Deadly NJ Rip Currents — Blame the Beach Replenishment Projects?
Dangerous rip currents reportedly claimed the lives of at least six individuals off the New Jersey coast so far in 2017 — double the typical rate. They also prompted the launch of countless rescues throughout the summer.
But coastal experts say beach replenishment projects along the state's coastline are not to blame, despite arguments to the contrary.
Other factors are at play to form this deadlier-than-normal summer, they say, and beaches that received no added sand still experienced an increase in rip current warnings.
"Although new beaches can generate more rip currents, I don't believe that's what has been happening this summer," Dr. Thomas Herrington, associate director of the Urban Coast Institute at Monmouth University, said in a recent blog post, noting he'd been asked whether beach replenishment is to blame for a spike in drownings and distressed swimmer incidents.
"We have experienced many more days of moderate wave events than usual due to this summer's weather pattern," he said.
Dr. Jon Miller, an associate professor with Stevens Institute of Technology, agreed any uptick in rip current deaths and rescues has more to do with the weather pattern — a pattern that, at times, creates a calm-looking ocean on the surface, but features fast-moving currents underneath.
While replenishment projects can shift the areas of sand bars and common locations of rip currents, Miller said, there is not enough evidence to suggest a link between engineered beaches and a spike in rips.
Miller pointed to a number of rescues and tragedies this summer that occurred in waters off beaches that had not been replenished in recent memory. The Wildwoods, for example, feature naturally wide beaches that already have the engineered look state officials want along the entire coastline.
Some spots along the shore have been receiving replenishment projects since the early 2000s, he added. Rip current casualties and close calls haven't risen accordingly, he said.
The Army Corps of Engineers, which oversees the beach-fill projects in New Jersey, says they have found no scientific research or factual evidence to suggest any correlation between beach nourishment and rip currents.
According to the National Weather Service, New Jersey has seen 10 "surf deaths" in 2017; six are blamed on rip currents, two on shore breaks, and two unknown.