Shifting sands? Coastal protection by sand banks, beaches and dunes

Hanley, M.E. et al. | Coastal Engineering | 2014 | Peer Reviewed | Original research |


In a closely integrated system, (sub-) littoral sandy sediments, sandy beaches, and sand dunes offer natural coastal protection for a host of environmentally and economically important areas and activities inland. Flooding and coastal erosion pose a serious threat to these environments, a situation likely to be exacerbated by factors associated with climate change. Despite their importance, these sandy ‘soft’ defences have been lost from many European coasts through the proliferation of coastal development and associated hard-engineering and face further losses due to sea-level rise, subsidence, storm surge events, and coastal squeeze. As part of the EU-funded THESEUS project we investigated the critical drivers that determine the persistence and maintenance of sandy coastal habitats around Europe’s coastline, taking particular interest in their close link with the biological communities that inhabit them. The successful management of sandy beaches to restore and sustain sand budgets (e.g. via nourishment), depends on the kind of mitigation undertaken, local beach characteristics, and on the source of ‘borrowed’ sediment. We found that inter-tidal invertebrates were good indicators of changes linked to different mitigation options. For sand dunes, field observations and manipulative experiments investigated different approaches to create new dune systems, in addition to measures employed to improve dune stabilisation. THESEUS provides a ‘toolbox’ of management strategies to aid the management, restoration, and creation of sandy habitats along our coastlines, but we note that future management must consider the connectivity of sub-littoral and supra-littoral sandy habitats in order to use this natural shoreline defence more effectively.