Hawaii & Alaska
MARCO GARCIA/ASSOCIATED PRESS

HI - Hawaii’s famed Waikiki Beach could disappear by the end of the century. It's not the only one.

As the seas rise because of climate change, 70% of all sandy shorelines on Oahu, Maui and Kauai are chronically eroding. Thirteen miles of their beaches have already been lost to erosion in the past century.

Waikiki Beach is often where visitors first fall in love with Hawaii. Its soft sand, calm and inviting waters and view of Leahi (aka Diamond Head) are known worldwide. Once home to Hawaiian royalty, Waikiki is now a popular tourist destination, generating 41% of the state’s tourism revenue in 2015.

But climate change threatens the iconic beach. With global sea levels conservatively estimated to rise at least 3 feet by 2100, Waikiki Beach may not be around at the turn of the century. Some scientists think Waikiki Beach could disappear even sooner.

As the seas rise because of climate change, 70% of all sandy shorelines on Oahu, Maui and Kauai are chronically eroding. Thirteen miles of their beaches have already been lost to erosion in the past century.

Sea level rise is not the only driver. Warming oceans have sickened coral reefs, which no longer produce enough sand to replenish the beaches. Seawalls and other coastal protections, intended to protect the beaches, instead, are making the problem worse, studies have found. And, especially on beaches with steep slopes, every visitor pushes a little more sand into the sea.

Since 2006, the government has invested $10 million into maintaining Waikiki Beach, including “beach nourishment,” hauling in tons of sand from other sources and placing it on the beach. It’s a short-term, unsustainable solution.

“Beach nourishment is typically designed for a discrete period of time, 10 to 20 years usually,” Dolan Eversole, a scientist with the University of Hawaii Sea Grant College Program, told SFGATE. Inevitably, the seas will rise too far, and the costs will grow too high.

“In Waikiki, without beach nourishment, we would expect the beach to completely disappear in 20 to 30 years,” says Eversole. That would be devastating for an economy that depends on tourism — visitors spent $17.75 billion statewide in 2019. The state predicts losing Waikiki Beach would mean a loss of $2.22 billion a year.


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