The Coast News Group
Recent high tides combined with big surf to erode local beaches. Beach sand is coming, but is that the best solution? Photo by Chris Ahrens

The reef solution

One recent rainy morning, I walked to Pill Box, the Solana Beach surf spot known in polite company by its official name, Fletcher Cove.

The old nickname was not a drug reference, as many believe, but a reference to the WWII battle station on the bluff. Regardless, the name differentiation was never quite as disturbing as the yellow-vested state workers and the caution tape sealing off the cove from the public.

What’s going on? I wondered, gazing out to sea to observe a barge filled with sand. That sand, I realized, was about to nourish the depleted beaches from Solana Beach to Encinitas. Seems like a good use of taxpayer money, right? Wrong? How about maybe?

This sand, taken from far offshore, will soon cover the cobblestones and fill in eroded crevices left by recent winter storms and extreme high tides.

It will help stop our sandstone cliffs from crumbling further and serve as a refuge for inland tourists and local families who will soon joyfully spread towels and umbrellas over acres of previously rocky ground. It will stimulate local businesses who depend upon the tourist trade to make a quid.

On the flip side, it will drown many reefs and turn peaky beach breaks into walled-up close-outs. My theoretical scoreboard reads: tourists 10, surfers and beach fishermen 0.

Anyone who recalls the last sand dump will remember the good and bad of that project. The good, of course, was that far more people were able to enjoy our greatest resource, the ocean. People basked in the sun as their children caught their first of many waves on bodyboards.

Those same people visited Surf Ride, Hansen’s, Cardiff Surf Co. and Encinitas Surfboards to purchase sunglasses, sunscreen, towels and flip-flops. They fell in love with North County, perhaps for the first time, and vowed to move here. Who can blame them?

On the other hand, our already crowded surf spots had more pressure placed on fewer of them. Long stretches of beach, some that had offered clean, rideable peaks, were reduced to junk. While these breaks have never fully recovered, they are just now returning to decent quality. With no reefs to call home, shellfish and other sea life will be displaced.

Upon close examination, sand replenishment is not a win-win. So, what to do?

One possible solution would be placing sand where it would build up and create good sandbars for surfing. Another idea, perhaps more extreme, is installing an artificial reef.

Reefs, as anyone who has surfed for a while realizes, create the best possible waves. A well-designed reef strategically placed in a spot with ample swell that breaks poorly could turn junk waves into an epic, 100-yard-long point break.

Aside from improved wave potential, such reefs would attract fish and keep waves breaking farther offshore than they normally do, thus reducing the threat to the bluffs and the houses perched on them.

Such a proposal might find opposition from certain environmental groups who don’t want anything artificial put into the ocean. I understand such concerns but feel that the long-term benefits, especially in terms of increased sea life propagation, would far outweigh any perceived downsides.

Anyway, it seems that artificial reefs are worth studying. A good starting point would be local genius Carl Ekstrom, the man who modeled the FlowRider wave machines a few decades ago. A quick hop up the road to Scripps Institution of Oceanography could also prove enlightening.

Here’s hoping for a solution that works for everyone from surfers to sunbathers.

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