More than 50% of the world’s population live within fifteen miles of the sea. Consequently, humans have a major impact on coastal environments and implement a range of management strategies which have differing levels of success.
A first major impact that humans may contribute to is that of cliff collapse. Frequently houses have been built on cliffs, increasing pressure on the cliff or preventing the passage of water through the cliff causing structural damage. This process can lead to mass movement and cliff erosion. A further way in which human activity may speed up cliff collapse is through interfering with the sediment supply in the littoral system. This has occurred on the south coast on England were groynes have been constructed at Bournemouth and Hengisbury. Consequently the sediment moved eastwards by longshore drift, is limited and no beach can be maintained at Barton. In turn, this means that the cliffs are left open to wave attack; coupled with the weak geological situation cliff collapse is frequent and the cliff recedes at a rate of around one metre per year.
A number of management schemes have been implemented to slow the erosion. In 1971, 1.2 million was spent on both cliff face and cliff foot defence schemes, including the constructions of revetments, groynes and a cliff drainage system. This policy has been of only limited success however; the cliff has been eroded behind the head of the groyne making them ineffective and there are fears that the drainage of the cliff will cause further damage. Erosion has continued and so this policy has been unsuccessful.
Moreover, off shore dredging may also contribute to cliff collapse. Dredging for shingle took place at Hallsands in south Devon at the turn of the twentieth century to aid in the construction of Plymouth dockyards. The impact of this was that the beach that protected the cliffs at Hallsands filled the holes in the sea floor and no longer protected the cliff and the village behind. In this case a do nothing policy was implemented the authorities informed locals that the sea would re-deposit shingle. The process did not occur however because sea levels had fallen as a result of isostatic adjustment. When a storm hit the coast in January 1917, the cliffs were rapidly undercut and collapsed destroying the village. This policy therefore was completely unsuccessful. ‘Do nothing’ managed retreat policies are not always unsuccessful – in the case of Hallsands however, the coastal processes were not fully understood.
Coastal landscapes are also hugely popular for tourists, in addition to being residential locations. More than 16.5 million people visit the Dorset coastline per year and as a result impact heavily on ecosystems. Studland beach located just south of Poole Harbour may attract as many as 25000 a day in the height of the summer. A range of problems have been caused including erosion of the fragile dune ecosystem through fires, illegal of-road parking and walking. The National Trust manages the area and has implemented a management strategy that has been a partial success. This has included fencing off areas of the dune and placing boardwalks along the most popular routes. This has successfully cut erosion. Furthermore, the main car parks have been enlarged and despite this being unsustainable and environmentally ‘bad’ for the ecosystem, half a million pounds is raised annually to help with conservation and educate the public about the fragile ecosystem. Furthermore, zoning takes place (for example between windsurfers and swimmers) and prevents conflicts and minimises the impacts of human activities on parts of the beach and dunes. Therefore, despite the area around Knoll beach remaining tourist dominated, the National Trust has managed to successfully minimise some of the impacts of humans.
On a much larger scale, human activity is causing sea level rise. As emissions of greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide and methane are emitted, the earth is warming and seas expanding. Many coastal areas are low-lying plains or islands and drastic management plans are needed in such areas. The Maldives in the Indian Ocean is the flattest country in the world with some islands having a maximum altitude of just 2.3 metres. Any sea level rise that does occur therefore will have a drastic impact on such low-lying land. The island capital, Male, is now surrounded by a sea wall of six feet high and the government is encouraging afforestation in the hope that this will minimise erosion by higher sea levels. This policy is unlikely to succeed however; the sea wall protects only a single island and none of the other two hundred inhabited islands. Furthermore, it is designed to withstand high energy events rather than sea level rise. Although governments do now meet to discuss cutting emissions, quotas would need to be strictly adhered to. This is unlikely to happen, especially in the short term, so this management policy is meeting with little success.
On a small scale, humans may increase coastal flooding through use of impermeable surface, which prevent percolation. This problem has been rectified at Chiswell on the Isle of Portland through hard engineering strategies. At a cost of £5 million a drainage system was installed in the 1980s and Chesil Beach was artificially heightened to prevent storm waves from reaching the town. This policy has been of great success – the local economy is booming and the sailing events of the 2012 Olympics will take place at the old Naval Base. House prices have increased by 40%. This policy therefore has been of great success.
In conclusion therefore policies to deal with coastal issues caused by humans have varying success rates. When the problems are on a fairly small scale, management is frequently a success – such as those implemented on the south coast – provided the acting processes are understood. Problems caused globally, such as sea level rise, are more difficult to manage and policies may be of limited success. Such policies will become all the more frequent as sea level rise continues throughout the twenty first century.