Despite the overwhelming scientific consensus about the influence of green-house gasses on the climate, the perceived dangers of climate changewere ignored both on corporate and governmental level. Greenhouse gas emissions have a direct influence on the rising sea levels around the world. According to NASA (2017) observations, the global sea level rose by 85 millimeters since 1993, and the rate of change is steadily hanging on 3.4 millimeters per year. Although this number may not seem high to the average citizen with limited knowledge of the sea levels, this rise in water levels poses a significant threat to shores and beaches around the world. They bring not only a very real threat of flood to the coastal cities, they also threaten the economy of countries and states that revolve around tourism and beach resorts, as those are in danger of being consumed by the sea or face erosion. The Atlantic and Gulf Coasts of the United States are seeing beaches eroding at an alarming pace; Florida’s coastlines and beaches are especially affected negatively (Aagaard et. al., 2007). History of Florida is filled with struggles against the sea and effort to preserve its shorelines (“Sand dunes,” 2017). Although the situation was never as dire as it is now, the state has some experience in managing these situations. There are two main mechanisms of counteracting beach erosion and preventing floods. The first mechanism involves building and maintaining reinforcing structures, such as sea walls, in order to prevent the erosive sea water from affecting the shoreline. The second approach involves using sand dunes and vegetation in order to reinforce beaches and make them more resistant against erosion. Both approaches have their own positives and negatives regarding cost, short-term and long-term efficiency, implementation speed, and the effect on the surrounding environment.
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Significance of the Problem
Florida is considered to be the USA’s central agricultural region as well as a prime tourist destination (Hodges, Rahmani, & Stevens, 2013). Tourism contributes around 67 billion dollars a year to the state’s economy, and not all of that money comes from Disney Land. Shores and beaches, along with enjoyable climate, serve as primary attractions for tourists interested in swimming, surfing, bronzing, beach-ball and other kinds of activities. The rising sea levels present a direct threat to that source of income, as they diminish coastal land usage and endanger the local tourist attraction. Thus, it is critical for Florida economy to develop and sponsor projects aimed at reducing the chances of a possible catastrophe, which would hit not only the state, but the entire country.
Theoretical Basis for the Study
The information available on the subject highlights several key factors that can be used as a basis for this study. Economic analyses and resumes provided in this paper state that the safety and protection of shorelines are paramount to Florida tourism, and that the destruction of these shores are going to hurt the economy of the region in the long run. According to Hodges, Rahmani, and Stevens (2013), over a half (410 miles) of the state’s shoreline remains in critical state and in dire need of renovation. Out of these, only 56% have received any sort of federal funding for erosion protection and renovation efforts (“Strategic beach management plan,” 2015).
Literature dedicated to measures that could be taken to protect beaches from erosion indicate 2 approaches to the problem – the construction of artificial barriers to prevent beach erosion, or management of already existing sand dune structures (“Beach nourishment,” 2017). Artificial barriers and interventions are classified into two groups – hard and soft interventions. Hard interventions assume the creation of new barriers, while soft interventions suggest improvement of the already existing ones through conservation efforts and vegetation (Bitton & Hesp, 2012).
Lastly, the information about availability of material, transportation, financial constraints, and standard practices allow assessing the economic plausibility of certain methods when applied to the situation in Florida, and enable choosing the appropriate course of action, depending on the results of the evaluation.
Florida is a region highly susceptible to storms. In the past, it has been hit by numerous hurricanes, the latest ones being Charley (2004), Wilma (2005), Fay (2008), Hermine (2016) and Matthew (2016). Addressing the problem of coastal flooding is a pressing issue on the economic agenda of Florida; flooding is a major threat to the state’s economy (i.e., the crops) and people’s lives (i.e., possible accidents as a result of flooding) requiring urgent solution proposal to address a major issue affecting Floridians. One solution is the construction of man-made structures as barriers which offer an immediate better outcome for the state’s economy and solve the problem short-term; however, it is likely to harm the ecosystem due to lack of sustainable solution when man-made structure is the only structure built (Li & Nadolnyak, 2013). The natural coastal system, which can be used to protect people and crops, requires a significant update and may lack efficacy as a tool against flooding (Bolter, 2012). As stated by Bochev, Wijnberg, and Hulcher (2011), the level of protection against flooding that the natural coastal system provides is heavily dependent on the dune’s height, erosion state, and shape of the foredune. It is therefore necessity to determine which of these approaches is most efficient in the long run, address disadvantages, and set up the best strategy when introducing specific management plan to address the issue of coastal flooding in Florida (Villarreal, Chafetz, & Meredith, 2015).
