Sharp Drop-Off at Cape May Beaches Threatens Surfers, Swimmers

Newsworks | March 6, 2017 | Energy & Environment
Fixing the problem isn’t simply a matter of more sand, it’s where and how that sand is added to the shore that should make the difference

Something has spooked some of the surfers out of the water at Cape May, and it’s not a shark’s threatening dorsal fin. It’s the fact that the seafloor along the beach drops off sharply, which can create dangerous conditions for board riders and body surfers.

The problem can be traced back to World War II, when the Army Corps of Engineers extended stone jetties 4,500 feet into the ocean as protection against German submarines. But over the intervening years the jetties have starved the beaches of sand, contributing to the steep drop-off. Unfortunately, attempts to ameliorate the problem with a multi-decade beach nourishment project conducted by the Army Corps have only made matters worse, as has sea-level rise.

A crippling accident to a swimmer who broke his neck diving into the ocean at Cape May in 2015 focused attention on the situation once again.

One of the first moves of new mayor Chuck Lear was to establish a Beach Safety Advisory Committee. The group plans on gathering more extensive data concerning in-the-water injuries and establishing closer ties to regional hospitals. It also will reach out to New Jersey’s congressional delegation to press for a survey of Cape May’s beaches to determine whether the Army Corps can change where and how it dumps sand to increase beach safety.

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