A clarion call for a change of policy that prioritizes the preservation of beaches over property rights.
In this follow-up to The World's Beaches: A Global Guide to the Science of the Shoreline (2011), Pilkey (Emeritus, Geology/Duke Univ.) and Cooper (Environmental Sciences/Univ. of Ulster) warn that shoreline development is already endangering our beaches. They explain how the natural relationship between sand and ocean waves—countervailing processes of erosion and reconstruction of sand dunes and beaches—is already being hindered by sea walls and jetties constructed to protect human activity. The authors cite projections that by the year 2100, due to climate change, global sea rise will likely exceed 3 feet, and all beachfront development will stop unless it is “protected on all sides by massive seawalls.” The cost would be prohibitive for what would be a temporary fix, since the naturally flexible dynamic of resanding would be disrupted, and sand transported from other locations would deplete beaches elsewhere. “[W]aves can cause cliffs to collapse and push huge boulders around as if they were pebbles,” write the authors, “and yet beaches made up of tiny sand grains persist” because they are continually replenished by ocean deposits. Sea walls and jetties are already hindering this replenishment, as are river dams, which limit the deposit of mud and pebbles that would otherwise be carried into the ocean. The effects of pollution make the situation even worse—not only due to the dumping of waste material into the oceans, but by the failures of sewage facilities under flood conditions. Vehicles driven over the sand, littering, shore drilling and sand mining also cause massive problems, destroying the beaches still in place and compromising the natural shoreline ecology.
The authors deliver a message to be heeded: “We must view the beach as a sacred and resilient yet strangely fragile natural environment to be protected at all costs.”