The health, beauty and ecosystem of our beaches is under threat

The driving cause for most of these problems is overdevelopment and poor coastal management. If no buildings crowded the shoreline, there would be no shoreline armoring, beach nourishment, threats to the beach fauna and flora or shoreline erosion problems.

Coastal Care Introduction

“Beach sand: so common, so complex, so perfect for sandcastles; and now it is a precious and vanishing resource.”

—Orrin H. Pilkey

Beaches are the most visited natural attraction on the planet. The coast attracts millions of vacationing people each year. People love the sand, the surf, the sea breeze, and the vacation ambiance so much that many come to the beach to stay. There is a magical feeling living near the ocean, but human migration towards the coast comes with a high environmental price tag.

A majority of the world’s population lives within 50 km of the coast and the projections are 75% by the year 2025. This strip of land represents only 3% of the total land mass of the planet. In this context, it is easier to understand the environmental impact. Over 70% of the earth is covered by water and with so many people living on the coast, we are polluting a major source of food, the oceans.

A beautiful undeveloped beach in Indonesia.

A beautiful undeveloped beach in Indonesia.

The loss of life and economic impacts of major storms – cyclones, typhoons, and hurricanes – and tsunamis would be reduced drastically if beaches were not developed. Unfortunately, recent examples of the problem are numerous: 1999 Indian cyclone Orissa (over 10,000 dead and $5 billion in damage), 2004 Indian Ocean tsumani (over 250,000 dead), 2005 Hurricane Katrina (over 1,800 killed and $80 billion in damage), and 2008 Hurricane Ike (over 30 killed and $30 billion in damage).

Today, the health, beauty, and ecosystem function of the world’s beaches are under threat and the driving causes for most of these problems are over-development and poor coastal management. If no buildings crowded the shoreline there would be no shoreline armoring, beach nourishment, threats to the beach fauna and flora or shoreline erosion problems.

It is important to distinguish between erosion and erosion problems. Erosion refers to the landward retreat of the shoreline. Most of the world’s shorelines are eroding, a very few are building out (accreting). There is no erosion problem, however, until someone builds something next to a shoreline. All over the world in remote areas, shorelines are slowly retreating and no one cares. In a global sense, our continents are slowly shrinking, and in a very real sense, erosion problems are man made. On a high-rise, condo-lined shoreline like those in Spain and the Florida coast, erosion is a huge problem and will only worsen in the future as sea level rise accelerates. Sea level rise will accelerate erosion of the shoreline and have a dramatic impact on our infrastructures, our economies, and our way of life.

Sea level rise is one of the most important causes of global shoreline erosion. If the coastline is developed, shoreline armoring is often used in an effort to save the buildings from the eroding shoreline. Once this begins, the beaches will degrade and eventually be lost. In the long-term, however, these armoring efforts are in vain. The ocean will continue to rise as the rate of sea level rise is expected to increase as the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets continue to degrade. The situation is made worse now because beach houses and condominiums are being built closer to the ocean than they were 25 years ago. Many of us are familiar with images of large beach houses about to fall victim to the oceans simply from daily erosion accelerated by the ever rising sea.

The work of the Santa Aguila Foundation will emphasize the impacts of sand mining and shoreline armoring: the first because the effects of sand mining have been largely ignored on a global scale and the latter due to its overwhelming negative impacts on the world’s beaches.

Surfing in / Inform

World’s Strangest Beaches

Celebrate, Inform

Most of us would relish a day at any old beach. But there’s a certain thrill in sinking your toes into sand at a different kind of shore…

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The Hidden Impact of Sea-Level Rise

Current projections may be underestimating the consequences of secondary effects from sea-level rise on habitat loss, and the distribution of mammals due to the relocation of human refugees into the hinterland.

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Northeast Passage Soon Free from Ice Again?

The Northeast Passage, the sea route along the North coast of Russia, is expected to be free of ice early again this summer.

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Rio summit exposes Guanabara Bay’s Dire Pollution

News, Pollution

In Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Guanabara Bay used to be a near-legendary paradise, with healthy mangroves, sandy beaches and a rich ecosystem. Sadly, decades of urbanization and deforestation have taken their toll, and today it is long-suffering from unprecedented levels of pollution. Since 1995, one-billion dollars have been invested in fighting the pollution.

