What is Beach Erosion?

In its simplest terms, when a beach loses material to natural or man-induced processes, you’ll have a beach that is eroding. When you have a net increase in these materials, it is known as “accretion”.

While the erosion we see is the end-result, a symptom, it doesn’t describe the essence of the problem or why we are seeing such an increasing rate of shoreline erosion in recent history. Beach erosion is an exceptionally complex problem.

Sconsett Nantucket eroded cliffs
Eroding cliffs in Nantucket
Sand loss indicated by scarping

The natural process “builds beaches”, not erodes them.

What we are seeing today is a breakdown in the natural process, through continuous man-made changes that negatively impacts this natural process, resulting in the destructive, ever-increasing rates of erosion to our beaches and dunes. It is well documented by geologists that for thousands of years following the last ice age, land formations such as beaches and deltas were expanding seaward because of natural erosion and accretion processes. The Textbook of Geology describes how gravity and other forces combine to transport soil from upper land surfaces to offshore surfaces, expanding coastal formations. (Dana, Door, Ibid.) This fact is in sharp contrast to the recent massive amounts of beach and shoreline destruction seen in the last 50 years.

illustration of erosion symptoms

Even with sea-levels expected to rise 1-2 feet over the next 100 years, erosion has been steadily eating away our beaches and dunes by multiples of that number every year. This loss of beach elevation makes flooding and high water matters worse. However, while the current situation is bad, there is a solution.

Beach access destroyed by erosion
Severe “one-season” erosion example after a renourishment project was completed

An EnviroShore Stabilization System (ESS) can stop erosion and restore the natural process. In places where this technology has been installed, beach sand elevations have risen as much as 6-8 feet, bringing back decades worth of lost sand in as little as two years. Some early systems, installed by the inventor of the technology (HTI), have worked continuously for more than 40 years.