Coastal Management

With the imminent changes to our global climate, we are faced with a number of challenges. One of these challenges includes rising sea levels and the impact that they will have to coastal areas and the environment in general. Many countries have a large percentage of their population living within a few kilometres of their coastline so it is critical that action and adaptation measures are employed. This article will look at some of the ways in which these concerns can be addressed.

Climate Variability And Change

It has been hard to avoid the discussion about climate change in the next decade. Whilst there has been much argument about whether we as humans are causing it, contributing to it or whether it is just a natural cycle, there is no doubt that things are changing. The latest IPCC report warns of certain aspects of climate change, which includes the rising of sea levels and the increase in adverse weather events 1). The impacts of climate change will be felt by everyone, however it is the coastal areas and communities who will feel the effects to a much greater magnitude. In many countries there are large concentrations of populations who live within a short distance of the coast, and the rise in sea levels could see many of their homes and living areas inundated by water or affected by erosion.

Vulnerability Of Human Settlements

Any communities or businesses that are located within 50 kilometres of the coast can potentially be impacted by these likely events so coastal management should be high on the priority list. These impacts may be ongoing, such as permanent inundation, or periodically due to severe weather events. This may not always be limited to direct impacts. Rising sea levels and adverse weather events may cause loss of infrastructure and cause upward pressure on already stretched local government finances. Whilst landlocked countries will be affected little by these changes physically, such things may impact global financial markets. On the flip side, some countries will be severely affected by the potential changes, such as Australia, where 85% of the nation's population living within 50 kilometres of the the coast 2). Countries such as this face a huge threat, not only to their populations and economic systems, but also to current local ecosystems.


Erosion at Cottesloe Beach, Western Australia3)

Planning For Adaptation

There are several ways in which to tackle the issue of coastal management. Decision makers need to look at options which suit their current needs, such as what the dependence on coastal systems are, how this will likely affect the area and possible responses 4) . Some of the long term responses could include:

__Urban Planning Strategies__

Governments and communities could possibly alter the way in which they plan future developments in line with the predicted impacts. As such planning measures can take some time to implement, this strategy would need to be put into place sooner rather than later.

__Social Cohesion__

An increase in social cohesion will help communities adapt, plan and deal with any future impacts. This will also help with the process of coming up with new ideas for adaptation and make stronger communities by involving everybody in the process.

__Design Standards__

Local governments, planners and architects can come up with new standards in house and building design in order to be able to deal with upcoming climatic events. This could include things such as high set homes, hard barriers or other engineering measures.

__Emergency Procedures__

People living in coastal areas will need to implement emergency response procedures. This could be required more so in areas that are under threat from storm and tide surges or cyclones and hurricanes. In order to survive such events all residents should be familiar with what they need to do during such occurrences so the loss of life and property can be avoided.


Whilst all of the ideas listed above are long term strategies, there are a number of things that can be done in the short term. These measures can be hard measures, such as engineering, or soft measures, such as dune replenishment or a combination of both 5). These strategies have been divided into four categories, as per below:


Trying to defend against the coastal impacts of climate change could require hard or soft measures. This soft measures could include beach nourishment, dune restoration, rejuvenation of coral reefs and sea grass replacement. This would require access to sand from other areas such as river or creek mouths or quarries. The hard measures could include the building of rock walls, groynes, break waters, storm surge barrier, levees or marinas.


Rock Wall, Durban, South Africa


Retreating from the effects of coastal climate change could be a very costly measure, but it remains an option. This would require that buildings and residential areas are demolished or uprooted and moved further inland. The use of soft measures on the new coast line could also help to avoid needing to do this again.


The decision makers could decide to accommodate the effect of coastal climate change. This can be done by building structures and infrastructure that lays above the waterline, such as buildings on column and stilts which allow the water to pass underneath, or even buildings that can be easily picked up and moved further inland. This would need to be addressed at the planning and architecture level and would be quite a costly project.

__Capacity Building__

Capacity building can be used as an option by which the communities and governments are given the tools required to come up with solutions to coastal climate change. This would be in the form of education programs, access to professionals and access to funds in order to select the right approach.


As discussed briefly in this article, it is pointless to keep on debating who or what is responsible for climate change. The key factor that needs to be addressed first is accepting that change is happening and then getting on with the job of dealing with it and adapting to it. There are a number of things which we can do right away, and things that we can do in a long term approach. As humans we enjoy living near the coast, and we must accept the fact that we may one day lose that ability unless we plan and take action now. A combination of measures can be used to minimise the impacts of coastal climate change, and these measures can not only help us but also help the fragile coastal ecosystems.


IPCC, 2013, 'Climate Change 2013', Available:
CSIRO Australia, 2014, 'Our Resilient Coastal Australia', Available:
Cottlesloe Beach Erosion by Gnangarra, licence CC 2.5, Available:
Fares, A & El-Kady, L.I, 2008, 'Coastal Watershed Management', WIT Press, ISBN:9781845640910
Harvey, N., 1952, & Caton, B, 2003, 'Coastal Management in Australia', Oxford University Press, ISBN: 0195537947

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