The Coastal erosion crisis

By Eleanor Ethuin, Lena Kolenda, Alejandra Mabarak, Maxime Gerbier, & Anais Pajot

Already by 2006 one fourth of the littoral had been destroyed by erosion. Originally, erosion is a natural phenomenon conditioned by different parameters, such as climatic, meteorological, hydrodynamic or sedimentary ones. However, the anthropogenic activity resulting from human activity has perturbed this natural process. Among the disruptive elements we could name massive tourism development and infrastructure related thereto, rise in the sea level due to global warming, messy protection and building works.


Examples of such erosion can be seen in Lacanau, Sri Lanka, Cancun and Thailand.

In Lacanau for instance, the houses built in the sand are in danger. In 2014, after several storms, the coastline (the limit at which the sea arrives at high tide) has reached the place where it was planned for 2040. Now, the city is obliged to consider relocation.


In Sri Lanka there are losses of land, houses and other infrastructures such as roads because of erosion. According to an article published recently in a science journal, the measures taken “only buy time and sometimes makes the problem worse”. It stipulates that it is better to “understand [the erosion’s] physical processes and work with them instead of working against nature.”

In Koh Phi Phi Island,Thailand, between 1980 and 1990, the building boom began with over 200 hotels being built on the 12.25 km2 island. In addition, tsunamis have hit the coastline increasing the speed at which erosion is taking place.
The native inhabitants remember the island of their childhood as a green and fertile forest, with dreamy beaches and wonderful coral reefs with plenty of fish. This small paradise was once covered with wild vegetation but today, 30 years later, it has totally changed. Today the island receives between 5 and 7 thousand tourists annually which brings with it the problem of how to deal with the pollution of the surrounding water and excess of garbage left behind by them. Even worse, the area is a National Park, which is supposed to be protected by government programs, but unfortunately, these programs have little or no effect on the pollution. The native inhabitants feel betrayed. In fact : marine biologists say that the corals around Maya Bay are dying, killed by speed boat anchors dragging on the seabed, sewage from hotels and illegal waste disposal. According to them, in 5 years’ time all the coral will have died if nothing is done to stop the pollution.

In Cancun, natural disasters (such as hurricanes) and tourism development (especially road and hotel construction) have also caused massive erosion and the amount of sand on the beaches has decreased. How a beach as famous as the Cancun’s one possibly lack sand? It would have terrible repercussions on the tourist activity ! That’s why the local authorities created a nourishment plan to replace the sand for a cost of 230 million Mexican pesos. As a matter of fact, they transported similar sand from another beach to this famous shore. The story ends with two beaches damaged: a famous beach still concerned by erosion even with the temporary new sand and an ecosystem disturbed (turtles climb with difficulty the new beach ) and another beach, from where the sand was taken, with it flora and fauna destroyed.

With just these examples, there is no shadow of a doubt that man’s intensive development activities have disturbed Mother Nature’s rules!

If reparative measures are not effective then we should concentrate on erosion prevention.

Many different methods have already been tested; wave or wind barriers, beach vegetation, or beach nourishment. However, as previously explained, beach nourishment is not a sustainable activity as it destroys a place to repair another one and its effects on the nourished beach won’t last. We have to bear in mind that at the outset erosion is a natural process! Sand is naturally taken from a beach to be brought elsewhere, from one place to another as explained by Yvonne Battiau-Queney, professor in l’Université de Lille and president of the “shore’s protection association” (L’association de protection des littoraux EUCC-France.)
The problem is that sometimes it is difficult to accept the erosion with the sand escape because most beaches form part of the touristic patrimony and attract many tourists for their beauty.

It is natural BUT massive human activity disrupt and speed up this phenomenon. In fact, 67 million people are living in France, among them 11,3% live on the littoral. Each year, the country welcomes 60 million tourists to their coastlines (89,5% of the French population ). This is the reason why prevention measures are taken.
Nevertheless, all the solutions evoked above are public infrastructures built by the state or local authorities. Some of them linked to the “Loi Littoral” aimed to preserve the French shores. This law reflects a desire for sustainable development, mainly about the preservation of the environment ; it stipulates “the protection of biological and ecological balances, the fight against erosion, the preservation of sites, landscapes and heritage”, together with the preservation of aquatic and non aquatic economy : “the maintenance or development in the coastal zone of agricultural and forestry activities, industry, handicrafts and tourism.”
Sadly, the objectives of the “Loi Littoral” are questioned by the new “Loi Elan” ( voted in 2018 ), which authorized buildings in protected areas. If the government keeps changing its mind, how could we consider long-term and sustainable solutions ?
Governments’ solutions might be questioned, but they are not the only actors able to make a difference.
So how can hotels or individuals participate in this project ?

We could imagine that we could all individually be part of this mission by preserving the environment, respecting rules established by the state: by not building too close to the shoreline, by respecting protected areas, by not polluting, by not damaging flora and fauna, by individually engaging in ecology to limit global warming and limit water levels rising.

Motivating factors would be one, to increase awareness about the damage caused by erosion, by joining public, private and social organisations to prevent and regulate erosion actions and two, by implementing the green productivity in tourism industry i.e. the production of more with the same quantity of raw material. It implies recycling and economy of resources.

Individuals and companies also participate through the payment of local taxes, which in turn can be used for building new infrastructures.

Erosion is a major challenge to the world and the loss of our littoral patrimony is ongoing. Sadly, people maintain their bad habits and until they are affected in their everyday lives, changing mind-sets will take time, hence by the time we wake up, it might already be too late. The state has set in motion different preventive actions to slow down the effects of erosion, e.g. hotels built with eco-friendly measures but these measures only go a small way towards slowing down the effects of erosion. We hope our article will make you realize that our earth is beautiful, and to hand, it over to the next generation, we have to make a conscious effort to be active in its preservation, starting with simple daily actions. Earth is a unique jewel. If we don’t act together, who will…?


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