Building a better sand trap

Oak Island town staff and the Beach Preservation Society (BPS) joined forces Saturday to place discarded, live Christmas trees at the foot of the primary dune near Sellers and McGlamery streets in an experiment they hope will trap and hold more sand on the beach.

Previously, volunteers installed 350 feet of sand fencing in 10-foot sections around Sellers and McGlamery streets, near the eastern edge of the former Yaupon Beach section.

The town collected about 80 trees and workers carefully checked them to make sure tinsel and other decorations were removed. Then, they secured the trees in the sand at least 10 feet apart, mostly between sections of sand fencing. The crew staked extra trees at the foot of the dunes past spots with sand fencing.

BPS volunteers recently observed when Carolina Beach residents placed old trees in the dunes for the seventh season. There, the work has helped build dunes and encourage the growth of sea oats, said Skip Cox, coordinator for the Beach Ambassador program and a BPS volunteer.

“These Christmas trees will be planted to promote sand collection and enhance the building of existing dunes,” Cox told about 25 volunteers who showed up between the rainstorms Saturday morning.

The trees were spaced to not create “a wall of trees,” that might later impede nesting sea turtles, Cox explained.

Cox and BPS leader Rosanne Fortner thanked the crowd for coming out to help. They made sure that workers and volunteers angled the trunks of the trees properly, staked and tied them down securely.

The process found a rhythm as some folks dragged trees, others hammered stakes, some tied the trees with hemp cord, and others tossed sand onto the first couple of feet of the treetops make sure they stayed in place.

All materials that were used are biodegradable and do not include treated or preserved wood, Fortner said.

Cox estimated that the experiment covered about 800 feet of beachfront. In that area, there is a healthy secondary dune with lots of natural vegetation between the first and second dune lines.

Elevation changes of even a few inches can make a difference on beach strand. Fortner pointed out spots where spartina, needlerush and other vegetation that accumulated on the beach a month or so ago is now buried, covered with sand and sprouting plants such as sea beach amaranth.