Rising sea levels and disappearing beaches are products of the climate crisis displacing boulders and disrupting soil every time the tides change. Coastal erosion is a necessary part of the climate conversation because it combines natural and human-made factors.
Learning to reduce the severity of coastal erosion will educate humans on organic processes and allow species to regain stability in their native ecosystems.
Education on Coastal Erosion Influences
First, let’s analyze the natural processes that progressively wear at coastlines. The ebb and flow of waves and tidal currents are the most prominent influences because of their consistency, momentum and power. These events boil down into four phases:
- Hydraulic action: Water is strong — it slams against coastlines and moves debris.
- Compression: Cracks begin spreading in rocks and change shape due to biological weathering.
- Abrasion: The waves push and pull new debris onto coastlines that weren’t there before. This friction is called abrasion, further moving the sand and rocks.
- Attrition: New and existing debris hit and break each other down from repeated interactions, eventually making sand and small rocks.
Though coastal erosion happens mostly from water-based influences, wind and other weather events also wear down dunes, cause landslides and encourage flooding.
However, human influence compounds these inevitable impacts. Construction methods like building piers uproot countless aquatic species while invading the habitats of species thriving on cliffsides or the beaches themselves.
Industry, supply chains and tourism are the largest contributors to massive-scale coastal construction, ripping kelp and algae and displacing fish communities. Additionally, it could result in stormwater regulation issues for surrounding communities if not kept in check.
Mitigating Coastal Erosion
Coastal nourishment is the most well-known method of restoring coastlines. These efforts involve planting and replenishing the beach with what was there before, hoping to make it as populated as it was before. Repopulating coastlines with native vegetation like seagrasses is another way to encourage coastal health.
There are human-made structures that can soften some of the natural powers of the waves. Living shorelines offer many benefits of seawalls while embracing coastal nourishment. Jetties stretch out into the waters like piers to stop sediment from migrating.
Breakwaters are another secure way to stop coastal erosion. They do precisely what the name entails, breaking waves to prevent their impacts from spreading all of the sediment. Breakwaters can be floating or stationary offshore, allowing the shore to flourish uninterrupted.
Reversing the Effects in the Long Term
Preventing coastal erosion will have sustained benefits not only in nearby communities but for everyone.
Dredging is one of the ways humans can keep an eye on adequate water body depth to support ecosystems. The materials on beaches are an excellent source of fertilizer, and sand is also superb at irrigation management. Putting these resources back into coastal beaches will allow the beaches to rewiden and regain the lush, complete look that keeps animals and plant life healthy.
Reversing coastal erosion will also save properties and families that have their livelihoods at risk because of constant coastal erosion. These homes are disproportionately damaged by the climate crisis enhancing natural disasters. It’s more critical than ever to reverse the damage of coastal erosion to allow these families to live safely.
What Addressing Coastal Erosion Does for Humans
Nobody wants beaches to disappear, compromising thousands of vacations and communities. More importantly, it jeopardizes countless flora, fauna and the sanctity of their ecosystems. Reducing the intensity of coastal erosion will keep these species thriving. Additionally, it will make humans more conscious of how their adverse environmental impacts spread further than their communities. Environmental decisions have the potential to impact coasts thousands of miles away, and that’s critical for global discourse and personal reflection.
See more posts from Jane Marsh at environment.co
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