Suggesting ‘retreat’ for beach conservation

With rising and warming seas accelerating natural erosion of Hawai‘i’s many beaches and placing coastal infrastructure at risk, experts representing the University of Hawai‘i and the state government said yesterday that improved resource management was needed to maintain the lifeblood of the islands’ already-struggling tourism industry.

In the last of five presentations that comprised an afternoon seminar at the Kaua‘i War Memorial Convention Hall, Samuel Lemmo of the Department of Land and Natural Resources’ Office of Conservation and Coastal Lands said the long-term mitigation options basically came down to fight or flight.

Examples of resisting the forces of nature include proposals to truck “millions of cubic yards” of sand to Ha‘ena, a plan that Lemmo categorized as impractical and unlikely, and the use of revetments to protect near-ocean infrastructure, such as Kaumuali‘i Highway in Kekaha.

The alternative, simply, is retreat.

“Just get away from the beach. … Just pick up and leave,” Lemmo said by way of advice. “At the end of the day, that’s what needs to happen to protect these areas.”

Earlier, a quartet of University of Hawai‘i coastal geologists explained the factors that are setting up what Lemmo described as a “paradigm shift” on the thinking pertaining to erosion.

Professor Chip Fletcher of the University’s Department of Geology and Geophysics described the makeup of our beach sand — mostly dead, shredded algae and coral with some volcanic rock mixed in — and listed the factors influencing “inevitable” erosion, including rising sea levels.

“In my mind, it’s time to retreat from the shoreline,” he said.

Dolan Eversole, of the Sea Grant Program and DLNR, emceed the event and offered a presentation on hazard mitigation and community resistance and resilience, while Dennis Hwang, affiliate faculty with the program and also an attorney, described Kaua‘i’s new setback regulations as among the best in the country.

The fourth University presenter, Coastal Processes and Hazards Specialist Jim O’Connell, talked about the economic importance of Hawai‘i’s shorelines, and discussed steps that have been taken in recent years to address ongoing issues.

Still, Lemmo’s concluding presentation featured much of what he described as “gloom and doom” as he lamented the all-too-common occurrence of someone buying oceanfront property and hoping to build on it without considering their impact on Kaua‘i’s limited natural resources.

He said he hoped that the government’s current “triage approach” of “putting out fires” would evolve into better long-term planning.

The seminar was the first of four scheduled events. The presentations will be given in Kona on the Big Island on Tuesday, at Maui Community College in Kahului on Nov. 14, and in Honolulu on Nov. 20.

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• Michael Levine, staff writer, can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 252) or via e-mail at


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