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Coastal Management

Coastal Management

It’s becoming increasingly crucial for governments and individual councils to manage coastlines to protect them from coastal erosion and flooding due to changing sea levels. The reason for coastal management is to protect homes and businesses from the devastating effects of coastal flooding and erosion. Failure to do so can have a severe economic and social impact, especially along coastlines used for tourism and industry.

Coastal management strategies

Coastal management aims to protect homes, businesses and the environment from erosion and flooding. Strategies have to take into account the following:

  • Flooding and erosion of the coastline will have social, economic, and environmental impacts.
  • The amount of money available is limited, so not everywhere can be protected.
  • Choosing which places can be defended and how is based on cost-benefit analysis. Consequently, the money available is usually used to protect larger settlements and critical industrial sites.

To achieve this, the following options are available.

Hard and soft engineering

Hard engineering involves building artificial structures that aim to prevent erosion. The structures are usually at the base of a cliff or on the beach. They effectively prevent erosion in the desired area, but they are expensive and have a significant environmental impact due to the use of concrete and other artificial materials. In addition, reducing erosion in one area of the coastline may exacerbate erosion elsewhere. Therefore, their only impact is to change where erosion is occurring.

Soft engineering aims to work with and complement the physical environment by using natural coastal defence methods. They manage but do not necessarily prevent erosion. Soft engineering uses ecological principles and practices, which have less of a negative impact on the natural environment. As a result, it is less expensive to implement and maintain and creates more long-term and sustainable solutions than hard engineering projects.

The table below shows the common types of hard engineering.

TypeDefinitionAdvantagesDisadvantages
Sea wallLarge walls constructed from concrete, steel, or stone located along the shoreline of a beach.Protects cliffs from upland erosion and is a barrier to floodingWaves can erode the wall defeating its purpose and is expensive to implement and maintain
GroyneWooden fence-like barriers built at right angles at the beachPrevents longshore drift, flooding, and erosion. Allows beaches to build up.Can create erosion further down the coast. Unattractive and expensive.
GabionBundles or rocks in metal mesh located at cliff basesReduces the impact of wavesInexpensive hard engineering structure, but not very effective or attractive
RevetmentSlanted structures made from concrete, wood or rocks along a cliffPrevents cliff erosion as it absorbs wave energyExpensive to implement. Can create a strong backwash
Coastal barragePartly submerged dam-like structures that control the tidal flowCreate a more consistent water level that can be used for hydroelectricityHas a substantial impact on the environment. Expensive to implement and maintain
Rock armour (rip rap)Large boulders or rocks piled up on a beach in front of a cliff or sea wall.Absorbs energy of waves and helps build up beachesExpensive to implement and maintain
Cliff fixingMetal bars inserted in cliffs to reinforce themImproves strength of cliff and prevents rocks from fallingCan create a metal mess

And here are some common types of soft engineering.

TypeDefinitionAdvantagesDisadvantages
Beach nourishmentThe beach is made wider by using sand and shingleIncreases the distance a wave has to travel, thus slowing it down and preventing erosion.Sand and shingle must be sourced from somewhere else, usually by dredging. Requires maintenance and can be expensive.
Managed retreatCertain areas of the coast are allowed to erode and flood naturallyNatural eroded material encourages the development of beaches and salt marshes. Low costRequired to compensate people who lose buildings and farmland
Beach stabilisationPlanting dead trees in the sand to stabilise the beachWidens the beach, therefore, slowing down waves and preventing erosionTrees need to be sourced and require maintenance
Dune regenerationCreating new sand dunes or restoring existing onesDunes act as a barrier and absorb wave energy reducing erosion and protecting against floodingDunes are a barrier to beach access, and creating new dunes results in land loss
AfforestationStabilising dunes by planting treesThis minimises sand drift and erosionPlanting non-native species can affect the nutrients in the soil
Mangrove plantingPlanting mangroves along the shoreMangrove roots keep soil in place, which dissipates wave energy and prevents erosion.Mangroves are non-native to some areas and can become invasive
Coral reef preservation and enhancementProtecting existing reefsCoral reefs reduce wave energyMan-made reefs can cause contamination

In general

  • Hard engineering can be expensive, and it disrupts the natural process.

