State of the Beach/State Reports/DE/Beach Erosion

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Delaware Ratings
Indicator Type Information Status
Beach Access77
Water Quality89
Beach Erosion7-
Erosion Response-5
Beach Fill7-
Shoreline Structures6 3
Beach Ecology6-
Surfing Areas45
Coastal Development{{{19}}}{{{20}}}
Sea Level Rise{{{21}}}{{{22}}}

Erosion Data

Coastal erosion data is collected and stored by the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control (DNREC), Division of Soil and Water Conservation. The data were last updated in early 2009.

While DNREC data show that nearly all of the about 26 miles of ocean beach is subject to erosion, this erosion is being managed in many areas, as appropriate.

A mapping project by the Federal Emergency Management Agency in Sussex, DE further defines the coastal erosion rates. The data analyzed in the project indicates that 5% of the coastline has had less than 1 ft/year, 17.5% has 1-2 ft/year, 30% has 2-3 ft/year, 22.5% has 3-4 ft/year, and 22.5% has 4-9 ft/year.

A February 1998 report written for DNREC estimates that Delaware's beaches experience on average between two to four feet of annual erosion. The beaches in the Fenwick, York, Bethany, Middlesex, and Sea Colony are the state's "hotspots" and all erode on average approximately four feet per year. Concerns about possible increased erosion at Cape Henlopen State Park Beach prompted the Sierra Club to take action in February 2002 to appeal a permit issued to the community of North Shores for the repair of a large stone groin. Surfrider Foundation's Delaware Chapter also opposed this project. The concern was that the groin would trap sand at the North Shores beach that would otherwise migrate to Cape Henlopen State Park Beach.

Erosion is also a problem at Cape Henlopen State Park, where deterioration of the "Naval Jetty" at Herring Point led to chronic beach erosion and degraded surfing conditions. In that location, Surfrider's Delaware Chapter supported repairs of the two groins, completed in 2007-2008. Herring Point has since begun to accrete sand, and surfing conditions have generally stabilized or even improved.

General information on shoreline erosion and migration is available on DNREC's Website. The Sea Level Rise Initiative Project Compendium (October 2010) summarizes several completed, ongoing and planned studies concerning coastal erosion.

Also see the Management Plan for Delaware Bay Beaches.

The Delaware coast has also experienced major damage during storms, most notably in March 1962, when the ocean broke through the dunes and caused a significant, inlet-sized breach. Damage from that storm was estimated at $50 million and Delaware's coast was declared a federal disaster area.

A USGS report National Assessment of Shoreline Change: Historical Shoreline Change along the New England and Mid-Atlantic Coasts was released in February 2011. The New England and Mid-Atlantic shores were subdivided into a total of 10 analysis regions for the purpose of reporting regional trends in shoreline change rates. The average rate of long-term shoreline change for the New England and Mid-Atlantic coasts was -0.5 meters per year. The average rate of short-term shoreline change for the New England and Mid-Atlantic coasts was also erosional but the rate of erosion decreased in comparison to long-term rates. The net short-term rate as averaged along 17,045 transects was -0.3 meters per year.

The Heinz Center's Evaluation of Erosion Hazards, conducted for the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), studied the causes of coastal erosion hazards and proposed a variety of national and regional responses. The study, published in April 2000, concentrates on the economic impacts of erosion response policies as well as the cost of erosion itself to homeowners, businesses, and governmental entities.

A NOAA website that has graphs of sea level data for many coastal locations around the country over the last 40 to 50 years and projections into the future is Sea Levels Online.

NOAA Shoreline Website is a comprehensive guide to national shoreline data and terms and is the first site to allow vector shoreline data from NOAA and other federal agencies to be conveniently accessed and compared in one place. Supporting context is also included via frequently asked questions, common uses of shoreline data, shoreline terms, and references. Many NOAA branches and offices have a stake in developing shoreline data, but this is the first-ever NOAA Website to provide access to all NOAA shorelines, plus data from other federal agencies. The site is a culmination of efforts of NOAA and several offices within NOS (including NOAA’s Coastal Services Center, National Geodetic Survey, Office of Coast Survey, Special Projects Office, and Office of Ocean and Coastal Resource Management) and other federal agencies to provide coastal resource managers with accurate and useful shoreline data.

A related site launched in 2008 is NOAA Coastal Services Center's Digital Coast, which can be used to address timely coastal issues, including land use, coastal conservation, hazards, marine spatial planning, and climate change. One of the goals behind the creation of the Digital Coast was to unify groups that might not otherwise work together. This partnership network is building not only a website, but also a strong collaboration of coastal professionals intent on addressing coastal resource management needs. Website content is provided by numerous organizations, but all must meet the site’s quality and applicability standards. More recently, NOAA Coastal Services Center has developed a Sea Level Rise and Coastal Flooding Impacts Viewer as part of its Digital Coast website. Being able to visualize potential impacts from sea level rise is a powerful teaching and planning tool, and the Sea Level Rise Viewer brings this capability to coastal communities. A slider bar is used to show how various levels of sea level rise will impact coastal communities. Completed areas include Mississippi, Alabama, Texas, Florida, and Georgia, with additional coastal counties to be added in the near future. Visuals and the accompanying data and information cover sea level rise inundation, uncertainty, flood frequency, marsh impacts, and socioeconomics.

According to the Heinz Center study, average erosion rates are 3-4 ft/year in Sussex, DE.

Erosion Contact Info

Anthony P. Pratt
Delaware Shoreline and Waterway Management Section
(302) 739-9921

Hazard Avoidance Policies/Erosion Response

See the Erosion Response section

State of the Beach Report: Delaware
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