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Concept: Coastal geography


Cold-water conditions have excluded durophagous (skeleton-breaking) predators from the Antarctic seafloor for millions of years. Rapidly warming seas off the western Antarctic Peninsula could now facilitate their return to the continental shelf, with profound consequences for the endemic fauna. Among the likely first arrivals are king crabs (Lithodidae), which were discovered recently on the adjacent continental slope. During the austral summer of 2010‒2011, we used underwater imagery to survey a slope-dwelling population of the lithodid Paralomis birsteini off Marguerite Bay, western Antarctic Peninsula for environmental or trophic impediments to shoreward expansion. The population density averaged ∼4.5 individuals × 1,000 m(-2) within a depth range of 1,100‒1,500 m (overall observed depth range 841-2,266 m). Images of juveniles, discarded molts, and precopulatory behavior, as well as gravid females in a trapping study, suggested a reproductively viable population on the slope. At the time of the survey, there was no thermal barrier to prevent the lithodids from expanding upward and emerging on the outer shelf (400- to 550-m depth); however, near-surface temperatures remained too cold for them to survive in inner-shelf and coastal environments (<200 m). Ambient salinity, composition of the substrate, and the depth distribution of potential predators likewise indicated no barriers to expansion of lithodids onto the outer shelf. Primary food resources for lithodids-echinoderms and mollusks-were abundant on the upper slope (550-800 m) and outer shelf. As sea temperatures continue to rise, lithodids will likely play an increasingly important role in the trophic structure of subtidal communities closer to shore.

Concepts: Population, King crab, Continent, Fisheries, Demography, Coastal geography, Population density, Antarctica


There is great interest in the restoration and conservation of coastal habitats for protection from flooding and erosion. This is evidenced by the growing number of analyses and reviews of the effectiveness of habitats as natural defences and increasing funding world-wide for nature-based defences-i.e. restoration projects aimed at coastal protection; yet, there is no synthetic information on what kinds of projects are effective and cost effective for this purpose. This paper addresses two issues critical for designing restoration projects for coastal protection: (i) a synthesis of the costs and benefits of projects designed for coastal protection (nature-based defences) and (ii) analyses of the effectiveness of coastal habitats (natural defences) in reducing wave heights and the biophysical parameters that influence this effectiveness. We (i) analyse data from sixty-nine field measurements in coastal habitats globally and examine measures of effectiveness of mangroves, salt-marshes, coral reefs and seagrass/kelp beds for wave height reduction; (ii) synthesise the costs and coastal protection benefits of fifty-two nature-based defence projects and; (iii) estimate the benefits of each restoration project by combining information on restoration costs with data from nearby field measurements. The analyses of field measurements show that coastal habitats have significant potential for reducing wave heights that varies by habitat and site. In general, coral reefs and salt-marshes have the highest overall potential. Habitat effectiveness is influenced by: a) the ratios of wave height-to-water depth and habitat width-to-wavelength in coral reefs; and b) the ratio of vegetation height-to-water depth in salt-marshes. The comparison of costs of nature-based defence projects and engineering structures show that salt-marshes and mangroves can be two to five times cheaper than a submerged breakwater for wave heights up to half a metre and, within their limits, become more cost effective at greater depths. Nature-based defence projects also report benefits ranging from reductions in storm damage to reductions in coastal structure costs.

Concepts: Critical thinking, Habitat, Coastal and oceanic landforms, Coastal geography, Cost, Coral reef, Ratio, Costs


As international concern for the survival of deltas grows, the Mekong River delta, the world’s third largest delta, densely populated, considered as Southeast Asia’s most important food basket, and rich in biodiversity at the world scale, is also increasingly affected by human activities and exposed to subsidence and coastal erosion. Several dams have been constructed upstream of the delta and many more are now planned. We quantify from high-resolution SPOT 5 satellite images large-scale shoreline erosion and land loss between 2003 and 2012 that now affect over 50% of the once strongly advancing >600 km-long delta shoreline. Erosion, with no identified change in the river’s discharge and in wave and wind conditions over this recent period, is consistent with: (1) a reported significant decrease in coastal surface suspended sediment from the Mekong that may be linked to dam retention of its sediment, (2) large-scale commercial sand mining in the river and delta channels, and (3) subsidence due to groundwater extraction. Shoreline erosion is already responsible for displacement of coastal populations. It is an additional hazard to the integrity of this Asian mega delta now considered particularly vulnerable to accelerated subsidence and sea-level rise, and will be exacerbated by future hydropower dams.