Research Questions and Hypotheses
Although seawalls provide a high degree of protection against coastal flooding, native beach-dune systems are more effective in providing long-term ecological sustainability and coastal protection given that native dunes are better defence against coastal flooding, beach erosion, and rising sea-level and the least costly way to maintain a recreational beach for future generations.
To test the hypothesis, these research questions will be answered:
- To what degree does the use of nature dune system allows the prevention of erosion and flooding of Florida coastal areas and contribute to the preservation of recreational and residential areas?
- To what degree does the use of man-made structure allows the prevention of erosion and flooding of Florida coastal areas and contribute to the preservation of its recreational and residential areas?
- How do these two approaches compare and why is the use of the natural dune system more efficient in the long-term perspective?
Neither sand dunes nor artificial man-made structures provide a sufficient level of protection from erosion to justify their economic feasibility, and the situation should be left as it is, with no interference into the natural process of beach erosion.
Florida has been known as a tourist destination and the epicentre of the U.S. agricultural for a long period of time (Hodges, Rahmani, & Stevens, 2013). Florida’s coastline has a long history of confronting sea-level rise, which presents some challenges. With recent changes in the environment, particularly rise in sea level and subsequent threat to attractions and coastal land usage, it becomes necessity to introduce elements of protection against possible catastrophe (Borisova, Breuer, & Carriker, 2014). Currently, natural dunes and man-made structures (artificial) approach for managing these problems are used.
Economic and Environmental Data
The rise of the sea level has been closely monitored by NASA from as far as 1993. According to their findings, between 1993 and 2017, the ocean levels steadily rose by 85 millimetres, taking about 3.4 millimetres a year (NASA, 2017). The graph provided at the official site shows no significant reductions at any given time period, despite the fact that environmental movements were arguing for reduction of greenhouse gas emissions for some time. It is safe to assume that for the next decade, the situation will remain the same if not become worse. Appropriate planning must be done, when engineering man-made structures, in order to ensure that they would not be covered under water following the estimated increase by 34-50 millimetres of water in the next 10-15 years.
The issue of coastal flooding and associated threats to the economic and environmental sustainability of Florida has been the topic of numerous discussions in the scientific community (Czajkowski et al., 2015). The issue of sea level rise and subsequent coastal flooding has affected the environment of Florida significantly. The ecosystem of the state is currently in peril. Similarly, the amount of drinking water has been reduced significantly. Low-lying areas have been affected the most and the rest of the state has also experienced difficulties (Bloetscher, Hammer, Berry, Locke, & Allen, 2016).
County officials of Florida begin to admit that rise in sea level jeopardizes the environment. Surprisingly, counties have been reluctant to incorporate the problem of sea-level rise into its Coastal Management Program. Florida and other US coastlines have experienced shoreline recession. As a rule of thumb, analysis done by various scientists showed that Florida has been subjected to about 1,000 feet of shoreline recession for every rise in sea level (Yohe, 1991). Scientific analysis by the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) shows that there have been rapid dynamical changes in the flow of ice in the last 50 years ranging from 0.18 to 0.60 meters (Yohe, 1991). There are numerous possibilities attributing to this occurrence. Scientific studies indicate that greenhouse gas emissions from different parts of the USA and other parts of the world, particularly China and India, have caused a faster rise in temperature (Yohe, 1991). Despite the fact that there are uncertainties on how much sea level rises are due to carbon-circle feedback effects, scientists believe these changes cause erosion of coastlines (Ruppert, 2008).
Apart from environmental concerns and threats to agriculture, lives of numerous citizens and economic implications of sea level rising include coastal destruction, flooding, and reduction in availability of sea resources (Science and Technical Advisory Panel, 2014). Furthermore, other economic issues can be viewed as reasons for concern: possible damage to state infrastructures will affect sustainability of the economy and lives of Floridians to a considerable degree (Cunnif & Schwarz, 2015).
