The natural features, which will eventually go away on their own, could cause short-term issues for nesting sea turtles and beachgoers

SOUTHEASTERN N.C. -- Holden Beach’s expansive, nourished beach strand stretches for hundreds of feet down to the ocean. But now, the strand cuts off abruptly a few feet from the water’s edge as seasonal cliffs caused by waves and wind have cropped up in some areas.

Beach width fluctuates every year due to varying weather and storm patterns, particularly in the spring and fall months. Offshore storms cause changes in wave height, which can in turn create small, cliff-like structures, also known as “escarpments,” on the beach.

An “awful lot of sand” comes and goes on beaches and most people have “no idea” how much the beach changes every year, said Spencer Rogers, a coastal engineering specialist with N.C. Sea Grant.

“Scarps on native beaches are normal features,” Rogers said. “As the scarp dries out, it will collapse and even if the waves don’t reach them, the scarp will eventually flatten out and it will become far less noticeable.”

Layton Bedsole, New Hanover County’s shoreline protection coordinator, said so far he hasn’t heard any reports of escarpments on New Hanover beaches. Yet at this time of year, Bedsole said the county does keep an eye out for them.

“We do like to knock them down if we can, especially as the turtle season begins,” he said.

Town officials also often knock the escarpments down, especially when the drops reach several feet, to help beach visitors reach the ocean.

While Holden Beach is seeing some seasonal escarpments, another Brunswick County beach is suffering from an entirely different problem.

Last year Oak Island began a $5.6 million federal dune restoration project, which replaced dunes along the strand between East 58th and West 51st streets. Now, the entire stretch of the project is suffering from significant erosion, with some areas featuring 5-foot drop-offs. The erosion has become a safety concern -- not only for residents, but nesting sea turtles as well.

Town Manager David Kelly said the town has asked the N.C. Division of Coastal Management for permission to “drag down” the steep escarpments. The town knocked them down once before, but they returned.

While the town hopes to level out the escarpments to make it safer for people trying to get to the beach, Kelly said the town also has to comply with Federal Emergency Management Agency requirements for keeping the dunes established.

Additionally, Kelly said turtle nests will have to be relocated during the summer months due to the type of material that was used for the dune replacement project. At the beginning of the project, the town used a darker sand material to create the dunes. Though they later switched to a lighter color, the darker-colored material could create temperatures that are too high for the sea turtle eggs, meaning turtles eggs in certain locations along the dune replacement project will have to be relocated.

“The turtle people are going to be very busy and very appreciated,” Kelly said.

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