Beach beautification or public safety? Researcher sounds alarm on renourishment projects

Posted at 8:13 PM, Apr 02, 2018
and last updated 2018-04-03 06:43:53-04

ST. PETE BEACH, Fla. — A coastal researcher is sounding the alarm about a potential danger tied to a common beach beautification process. 

Some of Pinellas County's award-winning beaches are now undergoing multi-million dollar makeovers. 

Crews have started beach renourishment projects that help restore erosion after storms. 

"The sand is nice and soft and white, compared to a lot of beaches on the other coast," said Kardi Carter, who is vacationing on St. Pete Beach with his family. "The beach looks like it's in excellent shape."

But retired FIU professor, John Fletemeyer, says beauty comes at a dangerous cost. 

"This is a problem and that the public deserves to be protected," said Fletemeyer. 

Fletemeyer says he's tracked a correlation between beach renourishment and increased rip currents. 

He tells ABC Action News, sand dredged from the Gulf of Mexico and dumped on the shore alters the slope of the beach. 

"It makes the sand more compact water tends to run off the beach much more quicker, the quicker it runs off there's an opportunity for rip currents," said Fletemeyer. 

Fletemeyer is overseeing a four-day, national conference in Tampa this week, focusing on beach safety and renourishment projects in Tampa Bay. 

According to a peer-reviewed article highlighting Fletemeyer's research, there was a 370% increase in drownings and injuries following beach renourishment in New Jersey.

The U.S. Army Corps. of Engineers, based in Jacksonville, oversees beach renourishment projects in Pinellas County. 

ABC Action News has reached out for comment on Fletemeyer's findings several times but has not heard back.