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In addition, people are more likely to be reluctant in considering Florida as the place for vacation or live, which will likely affect the financial sustainability of the state. This will affect the financial resources available for managing environmental issues. There will also be problems in tourism and the real estate industry, which will all have negative effects on Florida and its citizens (Wiggins, 2015).
The use of natural dunes has been an option for quite a while in regards to fighting rising sea level. Dunes provide a rather efficient protection against rising sea level (Ciavola et al., 2015). However, the shrinking of dunes observed over the past few years suggest that the identified approach may fail to meet the needs of residents of Florida for the long term. It is therefore important to have strategies for making dunes last longer (Elko et al., 2016).
Native dune systems are aimed at providing long lasting solution to climate change affecting South Florida’s coastlines, which can be incorporated to similar coastlines in the United States. Dune restoration can be achieved by planting native plants like Sea Oak (Uniola paniculata) (Hooton, Miller, Thetford, & Claypool, 2014). Sea Oak provides dune vegetation with enormous root system that can significantly help strengthen beach dune structure and effectively protect against beach erosion; it has been observed to have significant impact and can contributed to long lasting solution to climate change effects on South Florida’s coastline (“Building back the sand dunes,” 2017). This concept could then be incorporated to other U.S. coastlines to bring similar result.
In addition to sea level rise and beach erosion, the U.S. coastlines within the last century have increase development and recreational usage, and is significantly threatened the existence and stability of sand dunes; the result is negative impact from the climate situation in South Florida. To deal with this problem, man-made structures have been erected close to Florida’s shoreline, which has consequently inhibited the landward movement of sand dunes as a way of responding to rises in sea level (Basco 2006). Some human activities, such as driving on dunes, often lead to deterioration of beach vegetation, which would normally play a significant role in trapping and holding sands to prevent erosion of beaches (Williams, 2007).
Man-made structures have proven to have higher endurance levels (Nateghi, Bricker, Guikema, & Bessho, 2016) but they require significantly greater investments (Shumba, Makurira, Nhapi, & Gumindoga, 2014). Furthermore, the use of artificial tools for managing coastal flooding and rising sea level affect the environment negatively. These changes to the ecosystem may trigger the extinction of certain plant and animal species as these species are displaced from its natural environment (Huh, 2015).
This paper is aimed to explore and compile information regarding the use of artificial structures and natural dune systems as means of preventing beach erosion and coastal flooding. The study is also aimed to assess the economic feasibility of both systems and determine in which cases sand dune management will be more appropriate for use, and when the construction of artificial structures is a necessary and indispensable measure. While it is obvious that both methods have their own strengths and weaknesses, the criteria for using either or both must be addressed. Implications, conclusions, and motivations for further study will be provided at the end of the research.
The research design implemented in this paper is a literature meta-analysis. All available data pertaining Florida coastal erosion, types of man-made artificial beach structures, methods of natural sand dune preservation, innovative methods tested and used as part of Florida beach restoration effort, economic impact, and other related issues will be collected and used in order to provide accurate and well-informed assessments of the situation. Data collection is retroactive and will use all available data extracted from scholarly journals, peer-reviewed studies and books, governmental information sites, and ecological and construction organizations. This data will help analyse the negative and positive impacts of man-made structure versus natural dune system in regards to combating rising sea level and coastal erosion. Assessments of current structures present along Florida shores will be made, and each type of structure will be analysed, in order to determine its cost-effectiveness, overall effectiveness, impact on the natural ecosystem, and potential for sustainability. Additional data will involve economic reports and assessments of tourist activity in Florida, in order to determine the importance of tourist business and contribution to economic growth of the region. The research will also compare data between present structures in order to determine whether natural dunes or artificial reinforcements are more effective at protecting the shoreline from damage and erosion.
Crucial data collected from coastal Florida will focus on the areas critically damaged by erosion and spread throughout the seven coastal regions of the state. The extensiveness of damage dealt will be viewed through the lens of direct physical damage to the coastline, impact on business and tourism and impact on residents. The data will take into account the presence or absence of man-made structures or natural barriers to flooding and erosion. When discussing economic feasibility of either option for reconstruction, the important parameters to be taken into account will be the price, the availability of materials in relative proximity to the construction site, the effectiveness of measures in preventing floods and erosion, the long-term effects on the ecosystem, and the long-term perspectives. This data will be analyse to prove or disprove the research hypothesis and determine the preferred method for protection of coastal Florida.
