Maui News

Options to control wave energy explored as beach loss continues at “Sugar Cove” near Pāʻia

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Sugar Cove, a pocket beach near Pā’ia, is home to a privately funded beach restoration effort that’s been ongoing for nearly three decades. 

Homeowners at the adjacent Sugar Cove Condominiums, have funded millions of dollars of sand replenishment over the years, but they are exploring solutions to ongoing erosion, and a limited stockpile of sand.

Rich Salem, President of the Sugar Cove Association of Apartment Owners said, “The community originally wanted just to protect its water sports access. We subsequently realized how precious a resource the beach is, not only just for access, but as a community asset. For more than 20 years we’ve brought in a total of 15,000 to 20,000-tons of sand to build the beach back up after erosion events and winter storms.” 

  • Sugar Cove Beach (Feb. 15 and Feb. 21, 2022). PC: DLNR Hawaiʻi.
  • Sugar Cove Beach (Feb. 15 and Feb. 21, 2022). PC: DLNR Hawaiʻi.
  • Sugar Cove Beach (Feb. 15 and Feb. 21, 2022). PC: DLNR Hawaiʻi.
  • Sugar Cove Beach (Feb. 15 and Feb. 21, 2022). PC: DLNR Hawaiʻi.
  • Sugar Cove Beach (Feb. 15 and Feb. 21, 2022). PC: DLNR Hawaiʻi.
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The AOAO used to have a supply of sand on Maui but has recently had to ship in DLNR-approved sand from O‘ahu. Salem said, “We expect we can probably do another 10 years of sand feeding with our stockpile, hoping to build an equilibrium or stasis. It hinges on controlling wave energy on the west side of the pocket beach.” 

The homeowners have been consulting with coastal specialists from Sea Engineering Inc., as well as experts from the DLNR Office of Coastal and Conservation Lands, and the University of Hawai‘i Sea Grant Program. 

  • Sugar Cove Beach (Feb. 15 and Feb. 21, 2022). PC: DLNR Hawaiʻi.
  • Sugar Cove Beach (Feb. 15 and Feb. 21, 2022). PC: DLNR Hawaiʻi.
  • Sugar Cove Beach (Feb. 15 and Feb. 21, 2022). PC: DLNR Hawaiʻi.
  • Sugar Cove Beach (Feb. 15 and Feb. 21, 2022). PC: DLNR Hawaiʻi.
  • Sugar Cove Beach (Feb. 15 and Feb. 21, 2022). PC: DLNR Hawaiʻi.
  • Sugar Cove Beach (Feb. 15 and Feb. 21, 2022). PC: DLNR Hawaiʻi.
  • Sugar Cove Beach (Feb. 15 and Feb. 21, 2022). PC: DLNR Hawaiʻi.
  • Sugar Cove Beach (Feb. 15 and Feb. 21, 2022). PC: DLNR Hawaiʻi.

On a recent visit to Sugar Cove Beach, a team of specialists conducted a site visit, with a focus on options for the day when replenishment sand is no longer available. 

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Chris Conger of Sea Engineering noted, “In the 1930s-1960s the beach was so wide, we have pictures of six-man canoes, people picnicking, and enjoying what was a wild healthy beach that you could pretty much walk all the way to Baldwin Beach. Chronic erosion began impacting this entire coastline more than 50 years ago.” 

To diminish beach loss, and facing the prospect of no more sand, the homeowners and the experts are looking at potentially shoring up a “natural rock groin” on the west side, according to the Department of Land and Natural Resources.

Facing the impacts of global climate change…sea level rise, more powerful storms, more erosion…and the prospect of losing the beach, Salem said, “I hope that perhaps over time the notion of beach replenishment and the value of restoring natural beaches across the islands will become more politically acceptable. We firmly believe that what we’re doing is maintaining and enhancing a public asset.” 

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“The homeowners are continuing to work with their consultants and the DLNR to explore the science of integrating a natural looking groin to protect the beach and to also enhance beaches below, while they continue to explore sand sources,” according to a DLNR press release.

“We have a buffet of ideas and the situation here and at beaches everywhere need to be addressed in a multi-faceted way. We have an obligation to maintain such a spectacular spot that we were lucky enough to find when we first came here 25-30 years ago,” Salem said. 

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