Beaches as Coastal Resilience

By Brockbank, Derek | Parks & Recreation, November 2018 | Go to article overview

Beaches as Coastal Resilience


Brockbank, Derek, Parks & Recreation


Beaches are America's favorite playground. To most Americans, just the word "beach" conjures up images of youthful summers, spring break parties, family vacations or relaxing retirement. Beaches are fun, and the numbers bear that out: 200 million Americans visit a U.S. beach every year, more than all the National Parks combined. Beach tourism helps generate $225 billion in revenue annually, a major component of the U.S. travel and tourism sector that is one of the fastest growing parts of the U.S. economy.

Beaches, like parks, come in many shapes and sizes and are managed by different parts of government. National seashores are part of the National Parks System; states, counties, cities and towns all manage beaches, and, in most states, private ownership of beaches extends only to mean high-tide line, so the tidal and swash zones are public property with requirements for public access. While most people don't think about beach management or engineering as they lie on their blanket soaking up the sun, many beaches--more than 800 miles of beach in the United States--have been engineered or nourished to maintain certain characteristics.

Healthy Coastlines

Beaches are far more than sun, surf and recreation. The American Shore & Beach Preservation Association (ASBPA) advocates for healthy coastlines that offer four interconnected values:

a. Protection from coastal hazards (storms, sea-level rise, etc.)

b. Economic vitality

c. Ecologic health

d. Recreation

These beach attributes help coastal communities withstand and bounce back from annual winter nor'easters to episodic El Ninos to a once-in-a-lifetime hurricane.

The upfront investment in properly maintaining and managing beaches can save billions of dollars in recovery costs (the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers estimated the federal shore protection projects saved $1.9 billion in damages during Hurricane Sandy) and allow residents to quickly return to regular life after a storm. The habitat value of beaches helps wildlife populations in ways seawalls or "hardened" shorelines cannot, and the economic value of coastlines--not only from tourism, but also from fishing, marine industry and home value--support diverse jobs and individual wealth.

So, what is meant by "healthy coastline"? Unfortunately, there is no single answer since all coastlines differ geologically and biologically. For much of the United States, a healthy coastline starts with a wide beach where the sand matches the composition of what would naturally be in the area. Grain size and color can impact beach slope, temperature and chemical composition, which in turn impacts what micro fauna live in the sand and, therefore, what wildlife is likely to be found on the beach.

A vegetated dune system is also common and is particularly beneficial in reducing risk from storm surge. Unlike a seawall, a dune can grow over time, as vegetation traps wind-blown sand and can "heal" itself from minor damage during a storm. Behind the beach/dune system, a healthy coastline may include back-bays, wetlands and estuaries, which absorb an influx of water (either from surge or from river flood) and provide a land-water interface that supports human and wildlife needs.

A healthy coastline is more than just a geologically and biologically resilient coast. It has collaborative management, regulation and funding across government sectors. …

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