Published: May 19, 2011 10:39 PM EDT
Updated: May 19, 2011 10:41 PM EDT

FORT MYERS BEACH, Fla.-Crews are replenishing the beaches on Estero Island as part of a federal shore protection project to counteract erosion.

Project Engineer Robert Neal says the coastline there shrinks 3-5 feet each year, and by the end of the project, the beach will have been widened by about 300 feet.

"We realize we aren't going to stop erosion. We only want to manage it," Neal says.

To do that, he says, they are pumping in sand from about a mile offshore.

Neal says Bowditch Point Park is their first stop. He says, eventually, they will move south until more than a mile of beach is replenished.

Just north of Bowditch Point, crews are dropping 400 tons of rock into the water for a jetty to help slow re-erosion.

According to Neal, the restoration will cost about $4.5 million, but he estimates for every dollar the county spends, it will get 7 back in recreation and tourism.

"We get them a large sandy beach to play on and enjoy themselves and enjoy their visit to Lee County," Neal says.

Thursday afternoon, beach-goers gathered at the construction site to watch the crews work.

"I see the bulldozer pushing sand around, and curiosity got the best of me," says Lisa Murphy, a tourist from Pennsylvania.

Those watching agree the heavy machinery doesn't provide the best view now, but say it will create a better one in the long-run.

"This is our draw, and if we don't take care of this, when it's gone we wont have any tourists here," says Sue James, who lives in Fort Myers Beach.

"People like us wouldn't be able to live here."

Engineers plan to wrap up construction by September.

When they're finished, Neal says crews will have pumped more than 300,000 cubic yards of sand back on the beach.

That's equal to one football field, stacked 20 stories high.