This article come from our friend PJ Hondros who studies our beaches. Be sure to follow his Facebook page, North Wildwood Coastal Processes for more of his awesome content.
Explaining Why The Wildwood Beaches Are So Big
Why are Wildwood’s beaches so big? It’s a question that nearly everyone asks, but few know the answer too. Today, I’m going to attempt to explain the processes in the easiest way possible.
Firstly, let’s start with the Hereford Inlet. The Hereford Inlet is situated on the very northern tip of the island, right by North Wildwood. The Hereford Inlet controls how much sediment builds up on the Wildwood’s shoreline. Depending on where the channel is positioned, sediment can either be added, or eroded from North Wildwood, where it later makes its way to Wildwood and Wildwood Crest. “How does this work”, you might ask. Well, it sounds complicated, but it’s really quite simple. As sand moves south, it reaches Stone Harbor Point. During an outgoing, or “ebb tide”, sand is pulled away from Stone Harbor point, and washed into the Hereford Inlet.
With time, this sand will reach an area in which the wave energy, and current velocity, are equal. As a result, a sand deposit builds up at the mouth of the Hereford Inlet. This is called the “ebb tidal delta”. As sand continues to build up in the ebb tidal delta, it becomes full. All of a sudden, sand needs to be released. When sand is released, it detaches itself in the form of a sandbar, and begins to move towards North Wildwood. As this sandbar merges with the beachfront, it adds height and width to the beach, growing it.
When Wildwood was being developed in the 1900’s, developers built the boardwalk right on the water. In 1920, Turtle Gut inlet was closed. Turtle Gut inlet would have sat in modern day Wildwood Crest. When Turtle Gut inlet was closed, all of the sand that was stored in the inlet migrated to the beach, growing the area several hundred feet.
However, as mentioned above, the main contributor of sand distribution to the Wildwoods was by far the Hereford Inlet. Let’s continue:
By the 1960’s, the Hereford Inlet channel was positioned in such a manner that allowed North Wildwood beach to grow tremendously, by funneling sand onto the shoreline. By the late 1970’s portions of North Wildwood beach were a staggering three blocks long! As sand deposited on North Wildwood beach, it would move to Wildwood, but the big Wildwood growth spurt was yet to come. This trend of growth continued into the 1980’s. As the 1990’s rolled around, the Hereford Inlet channel became unstable, and collapsed in on itself.
When the channel collapsed, a new channel formed north of the old channel. The lagoon you see by the Hereford Inlet lighthouse is actually where the old channel ran. When this new channel formed, it didn’t allow sand to be deposited as efficiently onto North Wildwood beach. This caused North Wildwood beach to erode over 1,000 feet from 1994-2004.
This is where Wildwoods growth spurt comes into play.
As North Wildwood beach was eroding, all of that excess sand either moved into the Hereford Inlet, forming the inlet beach, or south into Wildwood, expanding the beach tremendously. For Wildwood Crest, this change was most evident. From 1985, to the present day, portions of Wildwood Crest have grown over 700 feet, completely land-locking the fishing pier.
Portions of Wildwood that were 300 feet long in the 1970’s, are now 1,400 feet long. On the flip side, areas of North Wildwood that were 1,600 feet long in the 1970’s, now have no beach whatsoever.
This process has been studied closely, and is cyclical. North Wildwood goes through what’s called “erosional episodes” and “depositional episodes”. As I mentioned in the second paragraph, depending on where the Hereford Inlet channel is situated, North Wildwood can either grow, or shrink. Currently, North Wildwood is in the midst of a serious erosional episode. As North Wildwood shrunk in the 2000’s, Wildwood and Wildwood Crest managed to grow considerably, though it should be noted that Wildwood has practically stopped growing.
It’s thought that since 1950, 12,000,000 cubic yards of sand have deposited in the Wildwood’s. That’s forty billion pounds of sand! All said, the reason why the Wildwoods beaches are so massive, is due to processes that took place over many decades, that allowed sand from the Hereford Inlet to build up in North Wildwood, and then in later years move to Wildwood and Wildwood Crest.
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