Coastal Management + Adaptation

May 30, 2023

Photo at top: Aerial View of the Medmerry Managed Realignment Scheme (by Number 10 CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 via Flickr).

Letting the Sea Have Its Way – Hakai Magazine

Welcome to Selsey, a community that welcomed back the marsh.

On May 10, a four-bedroom house perched on the beach of a North Carolina barrier island in the town of Rodanthe collapsed into the ocean. It was not the victim of a violent hurricane strike or storm surge. Rather, a low-pressure system coupled with a high tide drew ocean waves onto the shoreline, leaving heaps of sand on the prophetically named Ocean Drive. Then—in that viral video moment—the water gently pulled the house loose and set it to bob upon the sea. It was not the first house—this year! that day!—nor will it be the last.

This is reality in the 21st century. By 2100, high tides will likely inundate land that’s home to between 190 and 630 million people worldwide. The range depends on whether humanity slashes carbon emissions by midcentury or, instead, continues to fail. There is no longer any question that water is moving in and people must begin to move out. For that homeowner in Rodanthe, water has dictated immediate retreat from the coastline. Elsewhere around the world, people are beginning to leave coasts, usually on the heels of disasters or when they can no longer afford routine flooding or salt intrusion that fouls drinking water, kills plants, and spreads sewage. But now scientists and government agencies are calling for a more deliberate, organized—and, in the long run, much cheaper—pullback. It’s called strategic or managed retreat because it’s planned, as opposed to crisis driven. It relinquishes the idea of control, of “holding the line,” in favor of accepting nature’s power and giving those protective ecosystems space to absorb wave energy and tides.

After decades of resistance to the idea, which detractors characterized as “giving up,” some communities are embracing it. Today, managed retreat driven by pragmatism is an increasingly accepted component of government policies. One of the most ambitious programs is in the United Kingdom, which is planning a countrywide step back from the sea. With its thousands of kilometers of coastline exposed to the rough North Atlantic Ocean, the United Kingdom is mapping out where it will cease trying to hold back the sea within a decade or two. And in other places around the world, new amphibious designs embrace a way to live with water without courting regular disaster. Both managed retreat and amphibious housing are the ultimate expression of Slow Water thinking, of accepting and working within what water wants.

The UK program, called coastal realignment, has large stretches of coast in its sights. In England alone, the government has identified 1.8 million properties at risk of coastal flooding and erosion by 2080, along with £120–£150-billion (US $169–$212-billion) worth of infrastructure such as roads, schools, and railways…



More on Coastal Management + Adaptation . . .

Collapsed house in Rodanthe on evening of Feb. 9, 2022 (courtesy National Park Service, public domain via Flickr).

Buying out threatened oceanfront homes is not a crazy idea – Coastal Review

The oceanfront shoreline of Rodanthe has one of the highest erosion rates on the U.S. East Coast (recently upwards of 20 feet per year). Many homes that were initially constructed well back from the beach are now at risk of constant flooding and imminent collapse. A typical response to this erosion in Dare County (and most coastal communities) would be the implementation of a beach nourishment project. It is unclear whether this is practical for Rodanthe, as the geologic setting is problematic…

Damage caused by Cyclone Xynthia in the Port of Angoulins, France (by Thierry Llansades CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 via Flickr).

French Government Will Destroy Houses of Storm Survivors – the Epoch Times

The French government has decided to stay firm on its decision to destroy more than 1,500 houses in areas of “extreme danger” along the Atlantic coast. The decision follows the deaths of 53 people from storm “Xynthia,” the violent winter storm that battered Europe’s west coast on Feb. 28. Hope had risen among residents that they could save their homes following a statement made by Interior Minister Brice Hortefeux…”There could be individual, precise, and discrete situations that could need a deepened analysis…”

Half Moon Bay (by Don Claus CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 via Flickr).

As California attempts a ‘managed retreat,’ coastal homeowners sue to stay – Grist Magazine

“We’re in this dilemma of figuring out, how do you convince the community to move?” said (Gary) Griggs.

Mirada Road is a small cul-de-sac that runs right up to the edge of the Pacific Ocean, skirting the rim of a 30-foot bluff. The townhomes on this street, which is located in Half Moon Bay, California, are separated from the sea by nothing but a pedestrian walking trail on a beach that is eroding a few inches every year…

Lynetteholmen Map Aerial view (by News Oresund, CC BY 2.0 via Flickr).

Inside plans for Copenhagen’s divisive artificial storm-absorbing peninsula – CNN

In January 2022, a team of developers, architects and environmental consultants began work on a 50-year project that — if completed — will become one of Denmark’s most ambitious and controversial infrastructure schemes to date: A 271-acre man-made peninsula devised to shield its capital, Copenhagen, from rising sea levels…

The River Thames Flood Barrier (by Andrew Price CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 via

When Climate Adaptation Backfires – Discover

In the scramble to combat climate change, so-called solutions can cause more harm. An IPCC 2022 report warns of these maladaptations.

Around the world, people are building levees, shoring up dams, digging canals and constructing infrastructure to confront the impacts of climate change. Most of these investments will likely save countless lives and protect property, but some will inadvertently add to the problems they are trying to address…

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