Beach erosion shows up in many different ways.
For Kahi Pacarro, it’s in the gradual changes he has observed over time as a surfer. “You first start seeing the roots of the trees closest to the water become exposed. Then you see the trees die. You see the disappearance of sand and the exposing of rocks and sandstone. Then you begin to notice that there’s a smaller area for kids and locals and tourists to lay down their towels,” says the CEO of Parley Hawaii.
For Pat Lindquist, it’s in a photo of Napili Bay from 1971, featuring a wide, flat, white-sand beach that contrasts starkly to what she sees today. “There are times now when there’s no dry beach. The waves come all the way up the edge of the greenery on our properties,” says the president of Napili Bay and Beach Foundation.
For Jim Howe, it is in nearly every aspect of his work as director of the Honolulu Emergency Services Department. “For the last 15 years, we’ve been retreating across many different beaches around the island, moving the lifeguard towers back over and over and over again.”
Sandy shorelines are never static as they undergo seasonal changes, generally shrinking under the influence of energetic waves and recovering with the return of calmer conditions. Nonetheless, coastal specialists and communities agree that what is happening today goes far beyond these cyclical transformations. Hawaii’s beaches are visibly narrowing and disappearing.
“We are seeing the gnarliest instances of erosion in our lifetimes,” says Pacarro. “At the pace it’s happening on the North Shore, by next year many houses there are going to fall into the ocean.”