How the coast is changing

One thing that waves are very good at doing is eroding coastlines. Couple this with rising sea levels, and you’ll find they are so good at it, in fact, that there are areas of the world where people have settled that no longer exist.

Some areas of the coast, like in Malibu or Nantucket, have a bunch of wealthy people who live there and who have the money and the resources to try to keep the coast that they live on exactly how it is.

For the most part, there is very little to be done to prevent erosion.  One can build a wall of sand to deflect waves temporarily (like for a winter season), but this actually makes the problem worse in the long run, by deflecting the wave energy to your neighbor’s property and hastening their erosion.

Cities with big money can actually dredge sand from deeper waters and place it on the shore, which can add stretches of beach back for a few years. This is called beach nourishment, but this is only temporary.  Experts estimate that this kind of “beach botox” adds about 5 to 7 years of life, but it is costly.  Also, in some cases, the erosion of this sand actually occurs faster because the sand from the ocean is finer and smaller from being dredged, and this kind of sand relocation causes  environmental upheavals for sea life that lives in and around that sand.

Alamitos Bay Breakwater

Other cities have built breakwaters, which slow the kinetic energy of the waves reaching the shore to protect that area. Long Beach has a breakwater, which protects the shore from being pummeled by waves, but has caused stagnation, and the collection of pollutants to be trapped in the harbor. Previously, Long Beach had huge waves that surfers loved, but to protect the ports and the community, the breakwater was built.  Some people are currently trying to have part of it removed to increase the health of the shore. It is no coincidence that San Pedro Bay has some of the poorest ranking water quality on the entire west coast, as it is protected by the Federal Breakwater.

These options offer temporary solutions. In the long run, it is impossible to prevent coastal erosion, because it is just an inevitable part of the world. I ask myself, is it worth the battle, to fight this expensive and losing battle.  I respect people’s wishes to build on the coast (I myself live very close to the water), but I think we should view these structures as more temporary. The beach isn’t really disappearing, it’s just moving inland.

According to the California Coastal Commission, more than one quarter of the coast between the Golden Gate Bridge and Mexico are protected by sea barriers, and yet, the beaches continue to erode. What is there to be done?


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