Physical processes and biological data were collected and analyzed at five sand resource areas offshore Alabama to address environmental concerns raised by potential sand dredging for beach replenishment. Nearshore wave and sediment transport patterns were modeled for existing and post-dredging conditions, with borrow site sand volumes ranging from 1.7 to 8.4 × 106 m3. Wave transformation modeling indicated that minor changes will occur to wave fields under typical seasonal conditions and sand extraction scenarios. Localized seafloor changes at borrow sites are expected to result in negligible impacts to the prevailing wave climate at the coast. For all potential sand excavation alternatives at borrow sites offshore Alabama, maximum variation in annual littoral transport between existing conditions and post-dredging configurations was approximately 8 to 10%. In general, increases or decreases in longshore transport rates associated with sand mining at each resource area amounted to about 1 to 2% of the net littoral drift, distributed over an approximate 10 km stretch of shoreline. Because borrow site geometries and excavation depths are similar to natural ridge and swale topographic characteristics on the Alabama Outer Continental Shelf, infilling rates and sediment types are expected to reflect natural variations within sand resource areas.
Impacts to the benthic community are expected from physical removal of sediments and infauna. Based on previous studies, levels of infaunal abundance and diversity may recover within 1 to 3 years, but recovery of species composition may take longer. Western areas can be expected to recover more quickly than eastern areas because of opportunistic life history characteristics of numerically dominant infauna west of Mobile Bay.