Where’s the beach? Seeking the origins of Waikiki sand.


You ask. We answer.

HAWAII Magazine reader Deborah Wheeler of Australia writes:

A group in Australia claimed that sand from Stockton Beach in Newcastle, Australia, was shipped to Hawaii many years ago. But on a recent visit to Hawaii, I asked a tour guide about this, who told me that I was incorrect.

So where does Waikiki Beach’s sand come from?

We’ve heard countless stories and urban legends about sand being shipped over from all over the world to replenish Waikiki’s famous stretch of beaches. It turns out Waikiki’s sand comes from … (insert dramatic pause for effect) … Hawaii!

Even more interesting? The majority of Waikiki sand actually comes from just offshore.

“The benefit of using localized sand is compatibility,” says Sam Lemmo, of the Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources’ Office of Conservation and Coastal Lands. Using sand similar in color and structure not only benefits Waikiki Beach aesthetically and environmentally, it also maintains the beach’s integrity from an engineering standpoint, Lemmo adds.

Erosion and rising sea levels have swallowed a foot of Waikiki Beach annually since 1985. This phenomenon, while accelerated in the last few decades, is nothing new. Reports from the 1920s and 1930s reveal that sand was brought in from Manhattan Beach, California, via ship and barge, to Waikiki Beach. Importation of sand into Hawaii ceased in the 1970s.
Recently, sand has been pumped from neutral areas of the ocean floor some 2,000 feet off Waikiki to fill in the shrinking beach. In 2004, the state spent $500,000 to siphon 10,000 cubic yards of sand from offshore—the largest replenishment effort of Waikiki’s beaches in more than 30 years. It’s a solution that aims to lessen the environmental impact and is being adopted by deteriorating beaches worldwide.

Before that, Waikiki’s sand was trucked from various points around Hawaii including Oahu’s North Shore—in particular, Waimea Bay Beach and a sand bar off the town of Kahuku—and Papohaku Beach on Molokai.

While it’s true that some sand is brought into Hawaii from places like Australia, Polynesia and even China, it serves more utilitarian purposes—namely construction and filling sand traps on Hawaii’s golf courses.

Categories: Oʻahu, Travel Tips