When coastal homeowners build seawalls to safeguard their houses from rising waters, they often solve one issue by creating another.
Protective structures such as seawalls and bulkheads can help shield properties from erosion. However, these structures, collectively referred to as shoreline armoring, can obstruct the natural flow of sand and sediment down the coast and magnify waves onto nearby shorelines–accelerating erosion elsewhere.
Seawalls can be costly to construct and maintain, and if left to deteriorate, they could wash into the water and harm habitats. Environmental experts warn that many communities who construct seawalls don’t plan for the ongoing expense or harm done to their shorelines.
Many coastal states are facing growing concern that shoreline armoring is shrinking public beaches and harming natural ecosystems.
Some states are taking action to combat this trend. Washington and Virginia recently passed laws that discourage armoring structures in favor of “living” shorelines, which use natural elements to slow erosion and preserve habitats. These initiatives could provide alternatives to seawalls in places where better alternatives exist. Other states such as California and Hawaii are facing difficult decisions regarding how best to safeguard their beaches.
Sea level rise and natural erosion have presented coastal homeowners with a stark choice: wall up their shorelines or lose their homes. Without an effective long-term strategy to move homes and infrastructure away from shorelines, experts say, more armoring will become inevitable–even as more states recognize the damage it’s causing.
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