Retired Christmas Trees Assist Beach Erosion Efforts
Retired Christmas Trees Assist Beach Erosion Efforts By Melissa Jones NCCOAST |
During the winter months, the Crystal Coast beach scene consists of a different type of crowd. Gone are the sunbathers who line the soft sand, and their replacement, Christmas trees. As part of an effort to fortify sand dunes, each year Fort Macon manages its “retired” Christmas tree program that can be comparative to fencing as a means to prevent erosion said Randy Newman, park superintendent.
Michele Walker, NC Division of Coastal Management, said, “Christmas trees can be used to help reestablish sand dunes in areas where the dunes have been disturbed by either human action or storms. Properly placed trees trap windblown sand, which begins the process of dune building. The reestablished dunes are a natural way to buffer coastal resources, property and infrastructure against the forces of erosion from hurricanes and other storms.”
Sand dunes not only contribute to the beautiful backdrop along Crystal Coast waters, but serve more imperative functions such as the prevention of shifting sands caused by frequent winds, waves and tides or foot traffic. Such shifts lead to erosion, losing sand, or accretion, gaining sand. The Christmas tree program aims to create an economical alternative to build dunes that will eventually help reduce wind speed and allow for the necessary sand accumulation to stabilize vegetation. According to the NC State University College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, as sand collects, plants adapt to the beach environment and emerge to provide a steady surface that promotes further dune formation. In the absence of firm vegetation, drifting sand creates “live” dunes that move back and forth with the wind.
The needles that blow from Christmas trees and land among the sand will help encourage beach vegetation growth, said Newman. Vegetation is critical for dune formation and without it, blowing sand will migrate inland. Stable dunes are necessary along the coast in order to act as flexible barriers to storm tides and waves and serve as sand reservoirs for beach nourishment.
Most dune plants can tolerate “normal” beach conditions, but they are unable to withstand heavy foot or vehicular traffic. According to NC State University professor, Stephen W. Broome, such trampling can lead to greater sand removal by wind. Banning vehicular traffic can reduce the need for sand control measures, however, Fort Macon believes that that public should have the opportunity to intimately interact with dunes.
“The park encourages the public to have an opportunity to walk on dunes. Children having such contact allow them to learn about the dunes in natural environments. Often, damage can stem from consistent pounding of dunes from beach foot traffic. The park is committed to continuing such accessibility by maintaining and repairing any damage to dunes. Christmas trees allow us to provide a cost effective way to create sand fences along areas where erosion has occurred. The ‘fence’ repairs dunes by trapping blown sand. Birds will lay seeds along the trees providing a natural opportunity to quickly reestablish vegetation,” said Newman.
Fort Macon makes every effort to ensure that the trees are properly lined and buried along damaged areas, however, some areas have experienced failed results with Christmas tree restoration efforts. According to the state of Delaware’s dune protection and improvement, government officials no longer promote the placement of Christmas trees and other vegetation on the beaches.
“Over the years we have learned that this practice does not help as well with established dunes as the use of native vegetation and sand fencing and it can smother existing beachgrass. We have also learned that dead trees and brush are fire hazards that can lead to the destruction of established dunes.” In order to prevent such issues, North Carolina recommends that residents take their trees to established recycle programs such as Fort Macon’s.
North Carolina’s coastline has received much engineering, scientific and political attention during the past 30 years according to a study conducted by the US Geological Woods Hole Science Center. Main efforts are to protect the area and the significant tourism to its parks and beaches. The area also contains a number of coastal communities and supports the local fishing industry, all of which are impacted by coastal change. Such projects provide a strong science foundation for management of the NC coastal zone.
Erosion is one of the most important issues concerning beach preservation efforts. Other issues under constant study include:
• Coastal and estuarine shoreline erosion (controls on erosion rates, sediment transport, response of beaches and wetlands to sea level rise)
• Sand resources (location, quality, and quantity of offshore, estuarine, or onshore sand)
• Storm impacts (barrier island/inlet migration, estuarine water movement, relative stability of barrier island segments)
• Sea level change (history and potential impacts)
• Water resources (surface and groundwater)
• Habitat (ability to sustain uses, trends, identify threats)
Fort Macon accepts bare residential trees that are free from all decorations including tree stands and tinsel. There will be signs at Fort Macon directing traffic to drop-off stations at the bathhouse parking lot. If interested in volunteering to assist with fence efforts along damaged dunes, contact the park at 252-726-3775