Protect the Natural Dune Seawall at Port Aransas, Texas

Texas Coastal Geology

Richard L. Watson, Ph.D.

P.O. Box 1040 Port Aransas, TX 78373
361-749-4152 send email


Click here for Geohazards map of Mustang and North Padre Island

This interactive map shows the relative susceptibility of Mustang and North Padre Islands to geohazards, including sea-level rise, erosion, and storm washover. Additional layers show the various geoenvironments present on the barrier islands as well as information on parcels, upland land use, and elevation. The map was created by the Coastal and Marine Geospatial Lab of the Harte Research Institute for Gulf of Mexico Studies at Texas A&M University - Corpus Christi. The Bureau of Economic Geology at The University of Texas at Austin, in collaboration with the Harte Research Institute for Gulf of Mexico Studies at Texas A&M University - Corpus Christi, conducted the lidar survey and processed the data to produce the digital elevation model.

Additional maps for Galveston Island and South Padre Island can be found at the following here.



Click here to go to a page about the Texas Open Beaches Act and the Severance decision 

limiting public access to the beaches



If this property and other properties south of Access Road 1A on Mustang Island are bounded on the Gulf side by a littoral tidal boundary, and I believe that they are, it may not be legal for the City to remove sand or move sand on that property, if the sand being moved is landward of the Mean High Tide line, even if it is seaward of the vegetation line.   The Open Beaches Act grants access to the beach seaward of the vegetation line, but it probably does not grant ownership of the sand deposited above the MHT line, nor does it likely grant permission to change the profile of the beach on the land owned by the upland owner seaward of the MHT line.

Port Aransas is scraping the beach in the vicinity of the Cinnamon Shore development.  This is in the area of the eroding shoreline according to the erosion map prepared by the Bureau of Economic Geology of the University of Texas. The City is removing sand from the front of the dunes where it has accumulated for months and dumping it in the edge of the water.  This is bad practice north of Access Road 1A where the beach is stable to accreting and it is VERY bad practice in the Cinnamon Shore area where the beach is eroding and the shoreline is retreating.  This area needs all of the dune strength and stability that it can possibly have to protect the very expensive development behind the dunes.  If sand is being moved in this area, which is probably a bad idea, it should, at least, be used to strengthen the foredunes, not be placed in the surf where it will move away along the shoreline.  

12/27/2011  Near Cinnamon Shore


June 17, 2011

This image is a panorama of four photographs taken standing on the the back stacking area just south of Lantana St.  Not that the stacked seaweed and sand is almost,  but not quite as high as the existing dune ridge.  It has about doubled the width of the dune system at this location.  It is placed mostly on high ground on the back of the main dune ridge.  It will not obstruct drainage from the wide flat any more than the existing dune ridge.  Drainage in a location such as this percolates into the sand and flows out to the Gulf under the dunes and under the beach.  There are no surface drainages through the present dune system in this area.  Of course, culverts could be placed to enhance drainage.  

Click here to see how ground water drainage works on a barrier island like Mustang Island.

June 17, 2011

This photograph shows that the back stacked sargassum and sand is 10 or 12 ft high.  It will rapildy vegetate due to the fertilizer value of the seaweed.  In fact, this winter I found a bunch of water melons on top of another recent back stack location.

June 16, 2011

This photograph taken on 5/31/11.  It shows the "back stacking" of seaweed and sand in the disposal area just south of  Lantana St. in Port Aransas. The red line outlines about two years of Sargassum disposal for this area.  The yellow arrow shows the very minor damage due to the front end loader driving up over the dune to carry the material behind the dune ridge.  The damage created is insignificant relative to the great strengthening of our natural dune seawall by placing this material behind the main dune ridge.   If we have sea level rise, or if we have shoreline erosion, the front of the dune ridge will be eroded.  Building the dune system inland behind the main dune ridge with our beach maintenance sand and seaweed disposal will result in making our hurricane protection much stronger.  This is a very beneficial practice and far superior to excavating the front of the existing dunes for temporary storage of Sargassum and sand.  The permanent addition to the dune system below grows our protection.  Temporary placement in an area excavated in the front of the dunes does not grow our protection, but rather weakens the existing protection.  Back stacking is a good answer to both maintaining our tourist beach and improving our hurricane protection.  This disposal area is on TXGLO land.  This would be highly desirable on other GLO land behind the dunes and on private land further south along the island where beach erosion is a serious problem.  This method builds new dunes which will be there when beach erosion and shoreline retreat takes the present foredunes.

May 31, 2011

This photograph shows the backstacking area just south of Avenue G in Port Aransas.  Note that the Sargassum and sand mix has about tripled the volume of the dune system in this area.  The tiny TEMPORARY access road for the front end loader is insignificant damage relative to the massive increase in dune volume provided by the back stacking.  This is a very good procedure.  This is also on GLO land.

June 3, 2011

Uh Oh, Tony Amos is not pleased with the City's destruction of the dunes.

Tony comments; "These are the dunes near Marker 35 that I have been following for years.  They have been growing and stabilizing with vegetation since Hurricane Rita.  The logic is not obvious.  They scoop out the dunes, vegetation and all and dump it in the sea to make room for unconsolidated weed/sand (and I might add, trash) mixtures they create by scraping the beach elsewhere and trucking it to this location."  Let's look at Tony's photos.

First we scoop out the dunes!  (Photo by Tony Amos)

Now we drive to the edge of the water.  (Photo by Tony Amos)

Then we dump the dune sand, dune vegetation and morning glories into the sea!  (Photo by Tony Amos)

Now we have only the dead remains of beautiful beach morning glories!  (Photo by Tony Amos)

May 31, 2011

The City of Port Aransas is has a new scheme to dispose of Sargassum sea weed in a method that is very damaging to the foredune ridge, which is our only seawall protecting us from dangerous hurricane overwash.  Some of the homes protected by this dune ridge are valued at over one million dollars.  Their hurricane protection has been weakened by excavating the well vegetated dune ridge in front of them.

