Monday, March 9, 2015

Design with Nature--Beaches

We embark here on a complicated subject. We know it's complicated because we dedicated our working lives to natural resource management. We learned that you don't really manage the actual resources in the conservation business, you manage people's enthusiasms, thoughtlessness and/or greed.  We still have an  interest in nature and the socio-economic mix of people and nature. Here, we observe some of the hundreds of commercial beaches on the east and west coasts of Italy – each called a lido. They work with local governments that control the beaches and they pay a fee to develop their businesses including rules that require public beach (spiaggio libero) every 500 meters or so. There is also an environmental community involved. All the pieces of the puzzle are familiar to us, but the details here still elude us. We know the lido operators are concerned about protection from a wild winter sea and the environmental community is concerned about losing the beach--not the sand part, the water (insabbiamento). Apparently Florida's eroding beaches are ending up in Calabria...(joke) or as the Calabrians put it, the sea is leaving Scalea. Perhaps global climate change can help out here---see, we told you this was complicated!

From Lido da Pietro, Scalea, showing "insabbiamento", the wide sloping beach and winter storm debris

Present Scalea lungomare a notte

It seems beach development started appearing in the 1960’s when the economy was finally recovering from the war and people had money to spend on holiday spots. You can see in this photo how the waterfront of Scalea back then was vacant and now is a very different thing. Scalea now is a town of about 9,000 and in August when the holiday home-owners come, the population rises to about 30,000.

Back to nature. It took storm damage to bring our thoughts to old Ian McHarg and Design with Nature

Note Doug in this photo of 18 January 2011 at the Sabbia d’Oro lido and restaurant. Palmino, the owner, and his family added a motorized roof and drop-down plastic windows for cool weather in 2013 and also an attractive swimming pool. This past January, a two-week period of storms brought tremendous waves and wind that wiped-out most of their terrace improvements, under-mined the pool, and seriously damaged the whole beach front. It must have been near 30 Jan when we recorded a wind gust of 90mph/144km/h.  

Sabbia d'Oro terzo senza roof and walls. See rock armor that the sea leaped over

Swimming pool at Sabbia d'Oro nearly eliminated by waves - note the short beach

The beaches south of Cirello are mostly golden sand and shorter and flatter. North to Scalea and, on to Praia a Mare, the beaches are black sand and tend to have a slope to them. Geology classes circa 40 years ago are not enough to tell us why all these beaches and sands are different!

Looking a bit closer at all the beaches, our new observations are: 1) the Sabbia d’Oro beach located between Belvedere and Diamante is about 25 meters to water and flat; 2) the Scalea beaches are about 60 meters and sloped. That slope and distance seems to slow the waves. You can see the concrete “riprap” blocks that Sabbia needs to protect itself (and were not enough this year).  Then notice the berm of sand built in front of the restaurant/lido La Perla del Terreno in Scalea to protect their development. Then finally near Lido da Pietro, you notice where the sea deposited debris, but didn’t affect the buildings. These lidi are all within a 25km stretch of the coastline. 

So how should human beings manage their relationship with beaches? Nature will give with one hand and take away with the other...should we leave her alone to do all of this or continue to try to design with nature in mind? You tell us! 

 La Perla del Terreno with rock riprap, but also behind a berm of sand in winter
Protective Sand berm at La Perla del Terreno

Scalea 1950's or 1960's


  1. Thank you for this post! I had heard of the damage at Sabbia d'Oro.. incredible really! Such a diverse coastline in a small area... mother nature always has her way and the sea is so powerful.

  2. Hi Tammy,
    Thanks for commenting the old fashioned way!

  3. We're used to the benevolent weather when we visit (wild fires aside) but the articles on the seafront (and -5 Winter temps in Mormanno) are very interesting for us. See you mid May, when I hope the water has calmed and warm enough for bathing ... yes, really:))

  4. Hi Helena and Jerry, the winter was pretty much normal except for those sea storms. Thought we would get snow in January, but didn't happen. We are a little behind in rainfall. Ci vediamo a maggio



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