A photograph published on the Gazette website this week taken at Fuller Street Beach in Edgartown in 1987 is a vivid reminder of the changes that take place on the shoreline over time. In a span of less than thirty years, a once-wide ribbon of beach and marshland with a wooden pier running across has been reduced to a narrow crust of pebbly sand.

Fuller Street Beach is coming back now, thanks to a dredging project in the Eel Pond that is sending sand to the beach. The project ends today to make way for the winter flounder season. A similar project is under way up-Island, where dredge spoils from Menemsha channel are being piped to Lobsterville Beach in Aquinnah, helping to rebuild a shoreline that was badly damaged during Hurricane Sandy four years ago.

Done correctly with proper attention to the environment, dredging is a relatively low-impact practice for managing the shoreline, especially along the north side of the Island where in northeast storms sand gets pushed around by strong ocean waves, starving beachfronts and filling in harbors and inlets.

There is something almost symphonic about the process: the mechanical dredge sucks sand from the bottom which is sent swooshing softly through long sections of pipe to the beach some distance away. Front-end loaders then push and smooth the mountains of sand. Walk the beach in the pale light on a January day and feel its raw newness, a solitary place inhabited only by you and a few gulls aloft in gusty winter winds. By next summer the sand will be warmed by the June sun and dimpled with footprints.

Two other projects, each one pioneering in its own way and also more politically fraught, are nearing the final stages of permitting.

In Oak Bluffs a plan to rearmor and renourish the ragged coastline beneath the North Bluff cleared approvals with the Martha’s Vineyard Commission last week. The town is scrambling to stay on track with the project before a deadline expires on state grant money next summer that will pay for the bulk of the work. The North Bluff project not only involves a key stretch of public beach but also a town road that has been badly undermined by coastal erosion.

Meanwhile, in Chilmark the conservation commission is reviewing a complicated coastal improvement project at Squibnocket Beach that has been under intense public scrutiny for some two years. A reengineered parking lot, raised roadway leading to a remote cluster of private homes, removal of old stone revetments and some loss of valuable wetlands are all part of the plan. The subject of a lengthy formal review last year, the Squibnocket plan has been revised numerous times and no doubt will be subject to more revisions during the regulatory review. A group of abutters has been closely involved in monitoring and suggesting changes, and in the end, the plan will be better for it.

With hastening climate change, the Vineyard — not to mention the rest of the East Coast and elsewhere — is only beginning to face the huge costs and tradeoffs that will be required as the seas reclaim the shoreline. The exact nature and pace of coastal erosion is still to be revealed, but in the end the ocean will win — of that we can be sure.

The science involved in managing retreat is improving, and at least here in New England the need to protect the natural environment is always factored into the complicated calculus. But with public roads and beaches and private homes at stake, doing nothing is no longer an option.

Public debate over the best approaches to dealing with rising sea levels is good and important, but there is also urgency to act. Last year, the Island was spared major storm damage, but another hurricane is surely coming, if not this year then soon. With each project to fortify the coastline will come a better understanding of what managed retreat really takes.