Washover Fans

Washover fans are prime habitat for piping plover (Charadrius melodus)—an endangered species of shorebird in North America. Piping plovers breed only in three geographic regions: the Atlantic Coast (e.g., Assateague Island National Seashore, Maryland), the Northern Great Plains (e.g., Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, Michigan), and the Great Lakes (e.g., Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, Indiana). Piping plovers from all three breeding populations winter along beaches and barrier islands in the South Atlantic, Caribbean, and Gulf Coast, for example Padre Island National Seashore (Texas). As of the last breeding census, the Atlantic Coast hosted 1,372 breeding pairs, the Northern Great Plains contained 1,398 breeding pairs, and the Great Lakes hosted 32 breeding pairs (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service 2009).

Creating or maintaining habitat is necessary to sustain this species, but artificially manufacturing this environment is very costly. The creation of natural washover fans is one of the many free ecosystem services provided by way of coastal storms. Washover fans also provide habitat for crocodile and sea-turtle nesting sites in Florida (Magorien 2004).

Major washover channels eroded below mean sea level may continue to pond water after normal nearshore processes have reconstructed the beach across the channel mouth, severing the connection with ocean waters. Most ponds that form in the deepest parts of a washover channels exist only briefly. Where channels are scoured below the water table, however, the ponds retain brackish water. Thin algal mats develop around the edges of the ponds and in other moist parts of the channels between storms (Weise and White 1980).

Last updated: July 16, 2019