May 31, 2011

This excavation has cut nearly completely through the main dune ridge.  It has been partially back filled with new loose sand and Sargassum weed.

May 25, 2011

 Until very recently, any manmade or natural accumulation of sand with or without vegetation located on the beach or within 1000 ft. landward of the vegetation line was legally a dune and could not be disturbed without a dune permit and only if the disturbance was considered minimal or was remediated.  In the late 90s, in this vicinity, a tourist on a beach buggy had the temerity to run his vehicle so that it straddled a clump of vegetation on the very low face of the foredune ridge, but did no real harm.  He was fined over $1000.

The City and the Texas General Land Office came up with an new and very dangerous designation for the dunes on the front of our foredune ridge.  It any of those dunes have been man-made by the City stacking sand there, it is now called a maintenance dune and has no protection.  The City is now excavating the front of our very important dune seawall and filling the excavated portion with Sargassum weed which has just washed in to the beach. The problem with this is that it very greatly weakens the dune which has been building naturally and with some help from the City placing sand in it since it was almost completely destroyed by Hurricane Allen 31 years ago.   IT TOOK 31 YEARS WITH NO MAJOR STORMS FOR US TO REACH THE EXCELLENT LEVEL OF PROTECTION THAT THE DUNE SEAWALL IS NOW PROVIDING.   

May 25, 2011

The excavation is so large that it is difficult to get into a photograph.  This panorama shows the location of one of these excavations of the dune seawall between Lantana St. and Avenue G.  The big condo is the Dunes Condominium.  Some of the homes that you see to the left that will be the first to be destroyed if the dune seawall fails are valued at over $1,000,000.  The land between the dune ridge and those homes is owned by the State and managed by the Texas General Land Office.  The red line shows the center line of the post hurricane Allen foredune ridge.  The excavation has cut this very important protective ridge more than 1/2 way through.  It has been stabilized by vegetation for several decades and has continued to grow upward.  The cut is being filled by loose sand and seaweed.  The new material will be eroded by a hurricane much faster than the well vegetated stabilized old dune that has been cut.  It is vital that the foredune system be as strong as possible to buy time during a hurricane so that it is not breached.  Cutting into this dune system and replacing it with fresh loose material is giving up a large amount of that protection.  If a private individual or company did this destruction to our dune seawall, they would be in serious trouble.  The sand that was excavated was placed on the low beach.  That low beach will provide zero protection against destructive hurricane overwash as the beach will be below water level early in the storm. The storm waves, in this location, will now be able to rapidly cut through unconsolidated and unvegetated sand and breach the foredune ridge.  It takes decades to build these ridges naturally, or naturally with augmentation, but they can melt away in hours.  We need as many of those hours as possible.  Just a few hundred yards to the north of this location, the City has been disposing of Sargassum and sand behind this dune ridge.  This is far preferable as it does not damage the existing dune seawall, but builds it wider and stronger.  That is a win win.  

May 25, 2011

This photo was taken standing inland of the center of the old post Allen dune ridge.  The cut looks to be about 12 to 15 feet deep.  You can see that the cut has been partially filled with fresh black weed and sand and there is an older fill behind that.  The main foredune ridge drops off to the vegetated flat and the GLO land almost immediately to the right of the red line.  There is almost none of the old strong dune left after the excavation at this location.  In plane English, this is NUTS.

May 25, 2011

This is the same situation looking to the north.  The red line is again on about the center line of the post hurricane Allen foredune ridge.

May 25, 2011

In 1996 or 1997, the City Council wisely placed a row of bollards (posts) twenty or thirty feet seaward of the base of the post hurricane Allen dune ridge.  This was just flat beach at that time.  The purpose was to keep cars from between the face of the old dune ridge so that sand could accumulate their naturally and build us a stronger and wider dune seawall.  Sometime the City would add sand in that protected zone during beach cleaning operations.  Largely on its own, by natural wind blown sand, a substantial foredune was built and became vegetated.  In the present operation the City has removed the bollards and, at this location, excavated the entire dune that built since 1996 and over half of the pre-existing post hurricane Allen foredune ridge.

This is how much natural vegetated dunes that those bollards built in about 8 years.  That very well vegetated slope on the high dune is the face of the post hurricane Allen foredune, our seawall in 2005.  This was before the City began placing sand between the new bollards and the old foredune ridge.  To cut into this protection makes no sense.  During the past several years the city used the valley between the new seaward dune ridge and the old post Allen ridge as a disposal area for sand and Sargassum weed.  This built the very substantial dune seawall that we have at the present time.  

It is a huge mistake to excavate disposal areas in our dune seawall and weaken it at any time and especially during hurricane season.  It takes decades to build a strong vegetated dune ridge.

New Texas Supreme Court Decision affects beach front property owners and public access.

The Supreme Court of Texas on Nov. 5, 2010 just decided that the "rolling easement" guaranteeing public access to the dry beach below the vegetation is not legal.  There is no such thing in law as a "rolling easement," easements are fixed.  This will have serious implications for both beach front property owners and the right of public access to "dry beach" above MHT or MHHT.  The easement will probably still apply for slow and imperceptible movement of the vegetation line, but not for rapid and instantaneous movement (avulsion) due to a hurricane or other storm.  You can see the entire court decision at the following link.  Two justices were in dissent.
You can view the majority opinion here.
You can view the dissenting opinion here.

Most of the beach erosion of the Texas coast has been caused by man-made changes to the shoreline and rivers.

The following link is a narrated PowerPoint presentation explaining the causes of beach erosion on the Texas Coast.  It is a large file.  


When a state of the Federal government builds a water storage reservoir for water supply or flood control, the government must buy the land that will be flooded.  Most of the erosion of the Gulf beaches has been due to man-made changes in the shoreline, primarily long jetties at inlets.  In addition the thousands of large and small up-stream reservoirs and impoundments have greatly reduced the amount of sand brought to the coast by rivers.  When these changes were made, the present resulting shoreline erosion was not anticipated.  However, since the erosion was caused by the State and  Federal construction on our shoreline and rivers and since the harbors for shipping and the reservoirs for water supply benefit all  texans, then the state should compensate the private property owners along the shoreline for their loss and purchase the land where the beach is now located.  This is exactly equivalent to purchasing the land that will be flooded by a reservoir  created by the government.

