Coastal erosion

What is coastal erosion and when is it a problem?
What can be done?
Key concepts
Indicators and monitoring
Potential interventions
Setback lines
Use of models
EU policies and Directives
The way forward
How to do it?
Systematic approach
Decision loop
Relevant Web links


1. What is the problem?
Define strategic and tactical objectives


Make your problem and objectives Specific:
  • Problem analysis should specify what goes wrong
  • Objectives should specify what they want to achieve

Coastal erosion is a natural phenomenon. However, human influence, particularly urbanisation and economic activities in the coastal zone has turned coastal erosion into a problem of growing intensity.  In order to determine the need for action a good problem analysis is required. In this analysis several questions must be answered.

  1. WHY is it a problem ?
  2. WHAT should be achieved ?
  3. WHO is concerned ?  WHO is responsible ?

1. WHY is it a problem ?

Functions of the coast
In the first place one should identify  which functions of the coast are threatened by erosion. In low lying coasts the erosion could affect the safety against flooding (see Pevensey Bay, UK; Holland coast NL). Erosion could also reduce the size of recreational beaches, with impacts on local tourism (see Costa Brava, E.). Erosion of sandy and cliff coasts could threaten existing infrastructure, such as roads, railways and seawalls (see Kerry Coast, IRL, Hel Peninsula, PL.

Sometimes functions of the coast have been formalised trough specific regulation or zoning. In this case coastal erosion could lead to a violation of these regulations. Examples are the safety standards used in the Holland coast. But also nature areas having a conservation standard (e.g. Natura 2000) could be threatened by erosion, which call for an appropriate respond. An example is the Danube Delta (pilot site Romania).

Physical causes of erosion
Already at this stage it is important to identify the characteristics and main causes of erosion. Understanding the dynamic nature of the coastal margin is a key factor in managing coastal erosion. EUROSION recognises the sustainable development of coastal zones and the conservation of dynamic habitats, especially on the remaining undeveloped coast, as important long term goals for European coastal zones. This requires a respect for, and in many cases restoration of, the natural functioning of the coastal system and hence its natural resilience to erosion. Coastal erosion is the result of a sediment imbalance (i.e. a disturbance of the key concept favourable sediment status), which in its turn could be the result of many physical factors (CONSCIENCE report 13A gives a nice overview). Both spatial and temporal dimensions are relevant here: is the erosion structural or event driven (storms) or a combination? Is the erosion very local or occurring over a large stretch of the coast?  In order to study these aspects, we need to delineate the key concept of a coastal sediment cell, at which these sediment process operate.  In the next step (How big is the problem) methods for quantifying these processes are described.


2. WHAT should be achieved ?

Setting of objectives
In this first step we also need to address the objectives for coastal erosion management: what policy goals are endangered if coastal erosion continues unabated? Examples of such policy goals are provided by the different CONSCIENCE pilot sites:


Strategic objectives

Tactical objectives

The Holland coast (NL)

Safety, sustainable values & functions

Preserve dune strength, hold the line and adapt to sea level rise


Hel Peninsula (Poland)

Preserve the peninsula

Maintain beach width
Prevent breaching


Danube Delta (Romania)

Sustainable coastal development

Reduce coastal erosion


Costa Brava (Spain)

Maintain recreational carrying capacity
Enhance safety of infrastructure

Maintain beach configuration


Inch Beach (Ireland)

Promote sustainable tourism

Prevent damage to infrastructure


Pevensey Bay (UK)

Sustainable risk management

Hold the line


Ideally, coastal erosion management is part of an existing integrated coastal zone management ICZM) policy. Within such framework the policies regarding sustainable coastal development are explicated as well as the ways how to involve coastal stakeholders and preferred methods for solving problems and conflicts. A key concept for sustainable development in relation to coastal erosion is coastal resilience:  because coasts are inherently dynamic it is often wise not to allow developments that could reduce the resilience of the coast. For instance, the implementation of a buffer zone or set-back line is a useful measure to safeguard coastal resilience. Another useful concept as part of a sustainable coastal erosion policy is the designation of key concept strategic sediment reservoirs.

3. WHO is concerned ? WHO is responsible ?

By addressing the affected functions it is also important to identify whose interests are violated. Already in this analysis phase, communication with stakeholders is highly recommended.
Before continuing with the next step it is advisable to include in your problem analysis an overview of the governance structure along the coast: Who has the power and means to act? Which legislation (both national and EU) and regulations are applicable? What are the tasks of the government agencies at local, regional and national level? How are stakeholders usually involved?


A specific targeted research project under the
EU’s 6th Framework Programme for Research (FP6)