Engineering away our natural defenses: an analysis of shoreline hardening in the US

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Abstract

Rapid population growth and coastal development are primary drivers of marine habitat degradation. Although shoreline hardening or armoring (the addition of concrete structures such as seawalls, jetties, and groins), a byproduct of development, can accelerate erosion and loss of beaches and tidal wetlands, it is a common practice globally. Here, we provide the first estimate of shoreline hardening along US Pacific, Atlantic, and Gulf of Mexico coasts and predict where future armoring may result in tidal wetland loss if coastal management practices remain unchanged. Our analysis indicates that 22 842 km of continental US shoreline – approximately 14% of the total US coastline – has been armored. We also consider how socioeconomic and physical factors relate to the pervasiveness of shoreline armoring and show that housing density, gross domestic product, storms, and wave height are positively correlated with hardening. Over 50% of South Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico coasts are fringed with tidal wetlands that could be threatened by future hardening, based on projected population growth, storm frequency, and an absence of coastal development restrictions.

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