A Line in the Sand: Balancing the Texas Open Beaches Act and Coastal Development
Eddie R. Fisher and Angela L Sunley, Texas General Land Office

High resolution digital copies of many of these photographs are available for sale. You may purchase a digital photo in the highest resolution that I have for $25.00 for personal use or for use in your presentations.  The charge will be $150 for use in publications or for commercial reproduction.  Contact me  to purchase photos.  These photographs are copyrighted and are the property of Richard L. Watson.  They may not be copied or used without permission.  You may however link to this website from your website or by email.

December 15, 2010

For the past several months, the City of Port Aransas has been moving THOUSANDS of dump trucks of sand from the toe of the dunes down to the lower beach and the water's edge.  The City now has the permits in place to do this legally.  In addition there has been a major shake-up of the coastal section of the Texas General Land Office, with three of  four coastal geologists terminated.  This practice of moving vast quantities of sand from the front of the dune ridge is very short sighted.  The foredune ridge is our natural dune seawall and provides excellent protection by direct wave attack and prevents direct overwash.  However, a major storm can take out hundreds of feet of dune width.  In short, you can't have too much sand in the dune system when it comes to protection from hurricane overwash.  Look at the photos below to see the damage.  If you are new to this web page, you might want to read further below for more information about this problem.  Also visit the Hurricane Information page (see button at the top of this page) to see how badly damaged the Bolivar Peninsula was by Hurricane Ike due to the fact that they had little in the way of fore dunes to serve as a seawall.  Contact your council members and tell them to stop this practice.  Sand removed from the driving road on the beach was on its way into the dune system.  When it is removed from the road, it should be PERMANENTLY placed in the dune system and not removed to the lower beach.  Our natural dune seawall protects over a BILLION dollars of real estate.

Click here to watch a video of the sand removal.  It is about 12 mb.

December 15, 2010

December 15, 2010

December 15, 2010

December 15, 2010

December 15, 2010

Note the hanging vegetation and roots that have been undercut by the front end loader.  These plants stabilize the dunes and slow erosion during hurricanes and lesser storms.  Leaving this un-vegetated vertical wall leaves it very vulnerable to storm attack.

December 15, 2010

December 15, 2010

December 15, 2010


This photo shows the new seaweed and sand disposal area behind the dunes at the County Park, just north of Beach Street.


The City of Port Aransas is removing sargassum along with included sand and transporting it into areas behind the main dune ridge.  The procedure is to use a grader to scrape the seaweed, with as little sand as possible into long rows.  These rows are then picked up by a front end loader and transported by truck to the disposal area.  Since disposal is in the dune field, this will ultimately make our dune seawall stronger and provide better hurricane protection.  In addition, the seaweed is probably the primary nutrient for dune grasses, so these areas should vegetate in fairly quickly as they have in the past.  The entire sequence of operations is shown in the following photographs.





The Sargassum and sand is being temporarily dumped in a small cut out in the face of the dunes, to be immediately picked up by the loader and dumped in the disposal area behind the main dune ridge.  I assume that this small temporary cut out will be filled with sargassum and sand, so that it can re-vegetate and leave no weakness in the main dune ridge.  If we are going to remove material from the beach, this process of building the dune ridge on the back side will provide us with better storm protection and the beach materials are being moved in the natural direction from the water into the dunes.  This disposal area is a short distance south of Lantana St.





This is a new disposal area.  Scroll down through the photos taken 7/3/2010 to see a much larger disposal area that has been in use for several years.

This is the new disposal area in the above photo.  The aerial photo was taken on 7/18/2010.


This shows a much larger and longer use Sargassum disposal area a short distance south of Avenue G.  The following photos show this area on the ground.




This sand/seaweed mix is loaded with nutrients and should vegetate quickly.


The City of Port Aransas now has a USACE permit to move sand to the lower beach.  This is most unfortunate, as it means moving sand which was blown onto the roadway and which would have naturally blown into the dunes to make our very important dune seawall much stronger and better able to resist overwash by a severe hurricane.  These photos were taken between Lantana and Avenue G.  First a grader was used to pile road sand up at the tow of the dunes.  Now a great many dump truck loads of that sand are being carried to the lower beach and spread out with a second loader.  Two loaders and two dump trucks in constant motion are moving a tremendous amount of sand in the WRONG DIRECTION.  It would be much better if this sand was placed in the dune system.  If you don't remember how the Bolivar Peninsula was recently nearly totally destroyed by Hurricane Ike, scroll down on this page of go to the hurricane page.  These dunes are our ONLY protection from severe overwash during a large hurricane.  It takes decades for them to rebuild between storms, so any sand that was headed in their directions should NEVER be taken back in the seaward direction.  Communities on the upper Texas coast just spent as much as $35 per cubic yard for sand to rebuild their dunes.  Each dump truck of sand carried AWAY from the dunes is worth about $200 at those prices.

Click here to watch a 6mb movie of the sand being moved.



Here you can see the loader about to take another bite of dune sand.  What a shame.


The loader dumps the sand in the dump truck waiting for it while the other truck dumps on the lower beach.


The dump truck dumps its load of sand on the lower beach.  It will be immediately leveled out by the second loader.


The loader levels the sand dropped by the dump trucks.


The following link is the Corps of Engineer  Permit to move sand to the lower beach.  The actual permit begins on page 591.  It is preceeded by all of the documents leading to obtaining that permit, including objections by this author and others.  In defense of the Corps of Engineers, they MUST grant a permit if all of its regulations are met.  The Corps has no power regarding protecting the dunes and their growth as they are located above the annual highest normal tide and they do inot involve wetlands.  It is most unfortunate that the General Land Office is allowing this sand transport to occur.

Click here to download the Corps of Engineers permit and related documents, over 80mb.


