Well-built seawalls have long been used as an inexpensive way to control coastal erosion. Seawalls are associated with reduced aesthetic value, and increased erosion at the ends and in front of the seawall. Well-built seawalls have long been used as an inexpensive way to control coastal erosion. Seawalls are associated with reduced aesthetic value, and increased erosion at the ends and in front of the seawall.
Seawall construction is one of several options available when high value land cannot be protected in other ways. The approach provides a high level of protection to valuable coastal areas although the long-term sustainability of the approach should also be taken into account. While seawalls do protect coastal properties and beaches, they are expensive, damage wildlife, mainly benefit the rich and encourage risky building near the coast.
Rising tidal activity, in part driven by climate change, increasingly threatens coastal communities. Officials are assessing shore defenses around the country, including considering seawalls. But are such structures the answer, or are there more effective alternatives? The use of seawalls began more than 150 years ago when coastal communities used local stones and rocks to construct barriers. The construction of concrete seawalls began in the early 20th century.
There are only so many ways to play against the rising sea. Seawalls are one option, but they come with a hidden cost — forcing the sand before them to wash away. For every new seawall protecting a home or a road, a beach for the people is sacrificed. Using seawalls to protect against sea level rise and storm surges can be counterproductive, scientists warned in a major UN report this week.
Climate-ADAPT says seawalls provide a high degree of protection against coastal flooding and erosion, fix the boundary between the sea and land to protect important infrastructure or buildings, and have a lower space requirement than other coastal defenses such as dikes. “Living shorelines,” which substitute seawalls with vegetation that could serve both as protection and public open space, has been gaining popularity as a less politically fraught approach. Some lawmakers see this as a way to buy more time as the backlash over relocation continues.
For a century, people have built sea walls to protect against flooding.
That’s changing. Seawalls are expensive to build and maintain. And if they’re allowed to degrade, they can wash into the water and hurt habitats. Environmental experts say many communities that build seawalls aren’t prepared to deal with the ongoing cost or damage to their shorelines.
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