Concepts: Dam, Population density, Geomorphology, Coastal geography, Sediment transport, River delta, Sediment, River


Multi-decadal increase in shell removal by tourists, a process that may accelerate degradation of natural habitats, was quantified via two series of monthly surveys, conducted thirty years apart (1978-1981 and 2008-2010) in one small embayment on the Mediterranean coast of the Iberian Peninsula. Over the last three decades, the local tourist arrivals have increased almost three-fold (2.74), while the area has remained unaffected by urban encroachment and commercial fisheries. During the same time interval the abundance of mollusk shells along the shoreline decreased by a comparable factor (2.62) and was significantly and negatively correlated with tourist arrivals (r = -0.52). The strength of the correlation increased when data were restricted to months with high tourist arrivals (r = -0.72). In contrast, the maximum monthly wave energy (an indirect proxy for changes in rate of onshore shell transport) was not significantly correlated with shell abundance (r = 0.10). Similarly, rank dominance of common species, drilling predation intensity, and body size-frequency distribution patterns have all remained stable over recent decades. A four-fold increase in global tourist arrivals over the last 30 years may have induced a comparable worldwide acceleration in shell removal from marine shorelines, resulting in multiple, currently unquantifiable, habitat changes such as increased beach erosion, changes in calcium carbonate recycling, and declines in diversity and abundance of organisms, which are dependent on shell availability.

Concepts: Classical mechanics, Iberian Peninsula, Portugal, Coastal geography, Spain, Tourism, Acceleration, Mediterranean Sea


It is predicted that the coastal zone will be among the environments worst affected by projected climate change. Projected losses in beach area will negatively impact on coastal infrastructure and continued recreational use of beaches. Beach nourishment practices such as artificial nourishment, replenishment and scraping are increasingly used to combat beach erosion but the extent and scale of projects is poorly documented in large areas of the world. Through a survey of beach managers of Local Government Areas and a comprehensive search of peer reviewed and grey literature, we assessed the extent of nourishment practices in Australia. The study identified 130 beaches in Australia that were subject to nourishment practices between 2001 and 2011. Compared to projects elsewhere, most Australian projects were small in scale but frequent. Exceptions were nine bypass projects which utilised large volumes of sediment. Most artificial nourishment, replenishment and beach scraping occurred in highly urbanised areas and were most frequently initiated in spring during periods favourable to accretion and outside of the summer season of peak beach use. Projects were generally a response to extreme weather events, and utilised sand from the same coastal compartment as the site of erosion. Management was planned on a regional scale by Local Government Authorities, with little monitoring of efficacy or biological impact. As rising sea levels and growing coastal populations continue to put pressure on beaches a more integrated approach to management is required, that documents the extent of projects in a central repository, and mandates physical and biological monitoring to help ensure the engineering is sustainable and effective at meeting goals.

Concepts: Coast, Weather, Coastal geography, Extreme weather, Sediment, Beach nourishment, Sand, Beach


In coastal environments, evaporation is an important driver of subsurface salinity gradients in marsh systems. However, it has not been addressed in the intertidal zone of sandy beaches. Here, we used field data on an estuarine beach foreshore with numerical simulations to show that evaporation causes upper intertidal zone pore-water salinity to be double that of seawater. We found the increase in pore-water salinity mainly depends on air temperature and relative humidity, and tide and wave actions dilute a fraction of the high salinity plume, resulting in a complex process. This is in contrast to previous studies that consider seawater as the most saline source to a coastal aquifer system, thereby concluding that seawater infiltration always increases pore-water salinity by seawater-groundwater mixing dynamics. Our results demonstrate the combined effects of evaporation and tide and waves on subsurface salinity distribution on a beach face. We anticipate our quantitative investigation will shed light on the studies of salt-affected biological activities in the intertidal zone. It also impacts our understanding of the impact of global warming; in particular, the increase in temperature does not only shift the saltwater landward, but creates a different salinity distribution that would have implications on intertidal biological zonation.

Concepts: Tide pool, Coast, Beach, Shore, Coastal geography, Tide, Intertidal zone, Water


The world’s coastal zones are experiencing rapid development and an increase in storms and flooding. These hazards put coastal communities at heightened risk, which may increase with habitat loss. Here we analyse globally the role and cost effectiveness of coral reefs in risk reduction. Meta-analyses reveal that coral reefs provide substantial protection against natural hazards by reducing wave energy by an average of 97%. Reef crests alone dissipate most of this energy (86%). There are 100 million or more people who may receive risk reduction benefits from reefs or bear hazard mitigation and adaptation costs if reefs are degraded. We show that coral reefs can provide comparable wave attenuation benefits to artificial defences such as breakwaters, and reef defences can be enhanced cost effectively. Reefs face growing threats yet there is opportunity to guide adaptation and hazard mitigation investments towards reef restoration to strengthen this first line of coastal defence.

