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

Belgium fears for its fragile coastline

Storms and rising sea levels could wreak havoc as defences that protect beaches and dykes are overwhelmed. According to the regional authorities, about a third of the Belgian heavily populated coastline is inadequately protected against flooding.

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Britain Ranks Top Risks Posed by Climate Change

The Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has identified potential opportunities and threats for the UK that could arise as a result of climate change. Beaches and historic coastlines are likely to be reshaped by coastal erosion, with the rate expected to increase fourfold, the report said.

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Accoustic Pollution and Naval Sonar testing

Over the past 40 years, cumulative research across the globe has revealed a coincidence between naval sonar testing events and acute decompression sickness in beached marine mammals. Under a plan announced by the NOAA, marine mammal “hot spots” in areas including Southern California’s coastal waters, may become off limits to testing of a type of Navy sonar linked to the deaths of whales.

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Structural and Functional Loss in Restored Wetland Ecosystems

Wetlands are among the most productive and valuable ecosystems in the world, but because of human activities, over half of the wetland ecosystems existing in North America, Europe, Australia, and China in the early 20th century have been lost. Wetland restoration is a billion-dollar-a-year industry, that aims to create ecosystems similar to those that disappeared, but a new analysis of such projects shows that restored wetlands seldom reach the quality of a natural wetland.

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Coastal Storms Have Long-Reaching Effects, Study Says

Coastal storms are known to cause serious damage along the shoreline, but they also cause significant disruption of the deep-sea ecosystem as well, according to a study of extreme coastal storms in the Western Mediterranean.

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Farming is Key to Meeting Environmental Challenges

Agriculture is part of the solution to the world’s environmental challenge and must play a key role at next June’s Rio summit on sustainable development…

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Reuse Plastic Bottles: Tips


Plastic grocery bags and plastic water bottles, those disposable environmental nightmares, have become iconic in the current green revolution. And even those of us who refuse to buy them, somehow seem to find ourselves in possession of these landfill disasters.

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Seawater Injections Could Lift Venice 12 Inches ?

Known to Venetians as the acqua alta, or “high water,” flooding driven by high tides submerges the lowest 14 percent of the Italian destination four times a year, on average. And it’s only getting worse.

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Ninety Whales Stranded on New Zealand Beach

A pod of 90 pilot whales beached themselves at the top of New Zealand’s South island Monday in the same area where seven whales died in a mass stranding earlier this month, officials said.

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Recent / Inform

18 Diving Sites Closed to Save Coral Reefs, Thailand

January 21st, 2011

More than 80 percent of the corals at 18 dive sites have undergone bleaching, a symptom of severe stress caused by excessively warm water temperatures. Some of Thailand’s most popular diving sites are now off-limits to tourists for up to 14 months to allow damaged coral to recover.

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Carole Fisher’s Art Exhibit: “Sticks in The Minds”

January 21st, 2011

Nationally recognized artist Carole Fisher’s exhibit, “Sticks in the Mind: Alaska Oil Spill Project, 1989-2010,” opens today at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design (MCAD). She has spent the last 21 years conducting an artistic investigation into the Exxon Valdez disaster, interviewing more than 50 people in the process.

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Illegal Sand Miners Remain Unfazed, India

January 20th, 2011

Illegal mining of sand along Mumbai and Maharashtra’s picturesque Konkan coast is threatening to destroy the fragile western coastline. This activity is being done in gross violation of the new coastal regulation norm that has banned sand mining along beaches and creeks.

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Are there any natural beaches remaining in the United States?


January 19th, 2011

Abstract, by Robert Young, Program for the Study of Developed Shorelines, Western Carolina University, Cullowhee, North Carolina, United States.

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Rising Waters Threatened The Coast of North Carolina

January 18th, 2011

Climate change is carving its name into the state’s retreating shorelines. Planners are taking official notice as they prepare for a wetter world.

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A Retreat In The Face Of a Rising Sea, California

January 17th, 2011

Higher ocean levels force California officials to move facilities inland – a managed retreat – an action that is expected to recur along the coast as the ocean rises over the next century, and as coastal communities have to come to grips with worsening coastal erosion.

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An Environmental Impact Statement: Abstraction of Destruction

January 16th, 2011

The vivid color photographs of J. Henry Fair lead an uneasy double life as potent records of environmental pollution and as ersatz evocations of abstract painting, a strange battle between medium and message, between harsh truths and trite, generic beauty. His subjects include environmental degradation perpetuated on a regular, usually daily basis. “Abstraction of Destruction” is an exhibition at the Gerald Peters Gallery.

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Sea Urchins and Overfishing Impact on Kenya Coast’s Reefs

January 15th, 2011

An 18-year study of Kenya’s coral reefs by the Wildlife Conservation Society and the University of California at Santa Cruz has found that overfished reef systems have more sea urchins, organisms that in turn eat coral algae that build tropical reef systems.

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Tracking Source of Microbial Contamination at the Beach

January 15th, 2011

Reliable methods to determine the origins of contaminants are needed in order to reduce those sources and maintain a healthy beach.

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Sea Level Rise And The World’s Beaches, by Orrin H. Pilkey

January 11th, 2011

Of all the various anticipated impacts of global climate change, sea level rise will likely be the first to produce a human catastrophe on a global scale. If our beaches are to survive for our grandchildren’s enjoyment, the time has come to plan the big withdrawal.

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