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FORT MYERS BEACH l How vulnerable is our coastline to the next storm?

Posted at 5:33 PM, Nov 09, 2023
and last updated 2023-11-09 19:06:28-05

FORT MYERS BEACH, Fla. — We all know that Hurricane Ian really beat up our beaches with the storm surge. But also, Idalia, this past summer, really showed us how vulnerable our coastal communities are to more additional storm surge thanks to erosion. And even a coastal system just this past October brought water from the beach all the way up to the edge of the parking lot at places like Bowditch Point. But how vulnerable are we to the next storm?

“Fort Myers, Sanibel, and Bonita Springs beaches, Ian, the storm, overwhelmed the entire system,” said Dr. Ping Wang, a geoscientist at University of South Florida.

It may not come as a surprise but our dunes system, like many of our natural coastal protections, was severely damaged by Hurricane Ian storm surge. That required emergency berm projects in Lee and Collier Counties.

“We can’t build anything high enough for Ian, basically in my opinion, however we don’t get Ian often,” said Dr. Wang.

But then came Hurricane Idalia this past summer. While it stayed offshore, it eroded our dunes once more and pushed storm surge on numerous roadways. That has now left many coastal communities at again a higher risk. That was seen with a coastal storm just last month, that had ocean water almost flowing into parking lots.

“A winter storm tends to come with not so much surge, but big waves and with all the protective dune destroyed then it makes the coast more vulnerable,” said Dr. Wang.

So, what do we do? Dr. Wang says we need to rebuild our dunes once more. But through nature that could take up to 10 years or more.

“With some of our help, such as artificial dunes, vegetation, it may speed up the natural process,” said Dr. Wang

But still, Dr. Wang says it is hard to naturally build dunes on Southwest Florida beaches.

“The wind is not strong enough, the weather is too humid, so when the sand gets wet it doesn’t get blown up by dune,” said Dr. Wang. “Also, our sediment. We have sand, but we also have a lot of shells in the sand that prevent it from being blown up into the dunes.”

That all said, Dr. Wang says we are in a vulnerable area, and there is no perfect solution to improving our coastal resiliency.

“So, we won’t have the ultimate solution, that all we need to do is build up the land very high against a big storm,” said Dr. Wang. “We simply don’t have the material in my opinion. Or maybe we should all leave, that’s also maybe philosophically intriguing, but realistically it is not really practical. So maybe learning from a storm like Ian. Kind of do a little bit and little bit at a time.”