Coastal Erosion Games

Written by kara rae
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Coastal Erosion Games
Vegetation on beaches slows coastal erosion. (beach grass image by Elmo Palmer from

The concept of coastal erosion, or the movement of coastal sediment, can be demonstrated by educational games designed to provoke thought about how the natural environment reacts to outside forces such as vegetation and waves. According to the Texas A&M Department of Oceanography, coastal erosion occurs naturally from storm surges, wave action and the ebb and flow of the tides and is compounded by human actions such as the construction of levees and canals designed to prevent flooding and support water traffic. A comprehensive understanding of coastal erosion is crucial if future generations are to understand how to care for precious coastal ecosystems.

Just Passing Through

Just Passing Through is a game from the Sierra Watershed Information Partnership designed to demonstrate the role of vegetation in erosion control. The game is played outdoors on a slope. Participants divide into two groups: raindrops and vegetation. A length of rope or yarn is laid down the slope to represent water; zigzag patterns can be incorporated to represent rapids. The raindrops stand at the top of the stream and the vegetation surrounds it lengthwise. Vegetation cannot move, but its members are allowed to pivot and extend their limbs to tag raindrops. Raindrops walk quickly down the slope along the stream taking the most direct path, but when they are tagged by vegetation they must rotate five times around the vegetation and crawl back to the stream to demonstrate that vegetation slows erosion. When they encounter rapids, they are allowed to somersault or roll. This game can be modified to a non-vegetated slope to show that erosion occurs more quickly. To show how sediment moves, scatter debris along the stream and have the raindrops pick up the debris they encounter on their journey.


The following matching game is introduced on the United Kingdom Internet Geography website. Make a list of words or groups of words associated with coastal erosion. The list might include things such as corrosion/abrasion, hydraulic action, attrition, destructive vs. constructive waves and wave fetch. Provide definitions for each of the terms. Compose worksheets, listing the terms on one side and the definitions on the other, scrambled. Divide into groups, give each group a worksheet and set a time limit for the game that is appropriate for the number of terms you’ve set, approximately 30 seconds for each five terms. See which group can correctly match the terms to the definitions in the shortest amount of time.


Coastal erosion includes two general types of waves: constructive and destructive—named according to how they contribute to erosion. The following game, devised by the U.S. Department of Energy ARM Climate Research Facility, helps children understand how waves reshape the coast. Divide into two groups. Each group needs a large, clear, rectangular container, a clock, two or three monopoly houses, sand and water.

Each group should fill the container with one inch of water. Add sand to one end until it rises above the waterline, forms a slope and settles. The slope represents a beach. Place the houses on the beach. Designate a person to keep time and another person to create waves. The wave maker gently rocks the container back and forth to create waves, one group making small waves and the other large waves for 10 seconds. Discuss what happened to the sand and what might eventually happen to beachfront homes.

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