Beach Week: Renourishing the South End of Pawleys

Pawleys South End with groins

To go out with the setting sun on an empty beach is to truly embrace your solitude.

Jeanne Moreau

After publishing this week’s Lens-Artists Photo Challenge #109: Under the Sun, we felt the need to share more about the beach we love. Actually, Pawelys Island, South Carolina, is an old beach, but, as we shared, there’s a lot of “new” under the sun at Pawleys. So, for our first installment of this week-long series, please join us for a look at what began in October 2019, a result of 20 years of major fund raising and planning: the renourishment of the South End.

According to “A longer walk to the ocean” written by Charles Swenson for the Coastal Observer, the town of Pawleys recently completed the placement of 1.1 million cubic yards (comparable to 80,000 dump truck loads) of offshore sand on about 3 miles of beach from the tip of the South End to Pawleys Pier. Marinex Construction dredged the sand from the ocean and, working around the clock, covered the whole beach, including the 23 rock and timber groins, with over 100 feet of dry sand at a cost of over $14.3 million. Take a look at a 2019 picture of houses near the Birds’ Nest section revealing where, at high tide, water reaches almost to the base of the houses.

South End beach at Pawleys Island SC, 2019
A 2019 photo revealing water’s edge — almost to the houses.

Now, in 2020, the “new” sand extends the beach many feet out, leaving the ocean a greater distance from the homes. To some (us included), the renourished beach resembles a moonscape — a sandscape, if you will — of grayish sand and shells extending nearly the length of a football field to the ocean that is only accessible past the newly-formed “edge” of sand.

Renourished beach at Pawleys Island SC 2020

Our favorite beach seemed empty when we arrived for our usual summer beach week: groins were gone, a wide expanse of coarse sand had replaced the fine white grains we were accustomed to , and we didn’t have the same crowds to dodge as we set up our tent. (Well, that last part may be a positive!)

It didn’t, however, take long for folks to find their spots, albeit a bit further from the homes, but on the beach nevertheless. On the positive side, Pawleys now has more room for social distancing with the same familiar great view of the ocean.

Beachgoers at Pawleys Island SC 2020

One night, however, ended the dry spell on the “new” beach: the night before Hurricane Isaias touched down. That night conveniently coincided with the appearance of a full moon. So when people arrived in the evening sundown hours at the public access formerly known as Broken Groin, they saw water moving slowly but surely over the new sand and up to the houses for the first time.

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That event, of course, changed the landscape again, and, as one beach visitor said as he moved his beach chair to a spot further back for the third time, “The ocean wins again!” Here came the water. There went the sand. (For more on the impact of Isaias, read “Storm tests island’s renourishment project” by Charles Swenson.)

South End, Pawleys Island SC
At least one visitor is happy to see water over new sand at Pawleys!!!

So, what do we make of the renourishment of Pawleys? First, it was definitely needed. And, second, if we had been at Pawleys this spring, we would have come by often to watch the process as one resident told us he did every day. Mainly, however, we are pleased to hear that homeowners seem relieved that their houses on this beautiful barrier island will remain intact for a few more years.

But we have to admit: it takes a little getting used to. It’s a new Pawleys in many ways.

See you at the beach,

Rusha & Bert

Photo at top: View of South End of Pawleys Island in 2019 when groins were visible.

14 thoughts on “Beach Week: Renourishing the South End of Pawleys

  1. Pingback: Beach Week: Shells & Sunsets, North End of Pawleys – Oh, the Places We See . . .

  2. Wandering Dawgs

    I really enjoyed your photos of the beach renourishment there, especially the before and after ones with the houses. I’ve seen several beach renourisnments on Tybee Island. The most recent was finished this winter. Tybee also rebuilt some of the dunes, planted new dune vegetation, and added some sand fencing. The beach literally changed daily. Sadly, as others have said, it will not last forever.

    1. Oh, the Places We See

      I haven’t been to Tybee in years, but I’d like to see how their renourished beach is faring. Yes, I think all know the ultimate fate — it will take many more renourishments over the years if our great grandkids want to vacation there!

  3. CompassAndCamera

    Such an interesting read, following my comment on your other post. I had no idea renourishment was an option for communities dealing with erosion. And yet, the water returned! In any case, enjoy that long beautiful stretch of socially distance-able beach! Looks like a great place to spend the day!

    1. Oh, the Places We See

      It was a longer walk to water’s edge and the sand wasn’t as pretty, but the children with us hardly noticed! For them, it was all about the waves, sunshine, and making memories!!! (I wish we were back!)

  4. gallivance.net

    Rusha, when we lived at the beach in St. Augustine, FL, we were witness to a number of rounds of beach renourishment. As an engineering process it was great fun to watch, and it extended the beach as your Pawley post indicates. Now I don’t want to be a pessimist, but if St. Aug is any indicator, as Curt said above, nature will win in this battle and over the course of time, that newly relocated sand will all disappear.

    In SA, long shore currents were what caused the natural erosion, and jetties can be installed to help with this, but it’s only a matter of time. But I can say from experience that it will only take one hurricane even anywhere close and the sand will be bye-bye. As to whether it’s a waste of money, that’s a decision for authorities that decide where to put money to maintain community assets. In the meantime, this is a good idea for a post on a topic that most folks have never heard of. ~James

    1. Oh, the Places We See

      I have to agree with you. We walked the South End the day after the hurricane (which was really only a mild storm), and already the landscape had changed. No more rough edges, no angular drop-offs. In its place were smooth slopes of sand. So already the sand is shifting, and much of it is in the sea. I, too, don’t know if this was a waste of money. But I do know that something had to be done. We were sitting in our beach chairs right close to the houses at high tide. In a couple of years, the sea would flood basements and take porches off. What a dilemma, right? Thanks for taking a look and weighing in.

    1. Oh, the Places We See

      I’m a bit skeptical, but I know something had to be done. I do hope it keeps the ocean at bay, so to speak, for a few more years. But this is a barrier island, after all. Building on it is just tempting fate. (And I love it, so I’m cheering for the land!)

  5. NewEnglandGardenAndThread

    I hope it all works out, but there sure is no way to turn the ocean away if it wants in. We watched some video of the condo building where we stay in the winter. They had put down an intricate paver design around the pools and deck. When the storm hit, the pavers just floated all over the place. Storm 1, Condo 0. Glad you had a good week in a most beautiful part of our country.

  6. Curt Mekemson

    Ultimately, Mother Nature will win, I expect Rusha. The sand will be taken away and deposited somewhere else. But maybe Pawley will luck out and someone else sand will be deposited at the doorsteps. Our stay on the Outer Banks of North Carolina a few weeks ago was my fist ever Atlantic Beach vacation. We were glad it was over before the hurricane decided to come along! –Curt

    1. Oh, the Places We See

      I hope the renourishment isn’t a huge waste of money. It’s easy to say it’s working now, but I’m not so sure how many storms it will sustain. Time will tell. Thanks for reading/commenting.

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