Way back in 1964, when the Ka‘anapali Resort was still in its infancy, its owner American Factors paid for a 19-minute promotional film to bring rich tourists to Maui (click here to watch it on Youtube). Titled Kaanapali, the film called the area a “Polynesian Riviera” and didn’t undersell the importance of the resort’s expansive beach.
“Ka‘anapali’s pride is three miles of golden sand,” the film stated. “The most beautiful beach in the world… More hotels will rise here, but always Ka‘anapali’s guardians will keep the sands open and uncrowded… This is a destination, not just another Hawaiian resort.”
The idea that the resort’s “guardians” might have to do more for the sand than simply keep it open isn’t mentioned in the film. Then again, problems like climate change and sea level rise didn’t usually pop up in 1964 resort ads.
Anyway, if you haven’t noticed, Ka‘anapali Beach is disappearing. And what’s Kaanapali without a beach?
On Oct. 21, Governor Neil Abercrombie’s office announced that it was releasing $800,000, to cover the “design and permitting” stage of a big Ka‘anapali Beach restoration project. Though the governor’s release of the $800,000 earned a brief write-up in the Oct. 28 Maui News, but considering the scale and magnitude of the project, surprisingly little other attention.
According to the County of Maui, the beach restoration, though ultimately expensive, is beyond necessary.
“Kaanapali Beach experiences both chronic and episodic erosion that has occasionally caused extensive damage to shoreline infrastructure and amenities,” Tara Miller Owens of the University of Hawaii Sea Grant college program, who is also working with the Maui County Planning Department, told me in an Oct. 27 email. “The northern section of the beach from Black Rock to Hanakaoo Point is known to be very seasonally dynamic, with sand being transported by waves and currents toward Hanakaoo Point during winter and toward Black Rock during summer. The southern section of the beach from Hanakaoo Point to Hanakaoo Beach Park, referred to as the Hanakaoo littoral cell, is less seasonally dynamic and has been subject to continuous shoreline retreat.”
Owens said there are a few reasons for the erosion. “Historical erosion studies show that beach erosion is the dominant trend of shoreline change on Maui, overall,” Owens said in her email. “The National Assessment of Shoreline Change: Historical Shoreline Change in the Hawaiian Islands reports that 85% of beaches on Maui are eroding, with over 4 miles of beach completely lost to erosion over the past century. The observed shoreline erosion trends can generally be explained by a combination of causes, including: 1) human impacts to sand supply, 2) seasonal and storm waves and wave-driven currents that move sand, and 3) sea-level rise forcing shoreline retreat.”
Of course, reversing this erosion is no small feat. Nor will it be cheap. Owens said the project will take “two to three years to complete” and cost “approximately $7.6 million.” This is nearly a million dollars more than the figure published just seven months ago in the Mar. 28, 2014 project’s Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the State of Hawaii and the Ka‘anapali Operators Association. That document listed the overall project cost at $6.8 million.
Similar to a recent Waikiki beach replenishment project, the restoration will require, according to, “the extraction and placement of approximately 75,000 cubic yards of compatible carbonate marine sand.” According to Owens, the sand would come from “offshore sources” (she didn’t know exactly where at this time). The MOU states that “approximately 50,000 cubic yards [will] be placed between Hanakaoo Beach Park and Black Rock,” which will “restore the beach to its former beach width as it existed in March, 1988.”
Why 1988? “This is another technical design detail that I’d expect to be further vetted as the design phase progresses,” Owens said in her email. “I suspect that the 1988 shoreline is a reasonable and approximate target based on the estimated 50,000 cubic yards of sand that will be distributed along 4,000 feet of shoreline in the Hanakaoo littoral cell.” In any case, the MOU said the project will also “enhanc[e] the dry beach volume from Hanakoo Beach Park to Black Rock, Ka‘anapali Beach, with approximately 25,000 cubic yards of sand.”
Of course, we’re talking about sand here–subject to the power of the ocean and the climatic changes wrought by industrialization. Just because the we spend nearly $8 million to make Ka‘anapali look like it did back in the late 1980s doesn’t mean it will stay there. But when I asked Owens how long the restoration project would last, she really couldn’t say.
“This answer to this question also depends somewhat on the final design and quantity of sand placed on the beach,” she said in her email. That said, beaches by nature are ephemeral and are expected to continue to erode. So, in general terms, beach restoration projects often aim for a 7-10 year life of the project, after which the beach may need to be nourished again.”
Photo: Joe Parks/Wikimedia Commons