This month we’re taking a deep dive into understanding how coastal development is impacting coastal ecosystems and communities around the world. While we’ve been focusing specifically on Hawaii, coastal erosion and extreme development take place in many different stunning beach locations and coastal cities on Earth. And as we know, it’s not always great for the people or marine life that rely on the health of the coastal ecosystem to survive.
This is especially true in developing countries where the combined effects of climate change and human-induced coastal development are impacting local communities as sea level waters rise over time.
Coastal development can have a range of social costs, especially for vulnerable communities in developing countries. Flooding and erosion can cause loss of property and livelihoods, pollution from industrial discharges and waste dumping may harm human health, and the lack of access to clean water can lead to outbreaks of waterborne diseases such as cholera or typhoid fever.
As we learned in our previous blog, coastal development often results from population growth or tourism demand, which leads to greater demand for housing near beaches or other waterfront areas. When coastal development does occur, it often has a negative impact on local ecosystems and wildlife, particularly through erosion.
Coastal erosion refers to the natural process of the gradual wearing away of land or soil along a coastline by the actions of waves, tides, wind, and other coastal processes (ahem, like development!).
When erosion happens at a higher rate than normal, beaches are lost, and the natural patterns of the environment are disrupted. Human-driven efforts to refill beaches for tourism purposes can be even more detrimental to wildlife. Read on to learn more about the unique coastal erosion situations in various climates around the globe.
Florida, United States
Coastal erosion is a significant problem in Florida, where over 60% of residents live in a coastal county. What’s crazier is that in South Florida, over 40% of residents live within four feet of the tide line. The demand for beachfront properties and tourism-related infrastructure has resulted in the construction of numerous hotels, resorts, and residential developments along the coast. As coasts change, and sea levels rise, these residents may face displacement.
Additionally, Florida is exposed to tropical storms and hurricanes every year. These storms are known to reshape and erode the state’s sandy beaches with their powerful wind and waves. This battering of the coast, coupled with relaxed laws around coastal development in some areas, have led to an acceleration of coastal erosion.
Florida has implemented tons of strategies to battle this erosion, like dune restoration, beach nourishment, and building seawalls, as discussed in our last blog. Yet as we learned, these strategies can be harmful to the delicate and fragile ecosystems living underwater.
The demand for coastal living and tourism-related infrastructure has led to the construction of numerous residential developments, resorts, marinas, and other facilities along the long and varied coast of Australia.
This development has had a significant impact on the environment, including increased erosion rates, loss of coastal habitats, and damage to marine ecosystems such as coral reefs.
People are especially concerned about perhaps the most famous coral reef in the world, The Great Barrier Reef. The Great Barrier Reef is one of the world’s most extensive and biodiverse coral reef systems, stretching over 2,300 km along the Queensland coast. The increasing demand for coastal development, including residential and tourist infrastructure, ports, and mining operations, has raised concerns about the impacts on the reef’s health.
Because we know that coastal development can lead to increased runoff of sediment, nutrients, and pollutants into the reef’s waters, we know that these human activities are seriously harming coral and other marine life. Additionally, dredging and shipping activities associated with port development can cause physical damage to the reef and disrupt the migration patterns of marine species.
Efforts are underway to balance development with coastal conservation and management strategies to protect the country’s valuable coastal resources for future generations. Australia is known for its incredible and unique wildlife and has been historically good about prioritizing conservation. This includes measures such as sustainable coastal planning, environmental impact assessments, and zoning regulations to control the location and intensity of development along the coast.
Coastal development in Indonesia has been associated with a range of environmental and social issues, including pollution, deforestation, and displacement of coastal communities. This development has also led to conflicts over access to coastal resources, such as fishing grounds and traditional fishing areas.
Building new developments in coastal areas can lead to the disruption of traditional lands and livelihoods, as it has in parts of Indonesia like Java. Local communities are often forced to relocate when they can’t afford to live in fancy new developments, losing access to fishing grounds, agricultural land, and other resources that they depend on for their livelihoods.
In addition, coastal development in Indonesia has led to environmental degradation, which can even further negatively impact the health and well-being of local communities. The loss of natural habitats, such as mangroves and coral reefs, can reduce the resilience of coastal areas to storms and flooding, increasing the risk of damage to homes and infrastructure. Pollution from coastal development, such as sewage, oil spills, and industrial waste, can also harm the health of local communities and reduce the productivity of fisheries and other resources. It’s all interconnected, the more you pay attention!
Overall, the negative impacts of coastal development in Indonesia underscore the need for more sustainable and inclusive approaches to coastal planning and management. Future efforts should try to balance the economic benefits of development with the social and environmental costs, and ensure the participation and involvement of local communities in decision-making processes.
It’s not just these places experiencing this issue– it’s happening almost anywhere there’s an ocean and a coastline! From Miami Beach to the Gold Coast of Australia, from Dubai to Phuket, and from Cancun to Mumbai, it’s an issue we need to start paying more attention to. Particularly if we can make a difference through our tourism efforts!
Coastal development has been a persistent problem for many coastal communities. It can have serious negative effects on local ecosystems, wildlife, and people. We hope that by highlighting some examples of where coastal development occurs around the world, we can help raise awareness of this issue and inspire action toward more sustainable solutions.