Wave quality to be recorded following beach project

Wave quality to be recorded following beach project
A surfer catches a wave at Moonlight Beach, one of six beaches where the wave quality will be monitored over a two-year period because of a sand replenishment program. Photo by Jared Whitlock

COAST CITIES — In the first program of its kind, San Diego Surfrider will monitor how an influx of sand from a beach-replenishment project affects the waves at local surf spots. 

Using video software, Surfrider will track changes in wave shape, length and overall quality during a two-year period. Surfrider began observing surf conditions this spring to establish a baseline, as the San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG) will place 1.4 million cubic yards of sand on beaches from Imperial Beach to Oceanside over the next three months to shore up beaches suffering from a lack of sand.

In addition to widening beaches for tourists and residents, SANDAG’s beach replenishment project was designed to save homes threatened by coastal erosion. SANDAG was required to take a number of environmental factors into consideration for the beach replenishment, but wave quality wasn’t one of them, according to Tom Cook, a coastal scientist and Surfrider volunteer. In response, the wave-monitoring program was born.

“Except anecdotal evidence, there’s never been a way to assess how surfing spots respond to large quantities of sand being dumped near them,” Cook said. “There isn’t another program like this.”

Surfrider will monitor six surf spots, including North County breaks Tide Park, Seaside Reef, Cardiff Reef, Moonlight Beach and Tamarack Beach.

The spots were chosen because of their proximity to beaches that will receive large quantities of sand, according to Cook.

Using live footage from beachside video cameras, every morning trained volunteers will record a host of surf variables, include the average length of surfers’ rides and whether the wave shape is “rideable, peeling, dumping or closed out,” Cook said. The number of surfers in the water will also be noted.

“Surfers go to the best spots,” Cook said. “If less surfers are at the spot over time, that’s telling and indicative of wave quality.”

Cook said the video footage will not be available to the public. But Surfrider will post its findings in a yearly SANDAG report and periodically on its website. SANDAG’s beach replenishment-project could affect the wave quality at surf spots for several months to a year, and possibly up to two years at some spots, according to Cook.

The beachside video cameras will be installed and operated by CoastalCOMS, a new high-tech software company.

The cameras automatically record wave height and period, as well as where the waves are breaking in the surf zone and shoreline changes. CoastalCOMS’ cameras, along with the volunteers’ observations, are making wave monitoring more objective, Cook said.

In 2001, SANDAG completed a similar beach-replenishment project. According to some accounts, the sand dump favorably altered the underwater topography for surfers at some spots.

For example, it’s believed surfers enjoyed favorable sandbars around Imperial Beach for several months. But at other spots, the increase in sand made the waves break slower and with less power.

“That’s what people say, but who knows if that’s true,” Cook said. “We can now document the changes.”

Cook said he hopes the wave-monitoring program becomes a requirement of future beach-replenishment projects.

“There’s no evidence right now the sand fill project is a positive or negative for beaches,” Cook said. “But surfers have a right to know if the sand fill is affecting them for better or worse.”

Most of the first year of Surfrider’s wave-monitoring program will be funded by a $20,000 grant from San Diego County’s Neighborhood Reinvestment Program, according to Julia Chunn-Heer, a San Diego Surfrider Campaign Coordinator.

She said Surfrider intends to pay for the second year of the program with fundraising efforts.

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