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Coastal erosion

Sound coastal erosion management

Europe's coasts are suffering from increasing coastal erosion. Coastal zones are retreating, in 2004 about twenty thousand kilometres of coasts faced serious impacts.

Where does coastal erosion originate from?

Land and sea interact with each other along the coast line. Demand and supply of sediments to the coast play an important role within this process. Obstruction of the natural flow of sediments in river basins or by infrastructure on the coast may cause a lack of sediment to replenish the coast and hence lead to erosion. Storms together with high waves often cause erosion by attacking beaches, dunes and cliffs.

As long as there is enough space and buffer zones, these processes do not cause grave problems. The challenges arise when coastal zones are highly urbanised and urbanisation draws nearer to the shoreline. This makes the buildings and its residents more exposed to possible damages from flooding and erosion. Ill-planned coastal defence constructions may aggravate erosion by trapping sediments.   

Climate change aggravates coastal erosion even more: sea level rise, increased storminess, changes in prevalent wind directions and higher waves put Europe's coast under additional pressure.

To tackle coastal erosion an integrated approach is needed. This approach should include practical measures (preserve dune strength, maintain beach width, allow retreat of shoreline in a controllable way) as well as the elaboration of management plans. ICZM includes principles that are also important for coastal erosion management, such as the involvement of all relevant parties, local specificity and taking a long term perspective. The EU ICZM Recommendation serves as a guiding policy for the implementation of coastal erosion management, as it highlights the challenges of coastal erosion and flooding.

With the aim to develop coastal erosion policy recommendations, the General Directorate Environment of the European Commission launched the project EUROSION in January 2002, for two years. It was conducted by a European consortium under the lead of the National Institute for Coastal and Marine Management (RIKZ) of the Dutch Ministry of Transport, Public Works and Water Management.

The main findings and recommendations of the pan-European EUrosion study are summarised in the brochure "Living with coastal erosion in Europe: Sediment and Space for Sustainability":es fr it pt.

For more information and reports see www.eurosion.org.

On 25 November 2004, The Dutch Presidency organised a Coastal Conference to discuss the practicability of the recommendations of the EUrosion project and their validity across many different European coasts. The report of the event can be downloaded here:

To build on the EUrosion project and to operationalize key concepts to improve the sustainable management of coastal erosion the CONSCIENCE project was launched in 2007 within the 6th framework for Research, Technology and Development of the European Union.