Disappearing beach: A look at how erosion has impacted Morris Island over the years

Charleston County News

CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCBD) – It’s one of the uninhabited wonders of the Lowcountry. Morris Island has been the top beach spot for many over the years, but erosion is threatening to take that memory-making beach, out to sea.

They say the only thing constant about landscape is change. Along the coast — and even more so on the barrier islands — that change can be extreme and unforgiving.

A Google Earth Engine timeline shows a dramatic decrease in the size of the northern tip of the island over the last five to six years. Going back to the 1980s, the island remained primarily stable, including the spot where scores of boaters would anchor over a sandbar on weekends and holidays.

“Being a boater I’ve seen it as well as being the parks department director,” said Jason Kronsberg, City of Charleston Director of Parks.”

He said the island, especially that portion of it, is exposed to some of the harshest elements.

“We’ve been out there probably once a year for an inspection because it’s a Greenbelt property, over the last 10 years that northern beach has eroded considerably.”

Kronsberg said, right now there is nothing officially being done to determine the cause, be it environmental or man-made.

Many have speculated that the harbor deepening project may have played a roll. News 2 checked with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) and they said their studies did not indicate that would be an issue.

“That channel is such a small portion of the cross-section of the harbor, especially in terms of its width,” said Jeff Livasy with the USACE. “It just wasn’t determined to be a factor for any type of shoreline erosion because of a deepened channel.”

As for mother nature, Storm Team 2 Meteorologist Josh Marthers says, given what the satellite views show, and the time period of greatest erosion, it adds up.

“From 1984 to 2015, Hugo was really the only big name storm, but from 2015 you had the historic flooding that was accompanied by a huge king tide, then Irma, Dorian, and not to mention all these big king tides and coastal storms we’ve had in the past few years. You put all that together and it puts a chewing on the tip of that island,” said Marthers.

Explanations that don’t make it an easier pill to swallow for those who made fond memories there. However, Livasy says it’s entirely possible that a period without a pounding from named storms, or near misses, we could see a cycle of accretion that brings back the northern beach.

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