About 24% of the world’s sandy beaches are eroding and the situation is expected to worsen with rising sea levels globally. Developing adaptation methods to promote coastal resilience is imperative at a time when coastal ecosystems, livelihoods and people are becoming increasingly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change.
Unfortunately, many of today’s beach beautification projects are unscientific, boasting areas of excessive walkways, planters and lawns. Neither the designers who conceptualize these projects, nor the authorities who sanction them, nor the general public who applaud them seem to fully understand the consequences of such irrational cosmetic efforts.
Beach grooming is a widespread practice that involves the use of large tractors equipped with rakes to remove debris and seaweed from beaches. Raking the sand aerates it, making it more prone to wind erosion. In addition, the seeds and small plants that would have contributed to the stabilization of the dunes are likely to be eliminated during grooming. It also disturbs or destroys the habitats of many organisms.
Beach lighting systems are chosen without considering the effects of coastal lighting on species, such as behavioral disturbance, injury and even death. Fixtures should ideally be placed low and well shielded to provide more direct light on the aisles while ensuring that no light is emitted above a 90 degree plane. Wildlife-friendly LEDs that provide soft amber light can help maintain the natural habitat of nocturnal species without reducing visitor comfort.
Hard structures such as levees and revetments are widely used to protect shorelines. Faced with a changing coastal environment, these hard or gray conventional engineering solutions are expensive and inflexible. Coastal armoring significantly degrades the habitat quality and biodiversity of coastal ecosystems. The shielding traps beaches between land and sea, causing coastal pressure that limits their ability to adapt to changing conditions and support intertidal fauna. The loss of sandy beaches resulting from coastal riprap reduces recreational and environmental benefits, while the loss of ecological services cannot even be fully assessed.
A range of infrastructural measures, including nature-based, structural and non-structural, which include regulatory and cultural approaches, as well as hybrid solutions, are needed to balance societal and environmental goals and go beyond simple minimization of climate risks. The most effective strategies for building resilience to climate impacts are hybrid strategies that combine structural and non-structural interventions such as living shorelines, changes to zoning and building laws, and local capacity building.
The importance of preserving entire coastal ecosystems, rather than simply focusing on aesthetic improvements, must be recognized because the value of complete and functioning ecosystems outweighs the value of each of its individual components.
Approaches that prioritize “building with nature” are ideal for building resilience across the human-environment coastal system. The majority of sandy beaches have dune systems that naturally protect against flooding and act as a barrier against storm surge erosion. Their integrity has been significantly compromised in recent decades due to urbanization due to tourism. To deal with reduced ecological functioning, it is insufficient to measure the loss of sand or beach or the effects of erosion.
If human access is limited to boardwalks or elevated walkways to prevent trampling of dune vegetation, shoreline erosion can be stabilized and, to some extent, reversed. Strategically positioned public access routes can accomplish this while preserving the tourist experience. Dune fencing can also be used to keep humans away from areas prone to trampling. Coastal dunes can be re-profiled restoring natural dynamics to support biodiversity and resilience, however, restoring a dune ecosystem can take decades.
Sandy beaches can be considered tidal wetlands, and ecological restoration activities could include the removal of active or deteriorating infrastructure at risk, as well as the removal of sediment transport barriers. A strategy that ensures “no net loss” of beach habitats from future development is needed to rebuild resilient coastal ecosystems. Restoration efforts should focus on replanting dunes with native species, controlling human access to ecologically sensitive areas, and posting informational posters on the beach to raise awareness of risks, negative behaviors and actions. constructive.
Mangrove ecosystems are valuable both ecologically and economically as they provide a range of ecosystem services, such as reducing coastal erosion, acting as a reliable source of food and timber, and serving as habitat for various organisms. The interlocking roots and branches of mangroves prevent rising waters and protect people and infrastructure from catastrophic storm surges. On tropical coasts, the restoration of mangroves must be a priority in beach beautification projects.
Hybrid projects help bridge the gap between disciplines. However, due to methodological challenges, they have not gained much ground. An interdisciplinary approach that incorporates a wide range of expertise and experience, from professionals and the general public, could help break down this barrier. Community participation is essential to increase the capacity of the socio-economic and natural systems of the coastal environment to cope with disturbances and to minimize the long-term loss of beach ecosystem services.
Building resilience to climate change requires going beyond technical solutions for disaster risk reduction and helping communities develop initiatives that will benefit them in the near and distant future.
(Ann Rochyne Thomas is a bioclimatic spatial planner and founder of the Center for Climate Resilience – a sustainability and climate change consultancy.)