MANATEE -- Erosion from days of high wind and waves pounding the sugar-sand beaches has eaten away the Gulf of Mexico side of Anna Maria Island, officials said Tuesday.
Tropical Storm Debby has inflicted a beating on miles of Manatee's most famous attraction, especially the southern half of the island.
A stretch from about 27th Street North to Longboat Key Pass has been particularly hard hit, said Tom Woodard, public works director for Bradenton Beach.
"Some condos are losing their retention walls, and sand and seawater are infiltrating the pools on the gulf side," he said.
Part of a seawall was washing away at a Bradenton Beach hotel, and Katie Pierola City Park, in the 2200 block of Gulf Drive North, has been battered by the storm, Woodard said.
But efforts to shore up the beaches with native plants that grip the sand have prevented much worse damage, said County Natural Resources Director Charlie Hunsicker.
"There's value to those who, over the years, planted sea oats and seashore plants on their properties, watched over time as dunes built up, and now, they're receiving the benefits of that effort," said Hunsicker. "That happened on public beaches, along with commercial and residential properties."
He also said the most serious damage occurred in south Anna Maria Island.
"AMI as a unit, the bottom half of the island, has taken the brunt of the loss during these multi-day windstorms," said Hunsicker. "We've also seen losses in the dunes that we have in many locations along the beach.
"But, remarkably, and much to our expectations, the dunes have done the job that we needed: To protect many areas behind them," Hunsicker added. "We didn't lose the entire dune face, but in many cases, well over half."
While some of the sand will be drawn back onto the beach by normal wave action, it will take a long time to recover it, Hunsicker said.
"It's fortunate we're in the middle of working towards our permits and funding needed to ready ourselves for our 2014-15 renourishment cycle," Hunsicker observed.
Upcoming projects include the $19.6 million Central Island Project, which would fortify Anna Maria Island's midsection with 1.85 million cubic yards of sand, the Herald has previously reported.
Slated for October 2014 through March 2015, it would create a finished dry beach 150 feet wide.
Sara Kennedy, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7031.