Are Hawaii’s Beaches Disappearing?

According to a recent New York Times article, yes, they are. This is scary news for a destination whose economy is not only tied to the billions of dollars beachgoers spend annually while visiting the islands, but whose sandy shores also provide a way of life for ocean minded locals and surf enthusiasts who have literally been raised on the state’s golden sands.

According to the New York Times piece, over the last century approximately 9 percent of the sand on the state’s three largest islands – Hawaii, Maui and Oahu – has completely disappeared. Due to various forces, which include the rising of sea levels and natural erosion of the volcanic islands, the point at which the water meets the sand is gradually beginning to encroach shoreward with every passing year.

The largest cause of beach erosion, however, is the copious amount of seawalls, which restrict the natural ebb and flow of the constantly shifting sand. Unable to progress and regress at its natural and healthy rate, the sand is eventually swallowed by the growing ocean and coastal landowners are left with nothing but pictures of what their beachfront home at one point used to look like.

While you can take the time to read through the entire New York Times piece, I can save you the stat-crunching and tell you for a fact that yes, the beaches in Hawaii are getting smaller. I’ve lived on Maui for 23 years, and in the years, which have passed from childhood to adulthood, there are segments of beaches which have undoubtedly shrunk or completely disappeared into the sea.

Geologists say the solution lies in a proactive maneuver known as a “retreat.” By removing out human presence – hotels, mega-mansions, restaurants, storefronts – from the shoreline and moving them slightly inland, this simple maneuver would give the beaches enough space to continue their own natural cycle of advance and retreat.

But, as Dr. Charles Fletcher was quoted as telling the New York Times, “It’s easy to say retreat; it’s much harder to implement it.”

[Photo by Heather Ellison]