UNF team growing bacteria solution that could treat sand to prevent beach, intracoastal erosion

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Though today is the last day of hurricane season, one bad storm and you’ve got erosion.

We see it at the beaches and at the intracoastal waterways. The erosion worries locals like Walter Sparks. He’s lived in Jax Beach for 65 years.

“I’ve seen a lot of changes,” he said. “A long time ago, the sea wall right here used to be six feet high.”

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A team of scientists at the University of North Florida just might have the solution: it comes in the form of a bacterial solution.

Graduate student Justin Mulloney changes sand with microbially-induced calcite precipitation. In short, bacteria is sprayed on sand, which hardens it, and bolsters it up against erosion.

“This solution could be applied on a more permanent basis on the intracoastal side, but for temporary solutions to protect against hurricanes, it can be applied to the dunes for a short-term, weeklong application,” Mulloney added.

One of Mulloney’s teammates, Associate Professor of Microbiology Terri Ellis, has been working the project since 2015.

“We have the bacteria growing in a liquid media. The bacteria that we’re working with is a common soil bacteria,” she explained.

In Ellis’ lab, she’s looking for the best method to grow large amounts of the bacteria.

The team says the solution is safe, doesn’t change the appearance of the sand, and can be broken down by rain over time.

Though the team still has a long road ahead, they’re confident their project will one day help Northeast Florida’s coastlines.

As for Sparks, he thinks it’s a good idea, but says climate change needs to be addressed as well.

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“It sounds good, but I think they oughta freeze the icebergs back and let the water level drop,” he said.

The team at UNF says it’ll take several more years of testing before their method could become a reality.

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