An Overview of Beach Erosion and the Impacts of Coastal Development with an Emphasis on the USA East Coast

Defense Date


Document Type


Degree Name

M.S. Marine Biology

First Advisor

Steffen Schmidt

Second Advisor

Donald McCorquodale

Third Advisor

Edward O. Keith


Shorelines are constantly changing structures and beaches move, shrink, and expand as natural forces impact the shore. "Beach erosion" occurs naturally on beaches however when human activity takes places on beaches it is considered negative and costly to human activity. Coastal development exacerbates the negative impact of beach erosion on human activity because the erosion process interferes with the economic activity and recreation by humans on the coast. Rising sea level, winter storms, hurricanes and high energy waves cause homes and businesses to erode and collapse into the ocean. With their growing coastal population, erosion has become a large problem on the coasts of Florida, the Metropolitan East Coast (MEC) Region and Delaware, among other regions in the United States. It is also a problem in many other countries with coastal shorelines. Engineers have attempted to reduce or stop erosion through the construction of hard and soft structures. The consequences of placing these human responses to erosion on beaches have not always been positive. Costly sand renourishment programs have been regularly used to rebuild the eroded beaches at great public cost. Interest groups and environmentalists have lobbied for legislation to restrict construction and stop development in hazardous coastal areas. Legislation has gradually been put in place to partially address these issues. With a continually increasing coastal population, further research of beach dynamics and erosion mitigation is needed to improve the current approaches used to address the erosion and coastal development problem. After reviewing the literature on beach erosion this paper examines several case studies on the East Coast of the USA, focusing on erosion as a problem, the impacts of increased coastal population and responses each area has to help improve the interaction between coastal erosion and humans.

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