  • Soft engineering is a more sustainable management strategy than hard engineering because it has a lower environmental impact and economic cost.

Governance approaches

Approximately two-thirds of the world’s population live within a few kilometres of the coast. However, they increasingly face a threat from rising global sea levels, although there is uncertainty about the scale and timing of the rise. There is an increased frequency of storms and the possibility of increased erosion and flooding. Given its importance, careful consideration needs to be given to managing the coastline to ensure that its resources are utilised wisely while preserving its natural beauty and processes.

Therefore, coastal management must be sustainable. In other words, the strategies should not cause too much damage to the environment, people’s homes and livelihood and shouldn’t cost too much.

To achieve this, the following are taken into consideration:

Cost-benefit analysis (CBA)

This takes place before any coastal management takes place. The anticipated cost of the coastal management plan is compared to the expected benefits of a scheme. These may include the value of land, homes and businesses that will be protected. Cost and benefits may be tangible (monetary value) or intangible (other effects such as visual impact). For a CBA, the expected benefits must outweigh the costs for a project to go ahead.

Shoreline Management Plans (SMPs)

An SMP has been created for each sediment cell in the UK to help with coastline management.

There are 11 sediment cells in England and Wales. These do not exist in Scotland and Northern Ireland, where the devolved governments and local authorities are jointly responsible for coastal protection.

Each SMP identifies all the natural and human activities that occur within the coastline area of each sediment cell. The sediment cells are closed for the purposes of management, although there will be some exchanges between the different sediment cells.

Four ways of managing coastlines are:

coastline management, shoreline management plans, StudySmarterSMPs decide the best course of action for coastlines

Sustainable Integrated Approach (SIA)

As the negative impacts of many shoreline management plans (SMP) have become evident, sustainable integrated approaches are becoming more widely used. These are holistic strategies; it is recognised that all the different sections of the coastline are interlinked and function together as a whole. Smaller areas are not considered separately, unlike traditional methods.

Managing the coast sustainably includes:

  • Managing natural resources like fish, water, farmland to ensure long term productivity.
  • New employment for people who face unemployment because of protection measures.
  • Educating communities about the need to adapt and protect the coastline for future generations.
  • Monitoring coastal changes and then using adaptation or mitigation to respond to the observed differences.
  • Ensure consideration is given to everybody when changes are proposed and then adopted.

Integrated Coastal Zone Management (ICZM)

This is another method of sustainable coastline management. This is where all coastline elements (land, water, people, and the economy) are managed with one integrated strategy. Its aims are:

  • Protect the coastal zone in a relatively natural state whilst allowing people to use it and develop it in different ways.
  • Local, regional, and national levels of authority must work and manage coasts together.
  • It recognises the importance of the coast for people’s livelihoods.
  • That coastal management must be sustainable, whereby economic development is essential but is not prioritised over the protection of the coastal environment.
  • It must involve all stakeholders, plan for the long term, and work with the natural processes and not against them.
  • It recognises that sediment eroded in one location may form a protective beach elsewhere. Therefore a decision to protect one coastal community may not outweigh the disadvantages of exposing another community to increased erosion.
  • It is a dynamic strategy where decisions are re-evaluated if the environment or demands on the area change.

Coastal management involves decisions that will affect peoples lives. These effects can be positive or negative. However, it inevitably means that it will divide stakeholders into two groups.

  • Winners – people who have gained from the decision which have been made either economically (property saved) or environmentally (habitats conserved), or socially (communities).
  • Losers – people who have not had their property saved or see the coastline being “concreted over” through defensive measures, which they see as a negative environmental impact.

Fortunately, the UK has frameworks in place for dealing with coastal management. Sadly, the most vulnerable people and coastlines are the losers in less developed countries as they have no way of claiming compensation or there is no coastal management approach in place.

In Phuket in Thailand, erosion has caused the loss of beaches. Local villages use ad hoc methods to try and stop the power of the waves, and hoteliers have resorted to sandbagging their resort area.