The City of Port Aransas is removing sand from the beach road and "back stacking" it behind the foredune ridge.  This builds the dune ridge stronger and provides additional hurricane overwash protection.  This is far far better than moving sand from the road way to the lower beach.  Back stacking is taking sand that was headed in its natural direction toward the dunes and placing it where it will do the most good.  Even better, the sand is mixed with Sargassum weed from the beach, the natural fertilizer for dune vegatation.  Bravo.


See the above photo for explanation.


A road grader is being used to blade the beach at Port Aransas.  This photo is just south of Access Rd. 1A and the Aransas Princess.


A road grader is being used to blade the beach at Port Aransas.  I don't see the necessity to do this as they are grading the pedestrian beach. Disturbing the sand or distributing it down to the wet beach will stop this sand from moving toward the dunes which is its natural direction of transport.  This is important because those dunes are our seawall for hurricane protection.  Of course, this grading will also destroy any natural grasses growing on the beach before they can grow to a significant clump and begin to aggegate coppice dunes.


The following series of photographs were taken of the Port Aransas dunes and beach management on 8/8/2009.   These photos show placement of sand behind the dunes (back stacking) and in front of the dunes.  The photos are organized from south to north.

Note the sand pushed up to the base of the vegetation 8/8/2009


On June 4-5, 2009 The Texas General Land Office held the Texas Coastal Conference 2009 in Galveston, Texas.  Dr. Watson gave an invited presentation titled What has hurricane Ike taught us about beach and dune management.  You can download and watch this narrated powerpoint presentation at the following link.  The file is about 20 mb, so it is best to download it rather than just click on it, unless you have a very fast internet connection.  Download the presentation here.


Dr. Watson presented a lecture titled Ike wiped entire towns off of the map.  Are we safer in Port Aransas?  The presentation was made at the University of Texas Marine Science Institute in Port Aransas, TX on March 12, 2009 to a standing room only crowd.  The slide show includes before and after photos of the upper Texas coast destroyed by Ike, Ike's effects on Mustang and N. Padre islands, and comparison to past hurricanes and the flooding that they caused at Port Aransas.  You will see how we Port Aransas and North Padre Island is protected by its dune system.  You can click on the link below to watch and listen to this narrated presentation.  However, the file is very large, about 46 mb and it is probably better to download it and watch it offline.

Ike wiped entire towns off of the map.  Are we safer in Port Aransas?

Click here for a poster about the presentation.



The City of Port Aransas is attempting to obtain an emergency permit to remove sand from the road and from the "maintenance dune" that they have created by stacking sand from the roadway up against the face of the vegetated foredune ridge.  They have stacked the sand up in a very narrow zone right against the existing dunes.  It is plain to see that this leaves a very wide driving and parking area and does not and will not impede traffic.  In addition, if this sand is left in this artificial dune ridge, it will soon become vegetated and weld onto the existing foredune ridges.  This sand was deposited on the road as a storm berm during the waning stages of Hurricane Ike.  The source was the lower beach and sand eroded from the face of the dunes early in the storm.  This sand was naturally transported toward the dunes and it is part of the natural system which builds the Natural Dune Seawall which is our only protection from direct frontal attack and overwash by a hurricane such as Ike.  There is no reason to spend the money to move that sand again which only reduces the amount of sand storage in our natural dune seawall.  In time the waves will deposit more sand on the beach raising and widening it again.

Sand Stacked agains the foredune ridge in Port Aransas 12_10_2008

The roadway in front of the sand stacked against the dune is wide as is the beach.  12/10/2008

Just as a reminder of the damage due to Hurricane Ike which overwashed Bolivar Peninsula on September 13, 2008, look at the following two photographs of Crystal Beach.  That community lost the first nine or 10 rows of homes and suffered great damage further inland.  It had no seawall and no natural dune seawall to protect it.  We should protect and grow our natural dune seawall.

 Crystal Beach, TX from Google Earth before Hurricane Ike. The TGLO 4.5 ft line is the estimated new vegetation line. Structures seaward of that line cannot be rebuilt.


 Crystal Beach after Hurricane Ike. Many blocks of homes have been completely destroyed. Photo by author taken on 10/28/2008.



An official at the US Army Corps of Engineers told me that the line below which the City of Port Aransas, or the City of Port Aransas or any other entity may place sand is not Mean High Tide (MHT), but rather is the line of the highest non-storm tide of the year.  I have been informed that this is about 2.56 ft. above Mean Sea Level (MSL) by the 1988 National American Vertical Datum  (NAVD88).  This means that the line below which the City cannot place sand without a permit is very high on the beach and is likely about at the location of the seaward edge of the dune line.   The City has been placing sand below this line without the required Corps permit for several years.  They are currently meeting with the Corps to find a solution to this problem, so that they can move sand to the lower beach with a permit.  This is unfortunate as the sand on the upper beach and roadway is being naturally transported toward the dunes.  If any sand movement is made, it would be best to move the sand into the dune system, to build our Natural Dune Seawall stronger, not weaken it by transporting sand in the seaward direction.  Nature provides us with this dune growth at no cost, other than the cost by the city to pile it into a narrow ridge.  This has been estimated to be some 30,000 cubic yards of sand, or about 5000 dump trucks.  Rather than spend the money to take this gift from the sea and give it back to the sea and the lower beach, it should be left in place and allowed to vegetate.  It is plain from the two following photographs that the beach is wide and that the roadway is quite wide enough for traffic in both directions as well as parking.  



Port Aransas is moving sand below MHT without required permit.

Port Aransas is again removing sand from the upper beach and depositing it at the edge of the water.  I believe that this is being done without a COE permit which is required.  I saw a survey flag where the material is being dumped.  I suspect that they are placing the material above where Mean High Tide (MHT) was located BEFORE the erosion by hurricane Ike.  However, that area is surely well below MHT now, and one of the photo shows the resulting beach widening out into the water.  If this is below the PRESENT location of MHT, a COE permit is required (and should not be granted).

This photo shows sand being excavated from in front of the dunes.

The next two photos shows dump truck loads of sand being deposited below present MHT at the edge of the water.

