Human populations are attracted to coastal environments; over 1.2 billion of the world’s population live on coasts, at or just above sea level. The interactions between humans and coastal processes and landforms lead to a diverse range of impacts that need management. A first major problem that arises from the interaction between humans and the coast is that of rapid erosion. The sea is able to erode land away through processes such as attrition, corrosion and hydraulic action. Erosion is fastest on softer rocks, such as Boulder Clay – in some places along the Holderness coast in the UK this rate is more than 2 metres a year. This process is natural, but may be increased by human interaction also. On the south coast for instance, the problem of sediment starvation has arisen at Barton-on-sea because groynes, built to maintain a beach at Bournemouth (another interaction with landforms and processes) has prevented the movement of longshore drift eastwards and consequently, with no beach to break up the energy of the waves, erosion speeds up. This erosion creates a problem that requires management purely because humans have chosen to live within close proximity of the cliffs here. More than 29 villages have been lost along the Holderness coast since Roman times, illustrating the problem.
A second example of the way in which human interactions with the coastline causes an impact is dredging. This process causes changes in beach profiles which may accelerate erosion further. An example of this would be Hallsands Devon, where in the early twentieth century shingle extraction began offshore for the construction of Plymouth Docks. The beach protecting the cliffs collapsed to fill holes in the sea bed leaving the cliffs unprotected. In January 1917 a high energy storm event caused massive erosion at Hallsands. This illustrates that human interaction with coastal processes can greatly accelerate erosion and so any further shingle extraction or dredging requires careful management.
A third major problem that arises from the interaction of humans with coastal processes and landforms is coastal flooding. Again, coastal flooding is a natural process, but the fact that humans chose to live in such close proximity creates a management problem. At Chiswell for example, coastal flooding was having a dire impact on the economy of the Isle of Portland. Regular flooding caused by the percolation of water through the shingle of Chesil Beach, and over-washing of high storm waves was causing the main road onto Portland to be closed. The prevented the movement of people and goods to and from Portland (a tombolo) and the economy slumped. Management was therefore required to improve the situation; since hard engineering has been implemented, house prices have increased by 40% illustrating what a problem coastal flooding here caused.
The case of Chiswell however is relatively small scale, and the interaction of humans with the coast can be seen on a global scale. Global warming, occurring at a faster rate due to human activities, threatens all those who live near to the coast in low-lying areas. In Bangladesh for instance, 110 million live on the fertile river deltas of the Ganges and Brahmaputra, taking advantage of this location for farming. It can be seen therefore that a drastic management plan would be needed to lessen the impact of sea level rise. Not only would sea level rise cause an impact because people live near the sea, but also because industry is often located there on the coastal plains and flat land. In the UK, sea level rise could threaten ports such as Southampton, Portsmouth, Liverpool and even the capital. A loss of such areas would therefore have a drastic economic consequence, so management to prevent such a problem arising is now necessary.
Further interactions between humans and the coast arise because of tourism. The Dorset coast is one area that is particularly popular in the UK. Studland Spit is especially popular with its sandy beach and dune ecosystem behind; in the height of the season more than 25000 people a day may visit Studland. The ecosystem is being destroyed as tourists illegally park cars off the road or walk over the dunes. Barbeques may set vegetation alight, rapidly destroying areas of this fragile ecosystem. Furthermore, up to 13000 tonnes of litter may be dropped on the beach in a single month. Therefore, in order to protect this ecosystem and conserve it for future generations management is required.
A final way in which humans interact with coastal ecosystems and cause problems is management itself. Integrated shoreline planes are necessary to maximise the management potential. When local councils do not work together and consider the natural littoral system, management at one place causes a problem elsewhere. This is illustrated well by the example of Barton, mentioned earlier. To maintain an adequate beach for tourists at Bournemouth, Barton has suffered and a new management scheme is therefore required.
In conclusion then, humans interact in a wide variety of ways with both processes and landforms at coasts. The impacts of these interactions frequently need managing to protect coastal environments, but more often than not to defend people form the sea.