Coastal Management - Key takeaways

  • Management of the coastline is necessary to protect them from coastal erosion, flooding, and rising sea levels.
  • Coastal management must be sustainable; any strategy adopted must not cause unnecessary damage to the environment, people’s homes and livelihood and should not cost too much.
  • Coastline management strategies involve hard or soft engineering.
  • Before any management strategy is adopted, a Cost-Benefit analysis is done.
  • Governance approaches include Shoreline Management Plans (SMPs), Sustainable Integrated Approaches (SIA) and Integrated Coastal Zone Management (ICZM).

Frequently Asked Questions about Coastal Management

Coastal management is effective in that whichever method is chosen as a management approach protects homes and businesses from being damaged and even destroyed by coastal erosion or flooding. However, they may inhibit longshore drift and speed up the erosion process elsewhere.

The coastline needs to be managed to protect against increasing coastal erosion, flooding and sea-level changes

There are two types of coastal management, hard engineering, which involves building structures to protect the coast. Or soft engineering, which works with nature, using natural materials, or allowing nature to take back areas.

A coastline could be managed by hard engineering approaches such as a sea wall made of concrete with steel reinforcement and deep pile foundations. It can have a stepped or “bullnose” profile. It acts as a physical barrier against erosion and flooding. Modern sea walls are designed to dissipate wave energy.

Beach nourishment – artificially replacing the sediment on the beach.

Dune regeneration – creating new sand dunes or restoring existing ones. Beach stabilisation – planting dead trees in the sand to stabilise it.

Groyne – Building wooden fence-like barriers at right angles to the beach.

Coastal barrage – partly submerging dam-like structures that control the tidal flow.

Riprap – Large rock boulders piled on the beach in front of the cliff or sea wall.


Final Coastal Management Quiz

Question

What is Sustainable Coastal Management?

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Answer

Managing the wider coastal zone in terms of people and their economic livelihoods, social and cultural well being, safety from coastal hazards and minimising environmental and ecological impacts.

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What is conflict in the context of coastal management?

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Answer

This means disagreement over how the coast should be protected from threats and which areas should be protected. Conflict often exists between different stakeholders, such as residents and the local council.

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Question

What does ICZM stand for?

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Answer

Integrated Coastal Management Zones

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Question

What was the relevance of the Earth Summit in Rio in 1992?

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Answer

It was when the concept of the ICZM was born.

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Question

What are the three critical factors of an ICZM?

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Answer

An ICZM recognises that 

  • the entire coastal zone needs to be managed, 
  • the importance of the coastal zone to people’s livelihoods 
  • the management of the coast must be sustainable.


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What does Participatory Planning mean in relation to a coastal zone?

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Answer

This is where all stakeholders have a say in any policy decisions.


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Question

An ICZM manages the Mediterranean. How many countries are involved?


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Answer

Fourteen.

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Question

From a physical geography perspective, the ICZM works with the concept of littoral cells. What does this mean?

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Answer

This is where all the coastlines are divided into littoral cells containing sediment sources, transport paths and sinks. Each littoral cell is isolated from the adjacent cells and managed as a holistic unit.

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Question

How many sediment cells and SMP's are there in the UK?


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Answer

There are 11 sediment cells in England and Wales, and there are 22 SMP's 


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Question

Can you name any of the SMPs around the coastline of the UK

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Answer

SMP1 Scottish boards to the River Tyne.

SMP2 The Tyne to Flamborough Head

SMP3 Flamborough Head to Gibraltar Point.

SMP4 Gibraltar Point to Hunstanton.

SMP5 Hunstanton To Kelling Hard.

SMP6 Kelling Hard to Lowestoft.


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What are the four options that an SMP has?


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Answer

No active interventions. 

Hold the line. 

Managed advanced retreat and

Advance the line.


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What does no active intervention mean in terms of an SMP?

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Answer

No active intervention means that it permits natural systems to modify the coastline as they are currently operating. It usually means allowing erosion and cliff retreat to continue.

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What is a cost-benefit analysis in terms of coastal management?

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Answer

This is used to help decide whether defending a coastline from erosion and or flooding is worth it. The expected cost of the construction, demolition, maintenance of the coastal management plan is compared to the anticipated benefits of a scheme; these include the value of land, homes and businesses that will be protected.

