City tackles beach erosion problem, driven by tourism revenue

It was a first time the city ever made this kind of request — over a span of four hours Saturday morning, more than a hundred volunteers from across the island answered the call to help move rocks off the beach at Ala Moana Regional Park.

On the ewa side of the beach park near McCoy Pavilion, wave action has washed away the sand, exposing coral and rocks.

The city says this beach has more than 4 million visitors per year, and the hope is to bring back a wide, sandy walking area.

“I want to get rid of the rocks because they hurt people’s toes and they could get really hurt,” said volunteer Taylor Curtis.

Another volunteer, Jim Palumbo, said “for the keiki walking all over the rocks, it’s a little rough getting in the water and stuff.”>

“For folks running on the shoreline, we have rocks sticking out,” said Brad Romine, who is also a UH and DLNR employee. “It’s a little bit of a hazard, so we’re trying to clean some of the rocks up.”

“It is amazing, said Jeanne Ishikawa, deputy director of the city’s Parks and Recreation Dept. “We are so happy and pleased that the community has come out and supported this idea of taking care of (the) park.”

Ishikawa says today’s success has her thinking of doing it again.

The rocks were moved to trenches two feet deep on the beach. They’ll then be covered with sand from a wider section of the beach. The hope is that they’ll also serve as a kind of retention wall that will retain the sand.

Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell says this is part of a larger beach improvement project at Ala Moana. He says the city is doing an environmental impact statement for plans to replenish the beach in about a year’s time by pumping back the sand that was washed away into the channel.

Beach erosion is an on-going problem across the island, so the mayor says sand replenishment projects will likely become a year-long effort.

Back in 2014, a bill was signed to collect money from commercial businesses in Waikiki to pay for such projects. Caldwell said that Waikiki Beach on its own brings in an estimated $4 billion dollars in tourist revenue every year.

“It is the growth engine for our visitor industry,” he said, “and we want to make sure it’s strong and healthy always.”

But the people who work here say more needs to be done. Tony Scarfoni has been a beach boy in Waikiki since 1989 and he’s seen firsthand the effects of erosion and the attempts to control it.

“It lasts a long time, but I think they got to really consider putting those walls back in to slow it down,” he said.

The city is looking into making sand replenishments at Waikiki Beach a year-round effort instead of every 10-15 years….

“Instead of having a massive barge floating out there with giant pipes sucking up the sand and causing a lot of disruption, it would be smaller pumping-in of sand in different areas of the beach,” the mayor said. “We’d always be moving back and forth.

“We’re going to put some new groins out, working with everyone from the Army Corps of Engineers to the surfing community to make sure we do it correctly,” he said.

Caldwell says improving other areas like Makaha Beach are also on the city’s radar.

“We do bring sand from one end to the other, but at the end of the day, the road needs to be moved more mauka. Right now, it almost acts like a sea wall.”

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