Coastal erosion is a natural occurrence, but is a steadily advancing threat to coastal areas because of climate change and human activities. At beaches, tides regularly sweep rocks and sand along the coast, but coastal development can interrupt the process and slowly destroy them. As climate change occurs, rocky coastlines are increasingly threatened by extreme weather such as storms and higher water marks due to warming temperatures. Coastal erosion impacts humanity and the environment in various ways.
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The most visible impact of coastal erosion is property loss. As the coastline is remapped by erosion, coastal properties are put at risk. A 2002 BBC special report gives the history of Hallsands, a coastal village that was destroyed overnight in 1917. The erosion process was accelerated by shingle dredging until a storm swept the entire village away. Modern structures are just as susceptible. As of 2010, the National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration estimates that 155 million people and over three trillion dollars of real estate in the U.S. are endangered by coastal erosion.
The tourism industry can be heavily impacted by coastal erosion. Many communities rely on revenue from summer tourism. When beaches are swept away, these communities can be financially devastated. The Florida Department of Environmental Protection reports that many Florida beaches are eroding. Usually, coastal currents drag in sand that replaces what they sweep away, but coastal development has halted the cycle in some areas. Structures that are built along the coast collect the sand that comes in with the tide, preventing currents from sweeping it to beaches down current. Over time, this has swept away large strands of beach, affecting Florida's tourism and economy.
Some properties that are destroyed by coastal erosion are priceless historic landmarks. The website LiveScience records a study by Benjamin Jones from the U.S. Geological Survey, which found that several Alaskan historical landmarks have been swept away or are in high danger of being destroyed. These include sites such as an abandoned Inupiaq Eskimo village; these sites are significant, culturally, and to researchers like historians and anthropologists.
factory in Alaska image by Jorge Moro from Fotolia.com
Coastal erosion puts some industrial sites at risk. When industrial sites are damaged, waste can potentially leach into the environment, and lost productivity can harm the economy. For example, Bloomberg reports the oil-rich state of Alaska has seen record coastal erosion over the past several years as rising temperatures weaken the permafrost. In addition to threatening locals and cultural landmarks, this also endangers oil exploration. At risk are several test wells, which were designed to test the soils composition, not to pump oil. One test well has even been destroyed, making the industry hesitant to expand.
Coastal erosion occurs naturally, and the slow wearing away of coasts can have ecological benefits. According to NC Beaches, erosion has created inlets and feeding grounds for aquatic communities over millennia. However, unnatural processes driven by human action, including climate change, speed erosion and harm the environment. For example, the U.S. Geological Survey reports that Louisiana's coastal wetlands lose 75 square kilometres per year due to human actions like dredging and draining. This worsens as barrier islands off the Louisiana coast erode, opening wetlands to tides and the full force of coastal storms.