Investigating the cycle of coastal protection and development
17 February 2017
New research shows efforts to restore and protect eroding beaches in Florida have coincided with an increase in the number and sizes of houses on those same beaches.
Beach nourishment, a method for mitigating coastal storm damage or chronic erosion by deliberately replacing sand on an eroded beach, has been the leading form of coastal protection in the United States for four decades. However, investment in this type of hazard protection can have the effect of encouraging development in places especially vulnerable to damage. A research team including Dr Rhoda Ballinger from the School of Earth and Environmental Sciences and Sustainable Places Research Institute, carried out a comprehensive, parcel-scale analysis of all shorefront single-family homes in the state of Florida. The research team found that houses in nourishing zones are significantly larger and more numerous than in non-nourishing zones.
Dr Ballinger said “This paper investigates an important process but one that has until now not been widely studied; the role played by the human interaction with the environment and hazard protection. We have described a feature in coastal change that appears to be a positive feedback between housing development and beach nourishment schemes.
“Our research suggests that investment in hazard protection may have the unintended consequence of encouraging more development in places already vulnerable to damage.”
The predominance of larger homes in nourishing zones suggests a positive feedback between nourishment and development that is compounding coastal risk in zones already characterized by high vulnerability.
Resolving the dynamics driving the feedback between coastal development and hazard protection will require innovative research into short- and long-term decision-making among property owners and coastal managers, and will raise questions for policy makers.
The paper from the International team of researchers: ‘Indications of positive feedback between coastal development and beach nourishment’ is published in the journal Earth’s Future.