Suck ‘Em Up!

Where's the beach? Out to sea, so a new initiative in Waikiki is bringing it back.

The sand at Waikiki Beach just won’t stay put. Since 1939, the state has added the equivalent of 300,000 pickup trucks full of sand, says coastal geologist Dolan Eversole.

Most of this sand was dumped at Waikiki between the 1940s and 1960s, creating a nice sandy spot for tourists to bask in the sun. But in later years, even with increasing tourism, the state-funded sandman failed to deliver. From 1975 to 1992, relatively little new sand was added. “There was a commitment to maintain the beach and we have slackened on that effort. Our beaches are being lost because of it,” says Eversole.

Photo: Karl Hedberg

Historically, Waikiki’s sand came from Moloka’i and quarries on O’ahu. However, trucking and extraction costs make this sand expensive, at $52 a cubic yard. It’s cheaper to find the missing sand and pump it back to the beach, explains Eversole.

So this month, the state will literally suck sand off the sea floor and drop it back on the beach. Contractor American Marine is scheduled to start the $500,000 beach replenishment this month. The project should take a month to complete.

An 82-foot barge anchored offshore from the Royal Hawaiian Hotel will use a hydraulic suction pump, much stronger than your Hoover, to suck up 10,000 cubic yards of sand from the bottom.

A pilot project in 2000 attempted to retrieve the lost sand, but ocean swells made the suction pump slurp more water than sand. This time a crane will be used to secure the sucker into the sand. A separate pump will propel the soupy sand and water mix through a submerged pipe to an onshore drying station.

At night, after drying, the sandy mounds will be bulldozed to three separate sites from Kapahulu Avenue to the Waikiki police substation. The sand will be placed above the high-tide mark. This is because of a concern among surfers that popular surf breaks Queens and Canoes would change if sand filled in the reef.

Waikiki’s beach may not be natural, but tourists and residents alike have come to expect a sandy shore. “It makes financial sense to invest in the beach, particularly in a place like Waikiki,” says Eversole.