This photo show how the beach is being widened well below MHT without a Corps of Engineers permit.  This is sand that should be building our natural dune seawall stronger to protect us from future hurricanes.

If Hurricane Ike has not reinforced the need to have the strongest dune system possible on Mustang and N. Padre Islands to protect the billions of dollars of real estate behind the dunes, I don't know what will.  Surfside and West Galveston Island were severely damaged by Ike because they had no significant dune protection or seawall.  The towns of Caplen and Gilchrist on Bolivar Peninsula were completely destroyed by Ike because they had no dune protection.  The following link shows photos of that destruction:

The next two photos shows what Hurricane Ike did to the Texas town of Gilchrist on the Bolivar Peninsula.  Gilchrist had no seawall and no dunes and now has no town.

This is what Gilchrist looked like in 1998 before Hurricane Ike 

This is what Hurricane Ike did to Gilchrist

We are fortunate to have a strong and wide dune system protecting most of Mustang and N. Padre Islands.  However, storms erode back the foredune ridge and it takes decades for it to rebuild back between storms.  In the area where Port Aransas is removing the sand, the dunes were eroded a small amount, with the greatest erosion where there are dune cuts for driveways and roads.  In addition, some of the lower beach was deposited on the upper road as a berm.  It is this material which is now being dumped below MHW.  A very large amount of material has already been removed from the upper beach and carried to the edge of the water.  Other towns in Texas are paying up to $35 per cubic yard ($200 per truckload) to place sand in exactly the location where we are removing it.  We are throwing money in the sea!

There are two processes that place sand on the upper beach which eventually grows the foredune ridge in a seaward direction, and blows into the dune system and builds it higher.  One is the long slow deposition by wind transport and the other is the sudden deposition of berms by tropical storms that are strong enough to erode the lower beach and deposit sand in front of the dune without causing major dune erosion.  BOTH of these processes are NATURAL and are the means by which the dune ridge is rebuilt between MAJOR storms which can erode the dune ridges back HUNDREDS of feet in a single storm.

We need the strongest dune ridges possible.  They are our NATURAL DUNE SEAWALL which protects much in the same way as a man made seawall.  The dunes rebuild themselves at no cost to us by the above two methods of natural sand transport across the beach to the dunes.  We get a superb natural seawall and it is FREE, if we will just let it happen.   Galveston behind the seawall did not experience frontal wave attack, but just flooding from the back, which while damaging is not nearly as bad.  Bolivar Peninsula experienced direct frontal wave attack and entire towns are gone.

Moving sand from the upper beach to the lower beach is incredibly short sighted and drastically reduces the ability of our NATURAL DUNE SEAWALL to build to the strength where it can protect the billions of dollars of real estate behind it in a major hurricane direct hit, or worse yet two major storms in quick succession.

Please do what you can to convince our governments about the importance of our dunes as storm protection.  Look at the photos of the Bolivar Peninsula and the other areas that had no such protection. 

The City of Port Aransas has applied to the Corps of Engineers for a permit to move sand and seaweed to disposal areas within the dunes and more importantly to move sand from the middle and upper beach to the lower beach.  Moving sand in a seaward direction rather in its natural landward direction ultimately starves the dunes of the sand supply which is necessary for their growth and rebuilding between major storms.  It takes decades for the dunes to regrow what is lost during a major storm.  This permit has no limit on the quantity of sand that the city can move!  

The following link will take you to my letter of objection to many aspects of this permit application.  

Objections to Permit Application for sand movement on Port Aransas Beaches.

The following links will take you to the Permit Application and Plans.

Permit Application

Permit Plans

If you wish to request a public hearing or comment about these plans for beach maintenance on Port Aransas Beaches, your response must be received by the Corps of Engineers by 31 December, 2007.  The address for comments is below.

Matthew Kimmel
Regulatory Branch, CESWG-PE-RCC
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
5151 Flynn Parkway, Suite 306
Corpus Christi, Texas 78411-4318
361-814-5847 Phone
361-814-5912 fax


July 8, 2007     City Dune Permit Proposal

The following is a discussion about the dune permit that the City is seeking to use the front of the foredune ridge as a permanent rotating temporary storage for seaweed and sand.  This will leave the most important part of the foredune ridge in a permanently weakened state because it will never fully vegetate.  City council will consider this proposed Dune permit on Thursday, July 19, 2007 at the regular council meeting.

Comments on the City of Port Aransas

Seaweed Maintenance Application for Dune Permit and Beachfront Construction Certificate

 By Richard L. Watson, Ph.D.



The City of Port Aransas has a tough problem to solve.  How to get rid of the seaweed on our tourist beaches while not damaging the beach or dune system.  City council created a beach maintenance committee to evaluate beach management practices.  The dune ridges are our ONLY protection from damaging frontal storm surge during hurricanes.  The natural dune seawall must be protected and allowed to grow.


All committee meetings were attended by GLO representatives.  In addition the GLO hired a geologist (Kim Mckenna) who used to work for the GLO to serve as an outside expert to help find non-damaging solutions to the problem.  The entire committee as well as the City Manager and City Planner presented unanimous recommendations to be forwarded to the City, the GLO and McKenna.  These recommendations made up the bulk of McKenna’s recommendations and the committee unanimously voted to use her report as the final product of the committee to be presented to the City Council.  This report is included as an attachment.

 Click here to view Kim McKenna's report which is the final product of the Beach Maintenance Committee

One of the recommendations was that the front of the foredune ridge be allowed to grow 20 feet further seaward and that, if possible, seaweed be disposed of behind the dune ridges on GLO property between Lantana and Rd. 1A.  This will require a permit from GLO. 


This beach and dune permit which the City may be seeking from the GLO has several recommendations which probably would have been rejected by the beach maintenance committee, had they been able to review it.


Please refer to the following application for a dune permit.  Look at the colored figure which is the second page.

 Click here to view the City Dune Permit

This permit application calls for excavation of 40 feet of the most seaward part of the dune ridge to be used as a rotating disposal area for seaweed and sand.  After obtaining a Corps of Engineers permit, this sand and decomposed seaweed could then be deposited on be beach below the high tide line or in the edge of the water.


