The “Sand Hills” at Tybee Island: Sand Fence Protects the Dunes

Beauty at Tybee Island is not by nature alone.  Lighthouse Inn bed and breakfast, located near the historic Tybee Lighthouse, points to curving trails of sand fence on the Georgia Barrier Island.  The simple fence is only one visible way that residents, island businesses, government, and nature work in concert to retain Tybee’s quiet getaway appeal.  

Beautiful Sand Dunes

When walking Tybee Island beaches you are sure to see the picket-like “sand fence” (aka snow fence).

The first time visitor to Tybee Island may think that oceanfront property owners are impeding access in order to insure privacy.  Another thought may stem from Tybee’s informal, beach town personality.  The guess might be that the sand fence is the city’s unfortified way to denote beachfront property boundaries.  Some might think the fences are not rigidly straight, and someone should repair them.

Those assumptions are incorrect.   The sand fence (made of wood slats) is installed on the beach to aid in sand collection for the “sand hills”, the sand dunes.  The wood slats are connected with wire to give strength, and loose to allow for flexibility during the constant wind and water activity on the beach.
Walkway to the Beach
A Swing on the Beach
The beautiful sand dunes photos (above) are by SummerJade in Webshots.

Primarily sand carved, Tybee Island relies on its dunes, often called the “sand hills”, not only for beauty of the beach, but for their role to prevent beachfront erosion.  Tybee tides are 7-to-9-foot on average, so this Barrier Island’s shoreline is flushed twice daily.

The sand fences help to accumulate sand and give vegetation —  like beach grass and sea oats, etc. — better protection to prevent beach erosion.

We are looking for beach roses (Rosa Rugosa) on Tybee Island. We’re told this species can grow even in cobbled soil.

The sand fence, too, alerts beach goers to stay on the ocean side of the dunes.  When walking the beach, you may see postings, reminding people to stay seaward of the fencing to allow for bird nesting.

The dunes are important habitats to Tybee Island’s signature birds. The endangered Piping Plover, plus diving terns and pelicans, rafts of ducks and flocks of shorebirds find a year around and migratory paradise.

“The hardiest most salt tolerant species [include] Sea Oats (Uniola paniculata), Prickly-pear Cactus (Opuntia sp.) and Beach Morning Glory (Ipomea stolonifera)”, writes Georgia Department of Natural Resources speaking about vegetation in the dunes.  “Wax Myrtle (Myrica ceriferus) shrubs will often form dense thickets on the back-dunes, both stabilizing the soil and providing habitat and food for wildlife such as wintering Yellow-rumped Warblers (Dendroica coronata). ”

Georgia DNR reminds us, “Our [barrier] islands have been in roughly the same position for the last 4 -5,000 years.”

Our goal is not to become pros with history nor techno speech; but, we simply remind ourselves and our guests:  It takes personal and professional efforts to keep Tybee Island beaches wonderfully inviting … and photogenic.

Historical tidbits —

“Use of [Tybee] island as a site for navigation aids and military posts continued from colonial times through the mid-20th century. The first limited use of Tybee as a recreation area occurred during the early 1800s, but it was not until the opening of the railroad in 1887 that the island began to grow into a truly popular beach resort.  The construction of a highway between Savannah and Tybee in 1933 ushered in the next era of accelerated beach use….” [Source: Living with the Georgia shore, By Tonya D. Clayton, et al, National Audubon Society.]

Groins are walls constructed perpendicular to the shoreline.  “By 1882, groins were already being placed at [Tybee] island’s north end to protect threatened gun emplacements.” 

The 4000 foot “Old Seawall” was built by the Army in 1907 from the north end of Tybee Island to First Street.  A new WPA seawall was built behind it (i.e., landward).  In all more than 120 groins have been built along the Tybee oceanfront in the last century.

For more information:

Lighthouse Inn, a quiet Tybee Island B&B
Historic Tybee Bed and Breakfast, Celebrating 100 Years!
tybeebb.com | lighthouseinn@bellsouth.net
16 Meddin Drive | Tybee Island | Georgia | USA 31328
(912) 786-0901 | Toll Free (866) 786-0901 | Twitter @Rockinporch | Facebook

Copyright © 2011 Sandy Traub / Lighthouse Inn. All rights reserved.

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