Assessment of the Situation
According to Florida Department of Environmental Protection (2015), tourism and business makes up a large portion of the state’s income, capping at 67 billion dollars a year. At the same time, annual spending on sea resort preservation are at least 8 times smaller. Every dollar spent on beach protection and restoration is returned with 8 dollars in tax paid by out-of state tourists, local businesses, and locals partaking in leisure activities on the beach. According to the info graphic provided by the Catanese Center at Florida Atlantic University, out-of-state tourists make a total of 75 million trips to Florida, yearly. The distribution of wealth and tourist activity is uneven along Floridan shore (“Economics of beach tourism in Florida,” 2005). South-Eastern beaches and resorts are the most profitable ones in terms of direct and indirect spending, with 18 billion dollars per year. It is followed by the South-Western region with circa 13 billion dollars in direct and indirect spending. North-Eastern and North-Western regions are not quite as profitable, with tourist net spending being around 5.7 billion and 2 billion dollars per year respectively.
State of the Beach Line Systems
Beach line system of Florida consists of several protective layers, which includes barrier inlets, man-made stone barriers, sand barriers, and natural dune systems. There is a total of 66 coastal barriers, with 21 inlets alongside the Atlantic coast, and 45 inlets along the Gulf Coast. Florida Department of Environmental Protection (2015) provides a list of managed and unmanaged coastal barriers, with the majority of them being unmanaged:
Florida Atlantic Coast Managed Inlet:
|Managed Inlet||County||IMP||Year Adopted|
|St. Mary’s River Entrance*||Nassau||Yes||1998|
|St. Johns River Entrance*||Duval||No||N/A|
|St. Augustine Inlet*||St. Johns||Yes||Updated in 2014|
|Ponce de Leon Inlet*||Volusia||Yes||1997|
|Port Canaveral Inlet*||Brevard||Yes||Updated in 2014|
|Sebastian Inlet||Brevard and Indian||Yes||2000|
|Ft Pierce Inlet*||St. Lucie||Yes||1997|
|St. Lucie Inlet*||Martin||Yes||1995|
|Jupiter Inlet||Palm Beach||Yes||1997|
|Lake Worth Inlet*||Palm Beach||Yes||1996|
|South Lake Worth Inlet||Palm Beach||Yes||1999|
|Boca Raton Inlet||Palm Beach||Yes||1997|
|Port Everglades Entrance*||Broward||Yes||1999|
|Bakers Haulover Inlet*||Dade||Yes||1997|
|Florida Atlantic coast unmanaged inlets:|
|Unmanaged Inlet||County||IMP||Year Adopted|
|Fort George Inlet||Duval||No||N/A|
|Matanzas Inlet||St. Johns||No||N/A|
Florida Gulf Managed Inlets:
|Managed Inlet||County||IMP||Year Adopted|
|East Pass*||Okaloosa||Yes||Updated in 2013|
|St. Andrews Inlet*||Bay||No||N/A|
|Mexico Beach Inlet||Bay||No||N/A|
|Bob Sikes Cut*||Franklin||No||N/A|
|Boca Grande Pass*||Lee||No||N/A|
Florida Gulf coast unmanaged inlets:
|Unmanaged Inlet||County||IMP||Year Adopted|
|St. Joseph Bay Entrance||Gulf||No||N/A|
|Indian Pass||Gulf and Franklin||No||N/A|
|Ochlockonee Bay Entrance||Franklin||No||N/A|
|Mashes Sands Cut||Wakulla||No||N/A|
|Southwest Channel||Hillsborough and Manatee||No||N/A|
|Passage Key Inlet||Manatee||No||N/A|
|Big Sarasota Pass||Sarasota||No||N/A|
|San Carlos Bay Entrance||Lee||No||N/A|
|Unmanaged Inlet||County||IMP||Year Adopted|
|Big Carlos Pass||Lee||No||N/A|
|Big Hickory Pass||Lee||No||N/A|
|Little Marco Pass||Collier||No||N/A|
|Big Marco / Capri Pass||Collier||No||N/A|
The state of Florida shores leaves much to be desired. Out of 825 miles of shoreline, 410 are considered to be in critical erosion state. At the moment, only a half of these beaches are undergoing renovation. Florida Department of Environmental Protection provides a detailed summary on the state of affairs in the Florida coastal system:
|Northeast Atlantic Coast||56.0||21.6||39|
|Central Atlantic Coast||82.7||45.3||55|
|Southeast Atlantic Coast||72.1||45.8||64|
|Big Bend Gulf||2.3||0.2||9|
More detailed information could be found in Appendix A at the end of this paper.