Further, the permit application calls for deposition of sand and seaweed from eroding parts of the beach (basically from the Beachwalk development southward) to be deposited only within its own transect in the eroding section of the beach.  However, this permit application also states that sand from accreting areas (Mostly between Lantana and Rd 1A can be deposited within eroding or accreting sections of the beach!  This means that the intent, or at least the possibility, exists to remove sand from the accreting beach/dune system from Lantana to 1A and deposit further to the south in the area where the beaches are eroding.  This is robbing Peter to pay Paul and will reduce the growth of the beaches and the dunes in the accreting area.  The accreting area has most of the developed part of Port Aransas behind it and those dune protect over one billion dollars worth of real estate. 


If any sand is moved, it should stay within ¼ mile of where it was deposited and should, if at all possible be moved in the landward direction, so that it can help the dunes to build to give us further protection during hurricanes.


Further, the permit application describes the historical dune restoration (red and yellow) in the figure as having been built manually.  I am not sure about the dunes south of Ave G., but the new frontal dune ridge between Lantana was entirely built naturally.  About 10 years ago, the city placed a row of dune protection bollards out 30 or 40 feet from the high dune ridge (which was partially man-made by stacking seaweed and sand).  These bollards were there to keep cars and scrapers out, so that the vegetation could advance and build a new dune ridge.  It has built a beautiful new and natural dune ridge.  It would have built naturally in the absence of the bollards, if cars and scrapers would have stayed out.  South from G to 1A, I believe that most of that same new ridge also built naturally from forward growth of vegetation and wind-blown sand as well, but there was some seaweed placed there.  In short, this is really not just a Beach Maintenance Storage Area as suggested by the dune permit application.  It was built naturally after a late 90s City Council had the bollards installed.  It serves as an important part of our protection from storm surge.


Last week, the city dumped seaweed and sand in the low between this frontal ridge and the higher ridge behind it because there are few disposal areas that can now be used.  This is the first seaweed or sand dumped there by the city north of Ave. G.  This will do no harm and will end up being a beautiful foredune ridge and further strengthen our storm defense.



Beach Maintenance Storage Areas


Use of the front of the dune ridge as a Beach Maintenance Storage Area is a terrible idea.

It will be permanently ugly as it will not vegetate in.  It will permanently weaken the most important part of the foredune ridge system.  Natural foredune ridge systems have a gently sloping front which becomes well vegetated.  The root systems of the grasses and other plants hold it together and retard erosion, especially during smaller storms.  This protects the main dune ridges from storm attack.  When the dune ridges are eroded, the erode by wave attack at the base, and collapse vertically, like a cliff.  Permanently weakening the base of the dune ridge and not allowing it to vegetate in is a great mistake and weakens the entire foredune system.


What  Can  We  Do?


One of the recommendations in Kim McKenna’s report and by the beach committee was to dispose of this material behind the main dune ridge in the strip of GLO land between the beach and private land from Lantana to 1A.  The GLO is probably amenable to this.


This material will ultimately end up as a well vegetated dune ridge giving us further lines of dunes behind the main dune ridge for storm protection.  If this area is entered from Lantana, Avenue G, and private beach access roads (on GLO land), the damage to the foredune ridge will be minimal and temporary. 




1.  Any sand removed from any part of a transect should be kept in the same area and should NOT be transported south to the eroding beaches. 

2.  If at all possible, sand should only be transported in a landward direction, toward or into the dunes.  This is its natural direction of transport.  Moving it seaward starves the dunes of sand which would normally help build them.

3.  The front of the dunes, whether man-made, or natural should not be excavated to provide temporary storage areas for seaweed and sand as this permanently weakens the critical frontal side of the natural dune seawall.

4 .  Even though this City Council may have the best of intentions and maintain our beach and dune system in a non-destructive fashion, thispermit opens the door for future councils to do great damage with the permissions that will be granted. 




The City Council of the City of Port Aransas appointed a committee to study beach maintenance practices and to recommend any changes and improvements.  The committee was composed of Scott Holt, Chairman, Noyes Livingston, Vice Chairman, Jim Freeman, Murray Judson, Tony Amos, and Richard Watson as a non-voting ex-officio member. City staff participated and were very helpful in all meetings.  City staff included, City Manager Michael Kovacs, Planner David Parsons, Crockett Moreno of public works and Judy Lyle from Finance. All meetings were attended by members of the Texas General Land Office (GLO).  The GLO hired Kimberly McKenna, a coastal geologist who used to work for the GLO to study to work with the GLO, the City, and the Committee to evaluate the committee recommendations, to evaluate local, state and federal law pertaining to beach maintenance, and to make recommendations to the GLO and to the City about our future beach maintenance.   The culmination of the work by the beach committee and City staff was a compilation of suggestions by individual members of the committee and the staff.  It can be viewed at the second link below.  Ms. McKenna's report is available at the first link below.  It is a well done and comprehensive report covering all aspects of the beach maintenance and dune protection problem.

Click here to read Ms. McKenna's report titled

Strategies for Managing Sediment on Public Beaches City of Port Aransas, Texas


Click here to read the compilation of suggestions by the individual members of the beach committee and by City staff.


Letter to the editor of CC Caller-Times by Alan McNeil of Beaumont 3/7/06


Click here to read a column titled Port A beach dilemma rages on by David Sikes, Corpus Christi Caller-Times Outdoor Writer, 3/2/06

Click here to read a letter from Dr. Richard A. Davis (over 40 years as a Coastal Geologist) to the Port Aransas City Council, Feb, 2006

February 23, 2006
Heavy equipment operated by the City of Port Aransas has moved hundreds of dump trucks of dune quality sand from the beach road on the left side of the posts.  They are now removing sand from the seaward side of the posts and transporting it down to near the water. This sand is no obstacle to traffic on the beach because cars are NOT ALLOWED to drive on the beach on the seaward side of the line of posts shown in these photos.  This sand should be allowed to continue its natural migration to the dunes where it will strengthen our Natural Dune Seawall, if we will only allow that to happen.

