Steve's Blog: Plants could do much to halt blowing sand

By Steve Phillips - bio | email

BILOXI, MS  (WLOX) - I thoroughly enjoy my drive to and from work on Highway 90.  I don't mind the usual slow pace, since I really love to look at the water.  We're blessed to live in such a beautiful part of the country and my drive along the beachfront highway is a real benefit.

But lately I feel like I've been driving an obstacle course on Highway 90 or even a slalom at times.

I'm talking, of course, about the abundance of sand on our beach highway.

I've lived here for 20 plus years now, and I can't recall a time when the blowing sand has been any worse.

We've done several stories about this in recent weeks. The finger of blame has been pointed in several directions: More windy days, more sand on the beach since the recent renourishment, and no beachfront boardwalk thanks to Katrina.

I don't care much what's causing it; I'm looking for solutions to the problem.

I did a story this week about one such solution that makes great sense to me.  It involves the planting of native plants along the shoreline.  Such sea oats and grasses and salt water shrubs are accustomed to the conditions and climate.  But better yet, they trap the sand and form dunes, preventing that sand from blowing on the highway and into the paths of thousands of vehicles.

Dr. Pete Melby and Dr. Tom Cathcart have been studying the beach erosion issue for more than a decade.  They've put together a report detailing how native plantings can ease erosion and provide a long term solution to this perennial problem.

Sure, it takes some time for the plants to establish themselves. But once this happens, they are quite hardy and can even recover from tropical storm activity, including hurricanes.

We've seen examples of sea oats forming dunes in certain areas where there are already such plants on the beach.  And guess what?  There's no blowing of sand across the road in those areas.

I would urge the board of supervisors to take a closer look at the plantings proposal.  Not only are the plants extremely functional, but they're also quite attractive.

Check out the experimental area they've already planted around the Biloxi Schooner Pier.  It's nice looking and the dunes are already forming to prevent further erosion.

Along with greatly reducing the problem of blowing sand, the plantings would help stabilize the shore as well. Water also erodes the beach.  Plants close to the water's edge could help with that problem.

In high traffic areas of the beach, you would have fewer plants, but they would still surround such areas.  Sand fencing could also be used in such spots to create dunes. You can see how well that's worked with the fencing that's already in place around the least tern spot and several other areas of the beach.

I'd love to see a wider use of plantings to prevent the erosion problem naturally. I encourage others to talk with their supervisors to promote the idea.

I'm tired of driving through "sand banks" on Highway 90.

At the least it's bad for the wear and tear on your vehicle; at the worst it's extremely dangerous to maneuver a vehicle through thick sections of wayward sand.

Let's apply some common sense and consider the long term benefits of attractive, native plants to help ease the blowing sand along our beautiful manmade beach.

©2009 WLOX. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.