Along the coasts of Florida, multiple kinds of artificial coastal protection structures have been implemented at some time or another. Near large cities like Miami, Fort Lauderdale, Clearwater, St. Augustine, Daytona Beach and others, sea walls are prevalent measures of beach protection. However, these walls, while sturdy and effective means of protection against floods and erosion, are very expensive, as they are built from steel and concrete, and on problematic and moisture-enriched grounds.
Other artificial barriers that are implemented to protect the shores of Florida include rock armor, gabions, cliff stabilization and drainage, and beach replenishment. The latter is a popular measure implemented across all erosion-critical regions, as Florida is rich with sea sand that could be used to replenish eroded beaches. Rock armor and gabions are less widespread as they are expensive, and not very effective against storms. Rock armor involves creating rows of concrete slabs often connected together and to the ocean floor. They serve as an artificial barrier against waves, while at the same time allowing water to pass through the gaps between the concrete. These measures are effective in regions where threats of storms are not as prevalent. Gabions are similar to rock armor in nature, as they are compiled of various stones (“Groynes,” 2017). However, instead of being placed in the sea, they fortify the shoreline directly, making it more resilient and taking the impact of waves that reach it. Due to their vulnerability to storms, these measures are implemented largely alongside the North-West, and partially in South-West regions.
Sand dunes make up the coastline in high-energy shorelines, where water and wind move the sediment along the shore. Florida identifies and maps critical erosion areas. “Critically eroded” is defined as “a segment of shoreline where natural processes or human activities have caused or contributed to erosion and recession of the coastal system to such a degree that upland development, recreation, wildlife habitat, or important cultural resources are threatened or lost.” Critical erosion areas may also include peripheral segments or gaps between identified critical erosion areas which, although they may be stable or slightly erosional now, their inclusion is necessary for continuity of management of the coastal system or for the design integrity of adjacent beach management projects.
Effectiveness of Sand Dunes and Sea Walls
The hurricanes that struck the shoreline in the past have contributed to the erosion of sand dunes. Human involvement also caused erosion of many locations among the specified list of critically-eroded sand beaches. Due to lack of action in regards to preservation of sand dunes, the ones not affected by the erosion process were beaches located in the North-West and partially in North-East regions, where the amount of tourists is lower than in South-Eastern and South-Western parts of the peninsula.
The flood caused by Hurricane Matthew in 2016 showcased the effectiveness, or lack thereof, of current measures aimed at preventing flood. The storm caused a flashflood, as water from the sea was moving inland, overwhelming sea barrier, sea walls, and sand dunes, causing much damage to the latter in the process. Although the circumstances were extraordinary, the overall lack of effectiveness and the destruction that occurred primarily in the immediate area of Fort Lauderdale, as well as south-east and south-west beaches indicates that neither sea walls nor sand dunes, at their current state, were capable of protecting the mainland from such flood ricks.
Economic and Time Concerns of Implementing either System
There are several factors that affect the costs of installation and implementation of artificial sand or rock-based barriers to protect the mainland from flood and erosion. These factors are:
- The length of the system in question
- Sand permeability and power cost
- Presence of rock that could be used to form rock-based barriers
- Mechanisms of utilization of saltwater
- Drainage design, selection of materials, methods of system installation
- Regional economic capabilities
- Study requirements
- Consent of the general populace.
Rock-based man-made structures are costly to implement in Florida, due to absence of rock that could be used for such purposes. The region is rich with phosphorites, which can be used for extracting phosphorus, but are not viable to be used as material for water barriers due to their nature and physic-chemical attributes. At the same time, due to being an agrarian region and a sea resort, Florida does not possess the capabilities of producing concrete in amounts necessary for large-scale construction operations.
