Q&A: Go Natural / Why Fight Nature?
Shouldn't we let
the West End "go natural"?
Is important to note that more than half of the West End
is already "natural" and uninhabited by humans. The undeveloped
area, as well as portions of the now-submerged public beach, have served
as nesting or feeding grounds for sea turtles, piping plover and many
Some feel that the presence of humans and their
accoutrements (homes, roads, etc.) are weakening the West End.
Others feel that it is "too much trouble" to
preserve the West End. If so, then perhaps that is also the case
for other parts of the island. Why spend any money at all,
anywhere on the island, to help combat the elements eroding it?
Why not return the entire island to nature and remove all people and
man-made structures from it? Where do we draw the line?
There is no reason why humans and nature cannot coexist
on the island. As a matter of fact, it will take the contributions
of humans to protect nature. The island is under siege by various
factors, both natural and man-made. Island-lovers are willing to
confront these factors and seek solutions so that the island can be
preserved for all of us to enjoy, as well as preserving its function as
a barrier island to protect the water and land areas just north of it.
The island is bigger than you might realize
Some people think the island ends at the end of Bienville
Blvd, at the new "West End Beach" activities park. Actually, the inhabited
portion of the West End is only about 4 miles long. Beyond the
West End Beach, the island goes on for roughly another 8
miles, which includes the Katrina Cut breach. Check out the
Google Maps satellite views of the island. The uninhabited part is
longer than the inhabited part!
We would love to see the Katrina
Cut filled, to bring the island back together again. This would
restore the wildlife habitat areas which have been lost or damaged, and
revitalize the oyster industry at Cedar Point. For more
information, see Fishing and
Why Save Dauphin Island.
Even if the entire West End was uninhabited, it would be
important to preserve it and rebuild it after storms, because of the
protection from oversalination it provides for the estuarine environment
in the Mississippi Sound, and because of its function as a hurricane
breakwater to protect the coastal mainland towns of Coden, Bayou La
Batre and Alabama Port. (See
Erosion from infrastructure?
Contrary to the belief of some, the presence of people
and topside infrastructure is not
weakening the West End. Roads are surface elements, and house
pilings typically go down no further than 10 or 12 feet. Some of you
will remember how the West End
looked in the 1960s, 1970s, and even as late as the summer of 2004, just
before Hurricane Ivan.
Aerial view over the far West End, looking east
Erosion during those decades - even with more houses and
more side roads - was nothing compared to what has been happening in the
last few months.
The startling erosion that is taking place now is
happening in an environment where there is even less
infrastructure (fewer houses and shorter side roads) than when the south
shore of the far West End was three or more lots deep. And note
that the mile-wide Katrina Cut breach occurred in the presence of zero
The exponentially-accelerating erosion in recent months
is likely due to an accumulation of factors which has created a
"critical mass" tipping point.
Natural Processes vs. Unnatural
The island suffered severe land loss in the 1930s but
reconstituted itself roughly a decade later. The 1933 condition
occurred at a time when channel dredging was minimal compared to the
dredged volumes of today. This raises serious questions as to whether
the present supply of sand in Dauphin Island’s littoral drift system
would be adequate to heal a similar catastrophic breach in the island if
one was to occur today. The south shore is not restoring itself
from the land loss suffered since Katrina in 2005; it is instead
continuing to erode at a more rapid pace than seen before.
Mobile Outer Bar Channel dredging began in the early
1900s and has incrementally intensified throughout the last century as
the navigation channel was periodically deepened and widened to
accommodate an increasing trend for larger ships to call on Mobile
Harbor and the Alabama State Docks. The channel-dredged sand, deposited
in deeper offshore waters, has essentially been permanently removed from
the littoral drift system, making it unavailable for barrier island
nourishment. This is an "unnatural" process having unnatural
effects on the island.
The ship channel has been dredged for over a hundred
years. It's time that Dauphin Island got a hundred years' worth of
compensation in sand for that. Who knows how far south the island
would extend today if natural processes had never been interfered with?
Letting the West End "go natural" will not save it.
The natural environment which built it in the
first place no longer exists.
Unnatural processes are
interfering with the natural processes which worked to build and restore
the island in the past. Restoring (or compensating for) the littoral drift that allows the island to heal itself, as well as
restoring natural vegetation, are likely the best long-term solutions to
preserve the area.
Don't fight nature? Be
consistent in that philosophy!
If it is acceptable to allow “unnatural processes" such
as dredging Mobile Bay to allow
shipping commerce (which brings economic health to the Mobile area), why is
it not also acceptable to allow compensation for those unnatural processes,
like bringing in more sand, creating dunes, etc. in order to bring more shoreline and economic health to Dauphin Island?
Why should Dauphin Island not "fight nature” while it is
acceptable for the Alabama State Docks to do so? Is anyone out there
writing letters to the State, demanding that they stop the ship channel
dredging because it is too hard to fight nature? That ship channel
is not going to stop filling with sand, so why keep spending millions of
dollars to continue dredging
it all the time?
And if you think that private
dollars are funding the ship channel dredging, think again. That's
the Alabama State Docks and the United States Army Corps
of Engineers running that show. Those
costs are funded by or passed on to consumers one way or another.
Even if you don't believe that money should be spent to
rebuild eroding beaches, consider this: When funding is
no longer given for shoreline restoration anywhere else, then they can
stop it for Dauphin Island too. Until then...
If other coastal communities can be helped, why not us?
Causes of Erosion