By Kassie Simmons | April 19, 2021 at 5:44 PM EDT – Updated April 19 at 7:31 PM
WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) – As the weather continues to warm up and the sun pushes through the clouds, beaches are a popular spot to be. But if you’ve visited the beach in Oak Island lately, you might notice something unexpected on the other side of the dunes.
Oak Island for the most part is a quiet town, and that’s partially thanks to sand dunes. As soon as you cross to the other side, you’ll hear the relaxing sound of waves crashing onto the shore.
Hurricanes and tourists in years past have taken their tolls, making the dunes smaller and smaller with each gust of wind and each visitor straying from the designated access areas. The town is working to fix that.
“The more traffic you have on the dunes, the more it wears them down,” said Michael Emory, the town’s communications manager. “That’s why it’s important to keep that traffic in designated areas.”
Great Lakes, the company heading the renourishment project, builds up the dunes by pulling sand from the ocean to the beaches. To make sure they’re making progress and pulling sand from the right places, the team relies on a CRAB — but not the kind you’ll find at your local seafood buffet.
“We ourselves are topographic surveyors and we take all of our land surveys by hand, but for the surf zone, it’s a little bit more dangerous,” said Hannah Madison, Great Lakes’ project engineer. “It’s too shallow to get with a boat, so we use the CRAB as an intermediate.”
CRAB stands for Coastal Research Amphibious Buggy. It drives into the water to measure the ocean depth, tracking the project’s progress. So far, things are looking good for Oak Island’s beaches.
“On a daily basis, they’re moving anywhere from about 500 to 700 feet,” said Dawn York, the senior coastal scientist for Moffatt & Nichol, another company working on the renourishment project. “Their intent is to make sure they get as far as possible in the time frame they have.”
With things moving smoothly, they hope to be done by the end of the month — just in time to welcome visitors back to the sandy beaches they’re used to. However, that date could be pushed back, but Emory says it won’t be far enough to impact sea turtles’ egg laying season.
As for marine life, Madison says extensive studies on the area the sand is pulled from have shown little to no organisms relying on that area as a habitat.
Something that has confused a lot of residents is a separate proposed project called the Beach Nourishment Master Plan, often referenced within the town in yard signs reading, “Let’s Talk Sand.”
While this latest project is fixing damage to dunes caused by past storms, Emory says the master plan would launch future projects to prevent the damage from happening in the first place. However, it comes at a huge cost: $40 million. That plan is still in the planning phases with some of the impacted beach zones being identified as recently as last week.
Copyright 2021 WECT. All rights reserved.