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Recreational Fishing Causes Cape Cod Salt Marsh Die-Off

Recreational fishing is a major contributor to the rapid decline of important salt marshes along Cape Cod because it strips top predators out of the ecosystem, according to new research by Brown University ecologists.

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When Sand Moves


Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution oceanographers found that when sand moves, whether carried by tides, winds, or waves, it carries bacterial DNA with it.

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Illegal Sand Mining Erodes Riverbanks, Vietnam

Illegal sand mining in the Sai Gon River section between HCM City and Tay Ninh Province to the north-west has caused severe erosion of the river’s banks.

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Senate Panel Approves Sea-Level Rise Bill, North Carolina

Unfazed by a heavy barrage of worldwide criticism and outright ridicule by sources ranging from Scientific American to the “Colbert Report,” the N.C. Senate’s Agriculture, Environment and Natural Resources Committee approved a new version of a bill that restricts the use of scientific modeling in state and local public policy and regulations to predict future sea-level rise.

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For the Future of Our Planet, a Dialogue Between Generations

For the sake of our planet, a conversation that needs to be heard is the one between generations, between elders and young people around the world, and those who are in between…

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Recent / Inform

Strong El Niño could bring increased sea levels, storm surges to U.S. East Coast

July 15th, 2011

Coastal communities along the U.S. East Coast may be at risk to higher sea levels accompanied by more destructive storm surges in future El Niño years, according to a new study by NOAA.

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Forests soak up third of fossil fuel emissions: study

July 15th, 2011

An international team of climate scientists released a study showing the role global forests have played as regulators of the atmosphere. This is the first complete and global evidence of the overwhelming role of forests in removing anthropogenic carbon dioxide.

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Banning plastic grocery bags just got easier in California

July 14th, 2011

“This is a great day for the Pacific Ocean,” as the California Supreme Court made it easier today for cities to prohibit stores from distributing plastic grocery bags.

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China Orders US Oil Giant To Halt Rigs After Spill

July 13th, 2011

China said Wednesday it had ordered US oil giant ConocoPhillips to immediately stop operations at several rigs in an area off the nation’s eastern coast polluted by a huge slick.

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US West Coast Erosion Spiked In Winter 2009-10, Previewing Likely Future As Climate Changes

July 12th, 2011

Knowing that the U.S. west coast was battered during the winter before last by a climatic pattern expected more often in the future, scientists have now pieced together a San Diego-to-Seattle assessment of the damage wrought by that winter’s extreme waves and higher-than-usual water levels.

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China’s Northeast Coast: A Second Oil Spill

July 12th, 2011

China National Offshore Oil Corporation, recently accused of covering up a huge spill, is cleaning up another slick after a breakdown at a rig off China’s northeast coast.

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Shifting Sands and Rising Seas

July 12th, 2011

“In a time of rising seas, it is senseless and dangerous to build on barrier islands.” World-renowned coastal geologist Orrin H. Pilkey and artist Mary Edna Fraser, an internationally recognized master of the textile art of batik, bring an understanding of coastal geology and global change to the public in a way that is scientifically astute and visually intriguing. By Celie Daily and Orrin Pilkey.

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Death by Plastic: Is Ocean Plastic Garbage Killing Whales?

July 10th, 2011

From the coasts of California to Adriatic, Tasmania or Normandy, millions of tonnes of plastic debris dumped each year in the world’s oceans, could pose a lethal threat to whales, according to a scientific assessment to be presented at the International Whaling Commission this week. Ingestion of plastic refuse is emerging as a serious cause of disability and death for the large ocean-dwelling mammals.

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Viruses Bathe at the Beach Too, European Study Finds

July 9th, 2011

European researchers have found viruses in nearly 40% of more than 1,400 bathing water samples gathered from coastal and inland areas in nine countries.

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Australia Carbon Pollution Tax Announcement: A Start!

July 8th, 2011

Australia Prime Minister Julia Gillard, is on Sunday due to unveil the full detail of her carbon tax legislation, which will see the country’s top 500 polluters charged per tonne of carbon dioxide they emit into the atmosphere.

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