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

Climate change threatens Seychelles habitat

As changing season patterns bring harsher storms, storm surges, higher tides, and also much longer dry spells, international organisations are helping fight climate change in the tiny nation, the only one in the world where 50 percent of the land is a nature reserve.

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Sea-Level Rise, Subsidence, and Wetland Loss

A USGS video describes causes of wetland loss in the Mississippi River Delta.

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Kiribati: Entire Pacific Nation Could One Day Move to Fiji

Fearing that climate change could wipe out their entire Pacific archipelago, the leaders of Kiribati are considering an unusual backup plan: moving the populace to Fiji.

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When It Comes to Creating Wetlands, Mother Nature Is in Charge

Fifteen years of studying two experimental wetlands has convinced a researcher that turning the reins over to Mother Nature makes the most sense when it comes to this area of ecological restoration.

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Landslide raises questions about $15.7 billion Exxon plan

A deadly landslide in the mountains of Papua New Guinea, near where U.S. oil major Exxon Mobil is building a $15.7 billion gas project, is raising fresh questions about the global energy industry’s scramble for ever harder-to-reach resources…

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Better Beaches for Everybody

News, Pollution

“Studying plastics in the marine environment through UNCW over the past four years, I have studied beaches in Hawaii, Bermuda, South Africa, Brazil, and California taking samples from the wrack line. On all the beaches mentioned, I have found a higher concentration of broken fragments of plastics than cigarette butts. But Wrightsville Beach tells a very different story…”

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In Patagonia, Caught Between Visions of the Future

Two competing visions of Patagonia stirring a national debate over the future and the soul of Patagonia itself…

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3rd Best Paper Award Announced

News, Pollution

Marine Pollution Bulletin and Elsevier Science instituted has awarded the annual prize for “best paper” to Skye Morét-Ferguson (corresponding author), Kara Lavender Law, Giora Proskurowski, Ellen K. Murphy, Emily E. Peacock and Christopher M. Reddy for their paper entitled “The size, mass, and composition of plastic debris in the western North Atlantic Ocean” (Marine Pollution Bulletin 60 (2010) 1873-1878).

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Emissions from Oil Sands Mining

Using data from a NASA satellite, researchers have found that the emission of pollutants from oil sands mining operations are comparable to the emissions from a large power plant or a moderately sized city.

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Recent / Inform

Sustainable Surf Craft, a Project by Kevin Cunningham

March 7th, 2011

Inspired by the beauty of nature yet distressed by the large amounts of man-made debris in the oceans washing up on the beaches where he rides, surfer and artist Kevin Cunningham, embarked on a series of surfboards making, that reclaim trash that washes up onto the shore. It is a dichotomy between the natural and unnatural.

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The Lost Emperors

March 7th, 2011

A small colony of emperor penguins on an island off the West Antarctic Peninsula is gone, and the most likely culprit is loss of sea ice caused by warming. Most emperor penguins breed on sea ice, called fast ice, which attaches to the ice shelves and coastlines. This is the first time the disappearance of a colony has been documented.

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Storm Xynthia: A Year Later

March 6th, 2011

A year ago the hurricane winds of Storm Xynthia drove the sea over much of the Charente-Maritime and Vendée coastline to devastating effect. Many people lost their lives. France’s Government has set up a new coastal defence plan costing €500 million over six years.

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Trade group sues over polar bear critical habitat, Anchorage, Alaska

March 4th, 2011

Designation of critical habitat does not automatically block development but requires federal officials to consider whether a proposed action would adversely affect the polar bear’s habitat and interfere with its recovery.The lawsuit is the first filed in opposition to the critical habitat designation.

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California Islands Give Up Evidence of Early Seafaring

March 4th, 2011

The sea-going people may have followed a “kelp highway” stretching from Japan to Kamchatka, along the south coast of Beringia and Alaska, then southward down the Northwest Coast to California. Rising seas have since flooded the shorelines and coastal lowlands where early populations would have spent most of their time.

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EU Pledges 90m Euros in Climate Funds for Sinking Pacific Island States

March 3rd, 2011

Building on the Cancun Climate Change Conference, the High Level conference on Climate Change in the Pacific will be hosted by Vanuatu on 4 March and is organised by the European Commission. Sinking Pacific island states on the frontline of climate change, are to receive funding for climate-related projects.

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King Tide: The Sinking of Tuvalu

March 3rd, 2011

The fragile strips of green that make up the small islands of Tuvalu are incredibly beautiful but also incredibly vulnerable.
The group of nine tiny islands in the South Pacific only just break the surface of the ocean, but for how much longer?

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One Plastic Beach

March 2nd, 2011

Richard Lang and Judith Selby Lang have been collecting plastic debris off one beach in Northern California for over ten years. Each piece of plastic they pick up, comes back to their house where it gets cleaned, categorized and stored before being used for their art.

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Hydrofracking, Water, Watersheds, and the Ocean

February 28th, 2011

The Ocean connects all things.

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Waste Land, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

February 25th, 2011

Deservedly nominated at this year’s Oscars as Best Documentary Feature, Lucy Walker’s life-affirming film Waste Land, travels to the squalor of Rio de Janeiro, which boasts the largest landfill site in the world.

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Coastal Care junior
The World's Beaches
Sand Mining
One Percent