The Disappearing Sands Of Waikiki

Ron Mizutani
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Wednesday - August 13, 2008
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Eroding sand could damage the hub of Hawaii tourism
Eroding sand could damage the hub of Hawaii tourism

A young visitor building sand castles with his father at world-famous Waikiki Beach makes an unexpected discovery while digging deep into the white sand. It’s not a sand crab or a lost wedding ring. It is a layer of dirt. Locals say it happens all too often and is a sign that our shoreline is disappearing - fast.

Waikiki Beach is without question one of Hawaii’s top visitor attractions. Basking in the sun on the sand is a must-do for millions who visit Hawaii every year.

But high tides, ocean currents, heavy foot-traffic and Father Time have all contributed to massive beach erosion.

The state wants to do its part. Gov. Linda Lingle took a big step recently by releasing $500,000 for planning and design work to restore and improve sections of Waikiki Beach.

“It is important to restore the beach so that it lives up to the high expectations of residents and visitors today and in the future,” says Lingle.

In May, the American Shore and Beach Preservation Association recognized the restoration of Kuhio Beach in Waikiki with its 2008 Best Restored Beach Award. The national honor excites the state’s land director.

“We are very excited about moving forward with this project and our award-winning effort at Kuhio Beach proves we’re on the right track,” says Laura Thielen. “This project will not only benefit residents but also our visitors by giving us more beach space without taking away from our ocean setting. It’s really a win-win situation.”

The state’s project will be coordinated with beach improvement efforts already being performed by the hotel industry and with funds provided by the Hawaii Tourism Authority.

“It is impossible to overemphasize the importance of Waikiki Beach to our visitor industry,” says Rick Egged, president of the Waikiki Improvement Association. “The funds released by Gov. Lingle will help to keep erosion from destroying this tremendous natural resource.”

The planning and design work is scheduled to begin this fall and be completed in spring 2010.

But the effort has many critics. Some believe beach restoration projects are not the state’s kuleana, while others say any sand replenishment effort is simply a band-aid solution that will trigger erosion in other areas.

Over the last 20 years, numerous studies have shown that erosion has averaged about a foot a year in Waikiki. Tons of sand have receded into to the ocean.

Several years ago, the state estimated it would cost up to $25 million to restore the entire beach. That price tag has no doubt risen. Despite criticism, the state sees this as an investment.

“One of the things that you can do during a soft economy is to reinvest in the infrastructure,” says state tourism liaison Marsha Wienert. “It’s definitely a long-awaited project and one that is very necessary for us in the visitor industry.”

But experts will tell you; Waikiki Beach serves a much larger role than just a home for sunbathers. It is a crucial player in Hawaii’s ocean ecosystem. Without it, the man-made tourist mecca would be what it was many years ago: a swamp.

Believe it or not, there are some who believe that wouldn’t be such a bad thing.


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