Coastal Resilience Focus Of Technical Journal

Author  Kate Gooderham

In the aftermath of Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy, attention has been focused on rebuilding resilient coastal systems to reduce damage from future disasters. “Resilience” has been defined in a variety of ways; in general, resilience is having the capacity to recover or bounce back from adversity and adapt to be prepared for the future.

Providing resilient solutions for coastal systems must address present and future challenges affecting the coastal zone. Aging infrastructure, expanding coastal populations, competing uses of natural and human infrastructure, heightened environmental concerns, limited fiscal resources and changing conditions are some of the interconnected and sometimes conflicting challenges facing coastal regions.

As of 2010, more than 50% of the U.S. population (or 164 million residents) lived within coastal watershed counties; an additional 180 million tourists visited coastal areas annually. As a result, significant economic damage and loss of life have occurred from natural disasters and storms in the past decade. Coastal resilience has emerged as one way to address the need to prepare for and adapt to future hazards.

With changes in the frequency and severity of extreme weather including rainfall, storms and long-term changes in lake or sea levels, planning for coastal community resilience can be challenging. The concept of resilience for coastal communities includes four distinct stages:

  1. Being prepared,
  2. Resisting and/or absorbing the impacts of disturbances,
  3. Recovering, and
  4. Adapting.

Planning for coastal resiliency encompasses typical and extreme storm events (single as well as multiple), as well as long-term changes in sea or water levels, human infrastructure and changing precipitation patterns, amongst other potential natural and human-related hazards. Resilience can be related to any aspect of the coastal zone, such as ecosystems; the natural or built capacity of a region to mitigate impacts of typical, extreme or long-term environmental processes; economics (e.g. commerce, tourism); community health, well-being and aesthetics; and other benefits of coastal regions.

Managing coastal systems to be resilient broadens the range of actions that a coastal community can utilize to reduce the likelihood for present and future damage. To prepare, communities can comprehensively evaluate the range of typical and extreme events, including unlikely combinations of events that may not have been experienced historically. Measures can be put into place to resist damage (e.g. efforts to reduce the rate of shore erosion) and/or absorb impacts (e.g. a natural or created retaining basin to temporarily hold flood waters and reduce inundation).

Rapid recovery means ensuring there are multiple networks and redundancies so that loss of one evacuation route or protective structure does not significantly impact the system. Vulnerabilities and weak links in the system can be identified and somewhat mitigated by planning to rapidly recover (e.g. stockpiling sand at narrow junctions in a barrier island). Adaptation can be proactively addressed by providing community education, identifying evacuation routes and establishing early warning procedures; and planning for alternative measures and/or actions in advance of future change.

A just-published dedicated issue of Shore and Beach includes papers that summarize research and advancements in coastal resilience, including new planning tools and adaptation methods presently applied in coastal communities. Shore & Beach is a peer-reviewed technical journal of coastal management and science published quarterly by the American Shore & Beach Preservation Association since 1933.

Among the papers published in the issue:

  • “A Tale of Three Storms: Morphological Response of Broad kill Beach, Delaware, Following Hurricane Sandy, Hurricane Joaquin and Winter Storm Jonas” by Dohner et al., detailed field observations of the effectiveness of beach nourishment as a coastal resiliency technique. The analysis of beach performance included habitat and ecological monitoring of marsh areas providing a systems approach to adaptation.
  • “Advancing Coastal Systems Resilience Research: Improving Quantification Tools through Community Feedback” by Touzinsky et al. presented a comprehensive discussion of coastal resiliency and a framework for “…rapid assessment, and planning and operational studies” developed by a partnership with federal, academic and local entities.
  • “A Coastal Resilience Case Study: The Little Creek/Pretty Lake Communities of Hampton Roads” by Considine et al., provided a case study of a coastal community preparing for climate change, under the Hampton Roads Intergovernmental Pilot Project. The collaboration improved networking and sharing information to anticipate how the region could adapt to climate change.
  • “A Tale of Two Surveys: What Coastal Communities Need to Meet the Challenges Posed by Climate Change” by Cunniff summarized surveys by the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) conducted to capture the perceptions and priorities of coastal communities concerning the effects of climate change on local environmental priorities. Although the surveys were conducted in two different regions (Hampton Roads, VA, and in the northeastern U.S.) over a two-year period, results were similar and illustrated the difficulties coastal communities are having in communicating risks associated with climate change and in prioritizing mitigation measures.

Founded in 1926, the American Shore & Beach Preservation Association (ASBPA) is a 501(c)3 nonprofit that advocates for healthy coastlines by promoting the integration of science, policies and actions that maintain, protect and enhance the coasts of America. For more information on ASBPA, go to