Q & A

Brad PickelDedicated to Restoring Our Beaches, This Scientist is the Emerald Coast’s Sand Man

Brad Pickel’s job is a day at the beach – literally. Pickel, who has served as director of beach management for the Beaches of South Walton Tourist Development Council since 2000, is charged with overseeing beach management and maintenance for Walton County’s 14 Blue Wave Certified beaches.

Armed with a bachelor’s degree in marine science from Auburn University and a master’s degree in marine sciences from the University of South Alabama, Pickel also directs the high-profile and sometimes controversial beach-restoration program.

Pickel is focused on correcting the erosion from hurricanes through the nourishment program for seven miles of beaches. The restoration efforts – including an extensive permitting process, an exhaustive search for appropriate sand, and collaborative measures with the state of Florida – began in 1999.

The need for the program has increased in recent years, with more area beaches being deemed critically eroded due to repeated assaults from hurricanes. However, after three sea turtles were lost in the dredging process this year, the project was halted in May.

Pickel recently sat down with Emerald Coast Magazine’s Lori Hutzler Eckert to discuss the restart of the beach restoration program and his unique position as the first scientist on staff at the Tourist Development Council.

EC: What is beach restoration and why do we need it?

BP: Beach restoration is the placement of offshore sand onto beaches in an effort to extend and raise them. Restoration is important for three main reasons. First, restoring the beaches provides storm protection. Second, hurricane erosion causes a lack of nesting areas for sea turtles. We can recreate a vital habitat by rebuilding the beach. And finally, the third big aspect is the creation of a recreational beach that is safe, wide and healthy.

EC: What is the price tag for the beach restoration program and how is it funded?

BP: The overall cost, which is shared with the city of Destin, will be roughly $28 million. The program started in the late ’90s with the designation of a 1-percent tourist occupancy tax as funding, which means the cost for all restoration since 1999 has been exported to our tourists. No costs come from local tax dollars.

EC: With the restoration scheduled to come back online this January, how are you preparing to better protect sea turtles to keep the project on track?

BP: As we begin the program again, we are making sure that we employ the latest construction practices to lessen any possible negative impacts. Also, we are going to be working in January and February – a time of year when the water is cooler and the sea turtles, being cold-blooded, tend to move to warmer climates.

EC: Science and tourism don’t have a natural connection for most people. What is it about this job that is most rewarding for you?

BP: I have to give credit to Walton County and the Tourism Development Council – they realized that they wanted to have a positive influence on the beaches in Walton County. The science related to beaches can be very complicated, but it doesn’t have to be. Public education has been, and will continue to be, my focus for the council.

EC: When you are at the beach during your off time, are you enjoying it like the rest of us, or are you always working?

BP: Last summer I enjoyed the beach more than before by recognizing the hard work of the maintenance staff and fellow Tourism Development Council employees to get our beaches back in shape. I appreciate their hard work, but they definitely know when I get off the beach because of the new to-do list!