Ahead of the Storm: Tybee’s storm surge protection

Published: May. 30, 2023 at 5:36 AM EDT
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TYBEE ISLAND, Ga. (WTOC) - Millions of dollars have been invested in something that could wash away when a hurricane hits: the dunes on Tybee Island.

When a tropical system approaches the Georgia and South Carolina coast, they become our first line of defense.

On October 8, 2016, Hurricane Mathew bought a seven to 10 foot storm surge to the 19th Street area on Tybee Island. The aftermath was devastating to many locals and businesses that were left nearly two to three feet underwater in the community. Not to mention, it also left the Island with a near $3 million tab for clean-up and rehabilitation.

Following this devastation, a few years ago Tybee Island did decide to take extra safety precautions and rebuild on the island to further protect it from any future tropical systems.

“The breath and length of your beach is your first line of defense, and the dunes are your second line of defense, and they act together. In 2020, the city decided to build some dunes where they don’t typically grow, and to augment dunes that had been damaged in prior storms Mathew, Irma, Maria,” said Alan Robertson, Head of Tybee Resilience Project.

While they may not look like much. The Sand Dunes are stabilized with large polypropylene bags filled with beach-quality sand. So, they can take the weight of the water when these tropical systems are approaching.

“Dunes are sacrificial. Alright, they are to take the storm surge. Which has happened on the south end of the island. So, if we had a dramatic storm surge you might see a dune like this cleaved in half. Ok, perfect that’s what it did. It absorbed that pressure and kept it from going inland. Then, we just come back in to add more sand and repair it.”

For something, designed and created just to be broken,you’d be surprised how much these sand dunes cost.

“To build the dunes and vegetate the dunes, probably a million dollars. Yeah know, Tybee’s budget is 16-18 Million dollars a year. If you lose a season, That’s dramatic. So, the dunes might cost you 5 to 10 percent of what you’re trying to save. Seems like a good deal.”

And the best part about it is. The longer we go without any tropical systems. The stronger these dunes get, each day and each year to further protect us in the future.