Email just in from a long time Port Aransas resident who was here for Hurricane Carla.

In 1960, before hurricane Carla, the Port Aransas dunes extended much
closer to the waters edge.  The old Dunes resturant between Lantana and
Beach was surrounded by high dunes. The entire beach was much narrower.
 In that storm most of the Island was covered with water from the bay
and water from the gulf side scowered out the dunes leaving a much wider
beach.  Wetting down the driving area is lot better than scraping it
out.  I think we need all the dune protection we can get.  Thank you for
all you are trying to do to keep the city from removing sand from the
beach. Keep up the good work.

This photo taken on 2/8/2006 shows the pure dune quality sand being removed.  That sand was on its way to build our foredune ridge stronger, higher and wider.  We really should not be throwing our hurricane overwash protection away.  Port Aransas is rejecting the natural processes which build our natural dune seawall ridge higher and wider. This photo is just south of Island Retreat Condominiums.

The following two photos were taken on 2/3/2006.  Note that the City beach maintenace has scraped the sand away from the base of the foredunes right up to the posts placed about 8 years ago.  This has cut into dune vegetation and the roots are showing.  Removal of this sand which was rapidly migrating up onto the most seaward dune ridge is preventing the growth of our Natural Dune Seawall and reducing the protection possible against future hurricanes.

Note the post in the foreground of this photo.  The dune vegetation has been cut by City maintenance and a cliff of raw sand left along the post line.  The sand that was removed can not now migrate into and grow our foredune ridge.  This photo was taken 2/3/2006.

Excerpts from the GLO Dune Protection and Improvement Manual for the Texas Gulf Coast with comments by Richard L. Watson, Ph.D.

Click here to download a powerpoint presentation titled  "Protect the Natural Dune Seawall: Our First Line of Defense Against Hurricanes   (long file 13MB)

Click here to read the new article in Port Aransas South Jetty newspaper titled  "Beach Maintenance Policy Underway"

You can read 

"Protect the Natural Dune Seawall and Prevent Hurricane Destruction at Port Aransas, Texas," here   .  It is a large file, so give it time to load

Caller-Times article on 11/22/2005

Statement to Port Aransas City Council by Richard L. Watson, Ph.D. on 11/21/2005

Group will weigh beach access, need to replenish dunes

By Jaime Powell Caller-Times

November 11, 2005

Click here for a 11/08/05 letter from Eddie Fisher, Director of Coastal Stewardship, Texas General Land Office and my reply

Click here for a new Forum article in the Caller-Times, titled "We must protect, not destroy, our natural seawall

Click on this link to see how Port Aransas is violating both the State Regulations and its own Port Aransas Coastal Management Plan

Dr. Robert A. Morton who was the lead State coastal geologist for nearly 30 years writes about protection of the dunes and recovery of beaches after storms.

"Foredunes are the last line of defense against wave attack, and thus afford considerable protection against hurricane surge and washover.  Dunes also serve as a reserve of sediment from which the beach can recover after a storm.  Sand removed from the dunes and beach, transported offshore and returned to the beach as previously described provides the material from which coppice mounds and eventually the foredunes rebuild.  Thus, dune removal eliminates sediment reserve, as well as the natural defense mechanism established for beach protection.  

Whether or not the beach returns to its prestorm position depends primarily on the amount of sand available.  The beach readjusts to normal prestorm conditions much more rapidly than does the vegetation line.  Generally speaking, the sequence of events is as follows: (1) return of sand to the beach and profile adjustment (accretion); (2) development of low sand mounds (coppice mounds) seaward of the foredunes or vegetation line; (3) merging of coppice mounds with foredunes; and (4) migration of the vegetation line to the prestorm position.  The first step is initiated within days after passage of the storm and adjustment is usually attained within several weeks or a few months.  The remaining steps require months or possibly years and, in some instances, complete recovery is never attained." (from Shoreline Changes on Mustang Island and North Padre Island....., Morton and Pieper, 1977, Bureau of Economic Geology GC 77-1.)  Dr. Morton was the lead coastal geologist for the state of Texas  from the 1970s until nearly 2000 when he left to work for the U.S. Geological Survey.  I am sure that Dr. Morton would be shocked to discover that the City of Port Aransas is trucking vast quantities of sand from the upper beach and depositing it in the surf.  That sand was en route to enhancing the storage of sand in our dune system.

The City of Port Aransas is continuing to truck huge quantities of dune quality sand from the upper beach directly adjacent to the foredune ridge to the surf.  I have just sent the following letter to Mr. Eddie Fisher, the Director of Coastal  at the Texas General Land Office (GLO).

 Click on this link to read the  October 30, 2005 letter to Mr. Fisher.

Today on 10/27/2005, the City of Port Aransas is trucking huge amounts of dune sand from the upper beach and placing it in the surf.  This is contrary to Texas Administrative Code which states: "All sand moved or redistributed due to beach maintenance activites shall be returned to the area between the line of vegetation and mean high tide."  This does NOT mean putting the sand back in the edge of the water!  

Click here to see photos of this operation.

Vegetated Coppice Dune on the Upper Beach, Mustang Island, Texas

Hurricanes Katrina and Rita and now Wilma are a tremendous threat to the Gulf Coast.  We have seen the incredible destruction of these large storms with whole towns literally wiped off of the face of the earth.  In Mississippi, Waveland is gone, Gulfport is heavily damaged and Biloxi is heavily damaged with houses over 150 years old gone.

You can read "Protect the Natural Dune Seawall and Prevent Hurricane Destruction at Port Aransas, Texas," here   .  It is a large file, so give it time to load.  

Click hear to read the letter from Eddie Fisher (GLO) about my Natural Dune Seawall Paper  and my response in blue.

The next two photos show  Holly Beach, Louisiana before and after Rita.  Holly beach is on the Gulf between Sabine Pass, Texas and  Cameron, Louisiana.


Holly Beach had no natural dune seawall and it was completely destroyed by Hurricane Rita.

