Beaches are formed over many years by the forces of weathering and erosion. The action of wind, waves, currents, and tides along the boundary between the sea and the land leads to the formation of a beach. Beaches play important roles in protecting people living near the beach against high waves and winds of powerful storms. They support intertidal lifeforms. Beaches are also important to the economy of many nations as they act as top spots of recreation. Given the importance of beaches, it is very important to protect them against degradation. Unfortunately, numerous threats to the beaches exist including:
Natural Coastal Erosion
Erosion of the beach due to natural factors like the action of wind and waves is common. Beaches eroded in this manner are said to be in retreat. Varying weather systems can also influence beach erosion. For example, El Nino events can speed up beach erosion in the affected areas. When the weather improves, the beaches usually recover.
Beach erosion due to natural factors is difficult to stop. However, several measures can be taken to ensure that the erosion does not cause significant loss to the community dependent on the beach for livelihood. Often, people have shifted important infrastructure located on a beach further inland to prevent damage to such infrastructure due to receding, unstable beach. Seawalls are often built to lessen the process of erosion. Seawalls are barriers built of rock, concrete or plastic along the beach to prevent the sand from being washed away by the waves. Such barriers are not, however, always effective. In some cases, such structures even speed up the process of erosion. When waves hit seawalls, they often rebound with higher energies and thus wash away the beach particles in the front of the wall with higher speed. Often, such human-made barriers are no match to the forces of nature and give in to such forces. During Hurricane Sandy, several of the seawalls in Sea Gate caved in leading to great losses to property.
Sea Level Rise
Today, sea-level rise is a looming threat to the world’s beaches. The global warming caused by the rise in greenhouse gases in the atmosphere is the main trigger for the sea-level rise in recent decades. The rising global temperatures are melting the ice caps at the poles leading to the increase in the water level in the sea.
Beaches are threatened by sea level rise. Sea levels have been gradually rising for many years, drowning some beaches completely. It is not only beaches but also entire cities, villages, and coastal ecosystems that are at risk of vanishing due to the encroaching sea.
Although beaches are usually lost by natural forces of erosion over a long period of time, the process can be speeded up by human interference. Sand mining in the beaches that involves removal of sand from beaches used for construction activities elsewhere is a big threat to the beaches. The construction of dams can also destroy beaches. When dams are constructed, the volume of sediments carried by the river to the beach decreases. Thus, this causes the beaches to retreat. Construction of homes and tourists facilities on beaches further degrade them.
Beaches, especially those in urban areas and in popular tourist destinations, are highly susceptible to pollution. Waste and sewage generated from homes, hotels, restaurants, etc., are often dumped into the sea before proper treatment. Industries located near the sea also often release harmful chemicals into the sea. Visitors to the beach also tend to litter the area. Beach pollution is extremely detrimental to the survival of life forms living on the beach. The coastal ecosystem is adversely impacted by such pollution. Birds may choke on the small bits of trash left behind in the beach. Marine mammals can get entangles in strings and ropes that wash into the sea from the beach and drown. Algae and other marine flora may fail to develop in the presence of toxic pollutants in the beach.