Global warming and the sea level rise that’s coming with it could wash away over almost half of the world’s sandy beaches by 2100. That’s according to a study published this week on Nature Climate Change.
The loss of the beaches would have enormous economic implications. Beaches provide a barrier that protects real estate and whole cities from storm surge. They also create recreational opportunities that fuel tourism.
Scientists say stronger storms and manmade alterations, such as the construction of jetties and seawalls, are speeding up erosion. Add sea level rise to the mix and the situation becomes even more dire.
The outlook isn’t hopeless, however. The researchers say if humans cut down on greenhouse gas emissions, sea level rise could slow and shoreline retreat could be reduced by nearly 40 percent.
Buyers purchasing beachfront real estate need to consider beach erosion and how it could impact their property before they submit an offer.
Every year, cities along the Atlantic, Pacific and Gulf of Mexico coastlines spend millions of dollars on beach nourishment projects. In my hometown, Delray Beach, Florida, a massive offshore dredger just started pumping slurry — sand and water — onto the seriously eroded beach to replenish it. The $8 million project is expected to last weeks. (You can see how it works by watching the video I created of the project.)
This type of dredging to replenish a beach has benefits and costs. In our case, the cost of beach replenishment is easily offset by the tourist dollars it attracts to the community. Without a beach, it’s unlikely people would come here and spend money to stay in hotels and dine and shop in the bustling downtown district. The beach also lures real estate buyers into purchasing single family homes, townhouses and condos.
Beyond the economic advantages, the replenished beach also acts as a barrier that protects valuable real estate from storm surges and erosion.
Despite the many positives, beach replenishment has some downsides. It can be harmful to marine animals and shore birds. If the causes of erosion aren’t (or can’t) be addressed, it will have to be repeated on a regular basis. And it can be expensive; and the costs are growing, especially in areas where sand is not in abundance and it has to be trucked in.
Sea level rise is sure to exacerbate the challenges faced by towns that rely on sand replenishment to maintain their beaches. Every inch of sea level rise increases the force of tides and wave action on beaches. The higher and more powerful storm surges that come with climate change and sea level rise will also be problematic.
For now, most cities and towns that rely on beach replenishment appear committed to the practice to protect their tourism trade and valuable real estate. Whether they will be able to foot the bill when the seas get higher and their beaches require more frequent nourishment projects is an X factor that all real estate buyers and owners in coastal areas prone to erosion need to consider.