Cannes, Cancun, Torremolinos and West Palm Beach — this is the roll call of some of the world’s favourite beaches which are facing wipeout due to sea level rise.
Scientists in Northern Ireland are warning it could take a sea level rise of just a few feet to threaten some of the world's most famous beach resorts.
According to Professor Andrew Cooper, Professor of coastal studies in the School of Environmental Sciences at the University of Ulster, the problems caused by changing sea levels are being compounded by a lack of political will and a lack of short-term coastal management initiatives.
While sea level rise is the most pervasive driver of coastal change, beaches are not necessarily threatened by sea level rise alone.
The problem arises when beaches are artificially hemmed in and not given room to move, the Coleraine-based academic said.
“Beaches have survived 120m of sea level rise over the last 10,000 years. Problems only arise if we don’t give beaches room to move and to adjust to the changing sea level,” Professor Cooper said.
“A key attractor in most of the world’s examples of coastal resort cities has been the presence of an adjacent beach.
“Some well-known examples are Benidorm, Torremolinos, Cannes, West Palm Beach, Florida, Atlantic City, New Jersey, Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, Virginia Beach, Virginia, Cancun — and the most rapidly developed of all coastal resort cities, Dubai.
“In all of these resorts the challenge is to preserve the real estate behind the beach and still save the beaches, which are being pushed landwards by rising sea level.
“People are responding to the threat of rising sea level by building walls to protect valuable property.
“When sea level rises, the beach wants to move, generally further landward, but the wall stops it so eventually, the beach gets squeezed out.
“That’s really the Achilles heel of coastal resorts as beaches must be allowed to ‘move’.” Beach replenishment or nourishment is sometimes seen as panacea for disappearing beaches, but Professor Cooper insists this is not a solution either.
“Beach nourishment would not be needed if developments were properly planned to give beaches room to move,” he said.
Professor Cooper recently published the results of a study along Australia’s Gold Coast to assess options for coastal resort cities. The study could become a blueprint for resorts around the world.
“Beach resort cities are mostly artificial creations on the shoreline that rely on beach nourishment to sustain them and on their reputation for a clean and safe environment,” he said.
“Our study of resorts along the Gold Coast suggests that we might just cope with a one-metre sea level rise, but not even careful planning could enable resorts to survive more than that.
“The problems are the volume of additional sand required to hold the beach in place and the engineering requirements for protection of developments.
“These problems are compounded by a lack of political will to adapt, uncertainty over how much sea level will rise, short-term coastal management initiatives, and climate change sceptics.”
Beaches which are deemed to be under threat:
West Palm Beach, Florida,
Atlantic City, New Jersey
Myrtle Beach, South Carolina
Virginia Beach, Virginia
Dubai (United Arab Emirates)