28 June 2015

The World’s Beaches (Book Review)

Posted by John Freeland

Oval Beach, Saugatuck, Michigan, facing north (JF June, 2013).

Oval Beach, Saugatuck, Michigan, facing north, June, 2013).

For your summer reading edification, this is a wonderful book to take to the beach. Or, if you can’t make the trip, it’s a vicarious journey to beaches around the globe, and an invitation to appreciate their beauty, idiosyncracies, and vulnerability. The full title is The World’s Beaches: A Global Guide to the Science of the Shoreline by Orrin H. Pilkey, William J. Neal, Joseph T. Kelley, and J. Andrew G. Cooper.

This book is loaded with color photos and diagrams and I’m surprised they can offer it at this price, around $30 (USD). It’s available through your favorite booksellers, however, the Santa Aguila Foundation provided support for the publication, so you might want to purchase it at their website, Coastal Care.

The World’s Beaches is divided into three parts. Part 1, “The Global Character of Beaches”, contains 5 chapters and is primarily descriptive and written in language highly accessible to general audiences. Part 2, containing 6 chapters, is “How to Read a Beach,” whic is more technical and, though still accessible, may be more interesting to readers with some geology background. Part 3, “The Global Threat to Beaches” has 2 chapters. There’s a glossary of terms, many of which were new to me. For example, I learned a new rock, “eolinite,” which is formed from wind-blown sand where there is some dissolution of calcium carbonate grains followed by re-precipitation of calcite cement.

Another fundamental concept for beach connoisseurs I thought was interesting is the “dissipative-reflective beach continuum.” Dissipative beaches have relatively low gradient surfaces facing seaward, along with off-shore bars. Waves dissipate their energy through friction with the bottom as they migrate toward shore. Reflective beaches have steep sides facing the sea and drop off quickly. The photo of Oval Beach shown above (not in the book), I believe, is an example of a dissipative beach. It has multiple off-shore bars. You typically wade out to where the water’s nearly up to your waist, then go out a little farther and it might be up to your ankles.

Just remember the authors’ two “favorite sayings”

“No two beaches are alike and nothing on the beach stays the same”

The dynamic nature of beaches conflicts with our usual notions of private property. When we buy something, we expect we’re going to be able to keep it. In the United States, and elsewhere, engineered structures have been built to try to hold beaches in place. These efforts are mainly designed to protect buildings. Beach loss is the unintended consequence. From The Word’s Beaches:

“On the Gold Coast (Australia) and on Saint Petersburg Beach, Florida, communities erect seawalls and make artificial beaches to replace the native sand. In Nigeria and Siberia, where less money is available, houses are often moved back from the beach. Ironically, the result is that beaches often remain more pristine in poor societies than in affluent ones.”

Enjoy the book, and have a good summer!