversity.

More than two years after Hurricane Sandy, beach restoration is still a thorny subject. In August 2014, New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo unveiled a $207 million plan calling for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to dredge seven million cubic yards of sand to stabilize the barrier island between Fire Island and Moriches Inlets in order to reduce the storm surge hazard on Long Island’s south shore. By early October, the New York Chapter of the U.S. Audubon Society had filed an injunction to suspend the project, arguing that it would harm the nesting and food foraging habitat of the endangered piping plover. Though the injunction request was overturned weeks later, the dredging project now includes modifications to protect shorebirds, including the creation of overwash areas and an ephemeral pool they need to survive.

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Dredged sand from even a nearby borrow site is never the same color and texture as its native counterpart. In fact, a difference in look is actually a requirement — in order for the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation to grant the necessary permits to a municipal applicant, approved imported sand must be different in average color, grain-size, and shape. It is easier to monitor the post-project shifting dynamics this way, and logically, if there was enough local sand in the first place restoration projects would hardly be necessary.

Fire Islanders are no strangers to interim beach restoration projects. Over the decades, the dredged sand deposited is often a sallow brownish yellow color. Crunching like gravel upon contact, it does not feel like Fire Island sand and it does not move like Fire Island sand, but nevertheless, it’s still sand (and so it was welcomed). However, the newest slated plans by the state to build a 13- to 15-foot high wall of sand along 19 miles of dune line is the most massive project in size and scale.

Suffolk County has mandated that ocean front property owners within the designated dune line have to grant easements and right of entry consent in order for the project to move forward. Some residents express unease about becoming buried under so much sand, not unlike those helpless plovers. While expectations for most run high, there are veterans of the countless debates and multiple promises made who are concerned that this project will be wasted money washed out to sea. However, the alternative is less attractive than a different-colored sand. It is unnerving to watch as a powerful storm flattens the dunes and sends them migrating northward. The beach face then changes dramatically — for a brief moment Fire Island’s shores resemble their true selves again, alabaster pale with a deep rosy blush (the borrowed sand is always the first to go in such events).

For more information on the Fire Island Inlet to Moriches Inlet Stabilization Project, or FIMI, visit: http://www.nan.usace.army.mil/Missions/CivilWorks/ProjectsinNewYork/FireIslandtoMontaukPointReformulationStudy.aspx#FIMI

By Shoshanna McCollum

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