Poor Coastal Development

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Developed coasts change natural beach processes. Even a single building alters natural movement of wind which can disrupt sand transport, movement of rainwater runoff, and negatively impact plants and animals. Aesthetically, development reduces the quality of visits by tourists and once development begins, more follows. The long history of beach development in Europe and the northeastern United States has resulted in heavy modification of, and in some cases total destruction of, natural beaches.

Development on coasts is in grave danger in the coming decades from the combination of sea level rise and storms. When coastal development is built too close to the shore, the results can be devastating as evidenced by recent hurricanes Ike and Katrina in the United States. Two simple concepts must be followed:

  1. Do not build a house that will be underwater in the next 50 years and
  2. Do not build a house that will be knocked down by a storm.

These two basic principles are seldom followed today and when they are not, the costs can be human lives and billions of dollars.

After a large storm strikes, rebuilding is often financed with public money. Once a coastal community has been developed, rebuilding efforts often focus on putting things back the way they were rather than making objective decisions about changes that need to be made based on the rising sea. Developed coastlines need to retreat from the coast to allow the beach to move. Coastlines are dynamic, but buildings are not. More information on this topic can be found at the website of The Program for the Study of Developed Shorelines at Western Carolina University in Cullowhee, North Carolina, USA.

Australian Gold Coast Australian Gold Coast

Map of North and South America shows increasing populations in coastal areas, which will expose 2.75 billion people worldwide to the effects of sea level rise and other coastal threats posed by global warming.

Map of Africa, Europe, and Asia shows projected population change for 2025 Map of Africa, Europe, and Asia shows projected population change for 2025. This map was developed by the Center for Climate Systems Research (CCSR) of the Earth Institute at Columbia University shows the human migration to the coast. Credit: Stuart Gaffin, Lee Hachadoorian, and Robert Engelman.
Map of North and South America shows increasing populations in coastal areas This map was developed by the Center for Climate Systems Research (CCSR) of the Earth Institute at Columbia University shows the human migration to the coast. Credit: Stuart Gaffin, Lee Hachadoorian, and Robert Engelman.

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Rebuilding Communities in Flood Prone Coastal Zones

Destruction from Hurricane Ike

Hurricane Katrina destroyed communities in Louisiana. Ike leveled the Port Bolivar peninsula and parts of Galveston.

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