Concepts: Wind wave, Photosynthesis, Coastal and oceanic landforms, Coastal geography, Scleractinia, Hazard, Costs, Coral reef


Coastal communities in tropical environments are at increasing risk from both environmental degradation and climate change and require urgent local adaptation action. Evidences show coral reefs play a critical role in wave attenuation but relatively little direct connection has been drawn between these effects and impacts on shorelines. Reefs are rarely assessed for their coastal protection service and thus not managed for their infrastructure benefits, while widespread damage and degradation continues. This paper presents a systematic approach to assess the protective role of coral reefs and to examine solutions based on the reef’s influence on wave propagation patterns. Portions of the shoreline of Grenville Bay, Grenada, have seen acute shoreline erosion and coastal flooding. This paper (i) analyzes the historical changes in the shoreline and the local marine, (ii) assess the role of coral reefs in shoreline positioning through a shoreline equilibrium model first applied to coral reef environments, and (iii) design and begin implementation of a reef-based solution to reduce erosion and flooding. Coastline changes in the bay over the past 6 decades are analyzed from bathymetry and benthic surveys, historical imagery, historical wave and sea level data and modeling of wave dynamics. The analysis shows that, at present, the healthy and well-developed coral reefs system in the southern bay keeps the shoreline in equilibrium and stable, whereas reef degradation in the northern bay is linked with severe coastal erosion. A comparison of wave energy modeling for past bathymetry indicates that degradation of the coral reefs better explains erosion than changes in climate and historical sea level rise. Using this knowledge on how reefs affect the hydrodynamics, a reef restoration solution is designed and studied to ameliorate the coastal erosion and flooding. A characteristic design provides a modular design that can meet specific engineering, ecological and implementation criteria. Four pilot units were implemented in 2015 and are currently being field-tested. This paper presents one of the few existing examples available to date of a reef restoration project designed and engineered to deliver risk reduction benefits. The case study shows how engineering and ecology can work together in community-based adaptation. Our findings are particularly important for Small Island States on the front lines of climate change, who have the most to gain from protecting and managing coral reefs as coastal infrastructure.

Concepts: Tide, Geomorphology, Coast, Coastal and oceanic landforms, Coral, Bioerosion, Coastal geography, Coral reef


Human population density in the coastal zone and potential impacts of climate change underscore a growing conflict between coastal development and an encroaching shoreline. Rising sea-levels and increased storminess threaten to accelerate coastal erosion, while growing demand for coastal real estate encourages more spending to hold back the sea in spite of the shrinking federal budget for beach nourishment. As climatic drivers and federal policies for beach nourishment change, the evolution of coastline mitigation and property values is uncertain. We develop an empirically grounded, stochastic dynamic model coupling coastal property markets and shoreline evolution, including beach nourishment, and show that a large share of coastal property value reflects capitalized erosion control. The model is parameterized for coastal properties and physical forcing in North Carolina, U.S.A. and we conduct sensitivity analyses using property values spanning a wide range of sandy coastlines along the U.S. East Coast. The model shows that a sudden removal of federal nourishment subsidies, as has been proposed, could trigger a dramatic downward adjustment in coastal real estate, analogous to the bursting of a bubble. We find that the policy-induced inflation of property value grows with increased erosion from sea level rise or increased storminess, but the effect of background erosion is larger due to human behavioral feedbacks. Our results suggest that if nourishment is not a long-run strategy to manage eroding coastlines, a gradual removal is more likely to smooth the transition to more climate-resilient coastal communities.

Concepts: Macroeconomics, Coastal geography, Population density, Shore, United States, Climate change, Beach, Coast


Evaluating impacts to biodiversity requires ecologically informed comparisons over sufficient time spans. The vulnerability of coastal ecosystems to anthropogenic and climate change-related impacts makes them potentially valuable indicators of biodiversity change. To evaluate multidecadal change in biodiversity, we compared results from intertidal surveys of 13 sandy beaches conducted in the 1970s and 2009-11 along 500 km of coast (California, USA). Using a novel extrapolation approach to adjust species richness for sampling effort allowed us to address data gaps and has promise for application to other data-limited biodiversity comparisons. Long-term changes in species richness varied in direction and magnitude among beaches and with human impacts but showed no regional patterns. Observed long-term changes in richness differed markedly among functional groups of intertidal invertebrates. At the majority (77%) of beaches, changes in richness were most evident for wrack-associated invertebrates suggesting they have disproportionate vulnerability to impacts. Reduced diversity of this group was consistent with long-term habitat loss from erosion and sea level rise at one beach. Wrack-associated species richness declined over time at impacted beaches (beach fill and grooming), despite observed increases in overall intertidal richness. In contrast richness of these taxa increased at more than half (53%) of the beaches including two beaches recovering from decades of off-road vehicle impacts. Over more than three decades, our results suggest that local scale processes exerted a stronger influence on intertidal biodiversity on beaches than regional processes and highlight the role of human impacts for local spatial scales. Our results illustrate how comparisons of overall biodiversity may mask ecologically important changes and stress the value of evaluating biodiversity change in the context of functional groups. The long-term loss of wrack-associated species, a key component of sandy beach ecosystems, documented here represents a significant threat to the biodiversity and function of coastal ecosystems.

Concepts: Ecosystem, Coastal geography, Ecology, Sustainability, Biodiversity, Shore, Coast, Beach