By Emma Woodham for The Island Eye News
A federal judge recently ruled that the Wave Dissipation Systems on the Isle of Palms beach must be removed because they are preventing sea turtles from nesting, but WDS designer Deron Nettles argues that his turtle-friendly invention is doing more good than harm.
The Wave Dissipation Systems—often incorrectly called ‘sea walls’—were installed along the beach in front of Seascape Villas and Ocean Club in Wild Dunes two years ago as part of a collaboration between Nettles and engineers at the Citadel.
They are designed to prevent beach erosion, but questions have been raised about the impact that the WDS has on sea turtles during nesting season.
U.S. District Court Judge David Norton cited false crawls as his reason for ruling in favor of removing the WDS. False crawls are when turtles return to the ocean without digging a nest or laying eggs. Sea turtle advocates are concerned that the WDS may cause turtles to dig nests in poorly chosen areas or even deposit their eggs into the ocean where the hatchlings have almost no chance of survival.
According to Nettles, the WDS is developed with a feature that allows for easy removal of the horizontal panels of the structure so that during turtle nesting season, the turtles can easily crawl as far up the beach as needed. At the beginning of nesting season, Nettles states that the horizontal panels in front of Seascape Villas were opened and that Ocean Club removed their panels a few weeks later. Opening the panels also allows for any potential sea turtle hatchlings to make their way back to the ocean once they hatch. Panels were also removed from the WDS on Harbor Island in Beaufort County for nesting season. Nettles said he is eager to work with any agency or the IOP Turtle Team to help the nesting turtles and WDS work together.
“The WDS has been turtle friendly since day one. Removing these panels will allow a potential nesting turtle to go beyond the WDS footprint,” Nettles said.
Nettles states that most of the areas where the WDS is installed on IOP are not even conducive to nesting for sea turtles, and he asks the public to examine the benefits that the WDS can have in reducing beach erosion. The WDS has survived many passing tropical storms and Hurricane Matthew and provides a level of protection that sandbags cannot, Nettles states.
“This is a good system for the environment, as well as nesting turtles, while also providing protection to homeowners. You certainly can’t have this with sandbags or sea walls,” Nettles said.
Since the WDS was created in 2012 and Nettles founded SI Systems, he has obtained US patents on his design. He continues to study his own work, particularly to see if there are any other applications it can be used for. SI Systems is even looking into how the WDS can be used as a buffer for potential storm surges further inland.
In accordance with the federal ruling, SI Systems began removing all of the horizontal panels from the WDS on the Isle of Palm beaches, but Nettles is not ready to drop the matter. According to Adrianna Bradley, Public Information Officer for the SC Department of Health & Environmental Control, three different parties have filed requests to have the ruling reviewed: Seascape Villas Horizontal Property Regime, Ocean Villas Horizontal Property Regime, and SI Seawalls and Fencing Systems.
Those who insist that the WDS is having an impact on sea turtle nesting do not fully understand how the system operates, Nettles insists.
“People would rather see homes fall in the ocean and people lose all that they’ve worked their whole lives for just trying to protect a turtle that wouldn’t be able to nest at these sites anyway,” Nettles said.
Members of the Isle of Palms Turtle Team declined to comment on this issue. When asked for a statement, Mayor Dick Cronin stated that though the WDS is installed on the island, the city has no involvement.