Failure to protect beaches under slowly rising sea level

Policies to conserve and enhance beaches, public access, and coastal open space are failing in Hawaiʻi according to a recently published study by researchers at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa.

A team of specalists in coastal erosion, sea level rise, and urban planning quantified land use on a section of Oʻahu, Hawaiʻi coast over the period 1928–2015, a time of slowly rising sea level. They concluded that coastal zone management practices in the state, and nationally, will require new policies, or more effective ways for implementing existing policies, in a future characterized by accelerating sea level rise.

U.S. coastal zone management (CZM) relies on an integrated chain of federal to local programs that emphasize beach conservation, public shoreline access, and preservation of open space, as well as other goals. In testing the efficacy of these policies over a century of slow sea level rise, the team found a shift from accreting shorelines and wide beaches in the early data, to expanding erosion and beach loss concurrent with increasing backshore development and seawall construction throughout the period of study—trends at odds with policy objectives.

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