Coastal erosion on Northern Gulf of Mexico barrier islands is an ongoing issue that was exacerbated by the storm seasons of 2004 and 2005 when several hurricanes made landfall in the Gulf of Mexico. Two units of the Gulf Islands National Seashore (GUIS), located on Santa Rosa Island, a barrier island off the Panhandle coast of Florida, were highly impacted during the hurricanes of 2004 (Ivan) and 2005 (Cindy, Dennis, Katrina and Rita). In addition to the loss of or damage to natural and cultural resources within the park, damage to park infrastructure, including park access roads and utilities, occurred in areas experiencing rapid shoreline retreat. The main park road was located as close as 50 m to the pre-storm (2001) shoreline and was still under repair from damage incurred during Hurricane Ivan when the 2005 hurricanes struck. A new General Management Plan is under development for the Gulf Islands National Seashore. This plan, like the existing General Management Plan, strives to incorporate natural barrier island processes, and will guide future efforts to provide access to units of Gulf Islands National Seashore on Santa Rosa Island.
To assess changes in island geomorphology and provide data for park management, the National Park Service and the U.S. Geological Survey are currently analyzing shoreline change to better understand long-term (100+ years) shoreline change trends as well as short-term shoreline impact and recovery to severe storm events. Results show that over an ~140-year period from the late 1800s to May 2004, the average shoreline erosion rates in the Fort Pickens and Santa Rosa units of GUIS were -0.7m/yr and -0.1 m/yr, respectively. Areas of historic erosion, reaching a maximum rate of -1.3 m/yr, correspond to areas that experienced overwash and road damage during the 2004 hurricane season.. The shoreline eroded as much as ~60 m during Hurricane Ivan, and as much as ~88 m over the course of the 2005 storm season. The shoreline erosion rates in the areas where the park road was heavily damaged were as high as -70.2 m/yr over the 2004-2005 time period. Additional post-storm monitoring of these sections of the island, to assess whether erosion rates stabilize, will help to parks to determine the best long-term management strategy for the park infrastructure.