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What is hard engineering?

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Answer

Hard engineering involves building structures to protect the coast by using concrete, stone and steel.

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What are coastal engineering approaches designed to do?

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Answer

The approaches are designed to specifically counter erosion.

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Why is hard engineering an expensive method?

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Answer

It usually involves extreme locations in terms of tides and waves; this inevitably makes construction difficult. In addition, the size, strength and height of the individual structures are usually large, and the transportation cost of the materials involved in the construction is high.

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 What is rip-rap?

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Answer

This is where large rocks are placed at the top of beaches or at the base of a sea wall to protect it from undercutting and scouring. They break up and dissipate wave energy.

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What are the advantages of rip-rap?


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Rip-rap is relatively cheap, £1350–£6000. It is easy to construct and often used by anglers and sunbathers.

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Explain a sea wall in regards to coastal engineering?


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Sea walls are a physical barrier against erosion. They can also act as flood barriers. Modern sea walls are designed to dissipate, not reflect, wave energy. They are usually constructed of concrete with steel reinforcement and have deep pile foundations. They can have a step or bullnose profile.

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What are the disadvantages of a sea wall?

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Answer

They reflect wave energy rather than absorb it, are intrusive and unnatural and are very expensive to build and maintain, £3000–£10,000.

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What is a revetment?


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They are stone, timber, or interlocking concrete sloping structures. They are permeable. They are similar to a sea wall but more sloping.

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What are the advantages and disadvantages of a revetment?


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The advantages are that they are relatively inexpensive to build, £500–£ 3000. They are cost-effective compared to other techniques. The disadvantages are that erosion at the base of the structure can cause the installation to fail, they are not effective in stormy conditions and can make the beach inaccessible for tourists.

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What are groynes, and what do they do?

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Answer

They are vertical stone or timber fencing, which is built at 90 degrees to the coast. They are designed to prevent longshore movement of sediment and encourage deposition, creating a broader and higher beach.

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 What are the advantages of groynes?


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Answer

They increase the beach and thereby tourist potential; they protect the land behind the structure and work with natural processes to build up the beach. Cost-wise they are not too expensive, £150–£250 (depending on material).

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 Which hard engineering approach is the most problematic?


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Answer

Of all the hard engineering approaches, groynes are the most problematic as sediment builds up behind them on the uplift side, extending the beach seaward. They also interfere with longshore drift to such an extent that beaches further down the coast are starved of the sediment they need, leading to increased erosion.

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 What is beach nourishment?


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Beach nourishment is where the sediment lost through erosion is replaced. The idea is to make the beach larger to dissipate the wave energy, thereby reducing wave erosion.

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What are the advantages and disadvantages of beach nourishment?


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Answer

The advantages are that it works with the natural processes. The material used, sand or gravel, is natural and blends in with the existing beach. It nourishes the beach and naturally dissipates wave energy. The disadvantages are that the ongoing costs are high as the sediment needs replacing every few years as waves remove it. In addition, the sediment used is usually dredged from offshore, so care needs to be taken not to impact the wider coastal sediment cells. Dredging may affect the local coastal habitats.

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What is cliff stabilisation, and how does it work?


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Answer

The idea of cliff stabilisation is to limit the amount of erosion and the potential for landslides, collapse, and falling rocks. The idea is to reduce the slope of the cliff and revegetate the cliff top. Vegetation is planted as their roots help to stabilize the cliff structure and increase cohesion, consequently, the cliff will be more stable and less prone to cliff material slumping or sliding off. Part of the process is also to remove excess water from the cliff so that it is discouraged from flowing along areas of weakness. If not dealt with this water would encourage rock and sediments to slide to the cliff bottom. 


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Question

Explain dune stabilisation?

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Answer

This is where fences are erected seaward of the dunes preventing trampling from recreational beach users. This allows sand to settle, and increases dune size. The dunes are then replanted with marram and lyme grass to stabilise the surface. Once the marram grass is established, other plants will colonise the area. Also, covering the face of dunes with bundles of straw, branches and even waste Christmas trees in some areas increases sand accretion and protects dune vegetation.

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