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Georgia legislators call for funding for Cumberland Island erosion research

Posted on March 8, 2023

The sandy beaches, expanses of marsh and wild horses on Cumberland Island draw visitors to the barrier island each summer, but as with every other beach on Georgia’s coast, that beloved terrain is shifting.

Georgia Sen. Jon Ossoff and Rep. Buddy Carter (R-Savannah) wrote a letter to U.S. Department of Interior Secretary Deb Haaland urging the federal agency to prioritize funding for the study of erosion impacting the Cumberland Island National Seashore.

Beach erosion becoming more common

Beach erosion is the process where the sand, soil and rocks on a beachfront are worn down or washed away along the coast due to the thorny combination of several sources. Sea-level rise, strong waves — sometimes from boat traffic — and coastal flooding, in addition to increasingly strong storms and other natural events all can chip away at the coast.

While erosion is a natural process, it’s also one exacerbated by wear and tear and climate change. Particularly with the increase in storm severity, barrier islands stand to bear the brunt of hard-hitting natural disasters. On the island, the National Park Service highlighted in its updated Visitor Use Management Plan that between 2016 and 2019, the management plan notes that hurricanes Matthew, Irma and Dorian damaged structures and facilities on the island and in St. Marys. Most recently, the island and its docks were severely damaged by Hurricane Dorian in 2019.

On Cumberland, storms have made big impacts

“Today, the shores of this remarkable island are eroding at an increasingly alarming rate,” the representative’s letter noted. “Until the root causes are known, there cannot be appropriate actions to mitigate and prevent furtherdamage to this unique habitat.”

While government agencies understand the impacts of climate change in the future, the legislators’ letter highlights that there is still much to be done to understand the finer details of erosion and how to best target support for the island. They stated in the letter that the work done to mitigate and counteract erosion at Cumberland Island will serve as a model for other sites throughout the country and accelerate the National Park Services’ and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ understanding of how to adapt and protect coastal assets for the future.

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