The majority of currently undergoing renovation processes involve either restoration of natural dunes or creation of artificial ones using the sand found in the region, which is aplenty. Extracting and moving the sand to different locations along the coast is an expensive venture, which also adds to the total cost of the operation.
Natural dune preservation involves its own costs, in order to protect the dunes from erosion via natural means or from human intervention. The protection from human intervention involves the construction of walkways and overarching passages to prevent human movement from disturbing the vegetation of the sand dunes. Additional costs involve supplying additional sand to the formation of the dunes and planting weeds and plants such as the Sea Oats, Bitter Panicum, and Sea Oaks at the margins of the shore area (Frosinni, Lardicci, & Balestri, 2012). These plants are native to Florida peninsula and serve as anchors for the sand, preventing it from being blown or washed away into the sea. According to Bitton and Hesp (2012), the plants have a positive dynamic on preventing shore erosion in both short and long-term perspective. However, as indicated by Bochev, Wijnberg, and Hulcher (2011) in their observation of restorative efforts of sand dunes undertaken in the Netherlands for the last 100 years, periodic supply of sand to be assimilated into the natural dune is paramount to counteract long-term effects of erosion, as more and more of the shore is taken away by the sea.
Natural sand dunes make habitats for numerous creatures, many of which are endangered and need to be protected. According to Florida Coastal Management Program (2015), considerations typically include an assessment of the compatibility of sand proposed to be utilized with the existing beach; project dimensions that may adversely affect nearshore hardbottom, or allow additional lighting on the beach that could affect marine turtle nesting and hatchlings; turbidity levels at the borrow site and placement site; and seasonal windows of construction and construction management to protect marine turtles, manatees, Gulf sturgeon, and nesting and migrating shorebirds and other imperiled species. These considerations put an additional price on artificial shore barriers, and affect the restoration of natural dunes to a degree, as those too require sand replenishment, from time to time.
When talking about natural dune reconstruction in Florida, one has to take the state of erosion into consideration, as that factor is considered primary when assessing the necessity for either artificial barriers to be erected, or going the natural dune preservation route. As it was stated in the Florida Environmental Commission Report, over 410 miles of natural shoreline are currently in a critical erosion state, and only half of it is being worked on.
As natural rehabilitation of sand dunes is a lengthy process, Florida cannot leave the matter to natural restoration, since more storms and floods would threaten the already crippled regions and prevent reconstructive efforts from taking place. Thus, despite the additional costs, using artificial barriers and artificial sand dunes would be a preferable course of action, as the results would be achieved much quicker.
Using rock formations and rock armor to fortify the shoreline is not the best way of doing so, as these fortifications are vulnerable to storms that can displace the individual stones and break the entire chains of obstacles connected together. In addition, rock armor is not aesthetically pleasing and will disappoint the visitors from other states. These tourists are a source of income and must be catered to. In case with large shores located near cities, it would be prudent to implement artificial sand dunes reinforced with sea walls to prevent the shoreline from being eroded. This is a costly venture, as sea walls require concrete and steel to construct, but they will prove useful in preventing floods like those caused by tropical storms and hurricanes in the last few years. Existing walls should be made higher in order to prevent water from being poured over.
In areas that did not suffer as much from the human element and natural disasters, and where natural sand dunes still exist, it is recommended to implement measures of protecting and reinforcing the existing sand dunes by planting vegetation to keep the sand together, and erecting wind barriers to prevent the sand from being blown into the sea. This approach will also enable protecting wildlife and the local eco-system from intervention, which would otherwise inevitably come with the implementation of artificial walls and barriers.
To summarize, based on the available information, different regions of the Florida coastline must implement different strategies in order to protect the shores from erosion. Parts of the shoreline located namely in the North-East and North-West would benefit from restoring natural sand dunes, as the situation in those parts is not as critical, and natural resort restoration would serve them better in the long run – natural beaches are a great tourist attraction, when compared to artificial ones. For South-Western and South-Eastern parts of the coast, artificial barriers made of sand and concrete are the only option, as the region was hit with erosion, hurricanes and storms so often that there is practically no hope at effective restoration of natural sand dunes.
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