Most surfers have seen beach fill projects on their section of the coast, with differing outcomes for local surf breaks. But what about the critters that live in the beach sand and get buried? A new study in Estuarine, Coastal and Shelf Science by Viola, S.M., et al. seeks to answer at least a part of that question.

Beach crab

The study, Burrowing inhibition by fine textured beach fill: Implications for recovery of beach ecosystems, compared critters’ ability to move through various grain sizes of fill materials and beach sand.

They found that when incongruous fill (either too large or too small) is placed on a beach, that fill “significantly inhibited burrowing of characteristic species from all intertidal zones, including sand crabs, clams, polychaetes, isopods, and talitrid amphipods. Burrowing performance of all five species we tested was consistently reduced in the fill material and burrowing was completely inhibited for several species.”

These various beach critters are integral to the beach ecosystem as a whole. The reduction in burrowing ability stresses the animals out, reduces their survival and slows recovery of the beach ecosystem after fills, as many other animals rely on these critters for food. This study shows how beach fills can severely affect critters living in the sand on your beach, as well as the whole beach ecosystem.

If beach fill projects are happening in your area, this study highlights the need for thorough investigation of proposed grain sizes and perhaps monitoring of the beach ecosystem for recovery post-fill.