Surfside, Texas was also severely eroded in Rita, even though Surfside was far to the west of where Rita went ashore.  Surfside was on the 'gentle" side of the storm with offshore, rather than onshore winds.   Here is a photo of  Surfside before the storm  and some photos after Rita. Surfside also had no natural dune seawall.

Here in Port Aransas, we are very fortunate to be protected by a high and wide band of well vegetated dunes which serve as our natural dune seawall. However, if you read   "Protect the Natural Dune Seawall and Prevent Hurricane Destruction at Port Aransas, Texas," you will see that our beach maintenance practices are threatening the future integrity of our natural dune seawall.  In addition, our present beach maintenance is preventing the natural dune seawall from continuing to grow to its natural width and height.  All sand that is stored in the dunes on the upper beach and in the foredune ridges must be eroded by a storm before the storm can overwash and destroy the town from the Gulf.  Katrina and Rita have emphasized that we need that protection.

I have distributed "Protect the Natural Dune Seawall and Prevent Hurricane Destruction at Port Aransas, Texas," widely in Port Aransas, Nueces County and Austin.  Eddie R Fisher, Director of Coastal Stewardship  from the General Land Office (GLO) responded.  I have inserted my comments in blue within the original GLO response.  

Click hear to read the letter from Eddie Fisher (GLO)  and my response in blue.

Effect of Hurricane Carla at Port Aransas in 1961

The following illustrations are taken from Hurricanes as Geological Agents: Case Studies of Hurricanes Carla, 1961, and Cindy, 1963 by Miles O. Hayes, University of Texas Bureau of Economic Geology, Report of Investigations no. 61.

This first figure shows the wind field of Hurricane Carla.  Note that the hurricane force winds extended nearly the entire length of the Texas coast and inland almost to Austin.  Port Aransas sustained winds in excess of 100 mph even though Port Aransas is located far to the west of the landfall near Port O'Connor.  Carla was a large diameter, very powerful hurricane.

This illustration shows the distribution of the height of the water level, the hurricane surge from Carla.  It is interesting to note that his huge storm had only about a maximum 12 ft. surge on the open Gulf beaches.  The surge in the bay at Port O'Connor was at least 22 ft., 10 ft. higher than on the adjacent Gulf beaches.  This is because the storm filled the bay with water and then blew all of that water to the downwind side of the bay.  The hurricane surge is generally HIGHER in bays than on the open Gulf beaches.  We need for our natural dune seawall to be high enough and wide enough to protect us from hurricane surge overwash from the Gulf.  Even though we may still be flooded by water from the bay side of the island, there will be much less damage than if we are overwashed with direct Gulf surge topped by hurricane waves.

This photograph dramatically shows the massive erosion of the dunes on Mustang Island by Carla.  The sand that those dunes gave up helped to protect the town and bought time for the storm to pass.  The dunes have since rebuilt in the interim before the next bad storm.

Pertinent Sections of the Texas Administrative Code (State Law)

Texas Administrative Code  --  Local Government Management of the Public Beach (Part 1)
(State Regulations Controlling Beach Maintenance)

Texas Administrative Code -- Local Government Management of the Public Beach (Part II)
(This part contains the rules for maintaining the public beach, excerpted below)

Excerpt from Title 31, Part 1, Chapter 15, Subchapter A, Rule 15.7 section (l)

Maintaining the Public Beach

(l) Maintaining the public beach. Local governments shall prohibit beach maintenance activities unless maintenance activities will not materially weaken dunes or dune vegetation or reduce the protective functions of dunes. Local governments shall prohibit beach maintenance activities which will result in the significant redistribution of sand or which will significantly alter the beach profile or the line of vegetation. All sand moved or redistributed due to beach maintenance activities shall be returned to the area between the line of vegetation and mean high tide. The General Land Office encourages the removal of litter and other debris by handpicking or raking and strongly discourages the use of machines (except during peak visitation periods which disturb the natural balance of gains and losses in the sand budget and the natural cycle of nutrients.

Note that the regulation states that  "All sand moved or redistributed due to beach maintenance activites shall be returned to the area between the line of vegetation and mean high tide."  This does NOT mean putting the sand back in the edge of the water!

The purpose of this regulation is to ensure the maximum growth or re-growth of the dunes and the sand storage in the upper beach an dunes for protection from the next hurricane, whenever it may come.  When sand is placed back in the water, surf currents will carry it away to the north or to the south.  It is likely lost to the section of beach from which it was removed.

Texas Hurricanes from 1912-1978 Affecting the Corpus Christi Area

Hurricane Celia (1970) Flood Map for Port Aransas

(Dark Blue Shows Hurricane Flooding, Light Blue is Normal Water Level)

The following photo shows the repairs to the island road in the vicinity of Corpus Christi Pass after Hurricane Celia.  The road was cut at the bridges for quite a while after the storm.  This kind of damage occurs where there is no natural dune seawall to prevent overwash.

The following hurricane flood maps are from U.S. Army Corps of Engineers publications

Hurricane Beulah (1967) flood map for Port Aransas

(Dark Blue Shows Hurricane Flooding, Light Blue is Normal Water Level)

The following two photographs show how Hurricane Beulah opened Corpus Christi Pass.  Note the highway bridge on the island road out in the middle.  This is far less likely to happen where there is a strong natural dune seawall.  Please excuse the condition of some of these old photos. They have survived several hurricanes.

Hurricane Carla (1961) flood map for Port Aransas

(Orange Shows Hurricane Flooding, Light Blue is Normal Water Level)

Hurricane Allen, 1980

Hurricane Allen has 8.9 feet of surge flooding on the beach at Port Aransas.  However, the Corps of Engineers did not produce any high resolution surge flood maps in their Allen publication.  While Allen had a significant surge, it did not overtop the dunes.  Allen did however significantly damage the island road down in the area of the bridges where there was little or no dune ridge for protection at Corpus Christi Pass and Newport Pass.  The following photo shows the island road destroyed by Allen.  This is what can happen where there is no natural dune seawall.