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17 july 2019

Taking inspiration from nature to restore the coastline

These nature-based solutions have the twofold advantage of lastingly preserving natural ecosystems and being cheaper to implement than conventional engineering techniques. Other benefits include preserving the beauty of beaches and coasts, which serves to attract high-end tourism and protect local communities from flooding.

The concept of nature-based solutions (NbS), which appeared at the turn of the 2010s, is becoming increasingly convincing. All the more so as new coastal restoration approaches (combating beach erosion, stabilizing coastal dunes, etc.) have proved themselves over the past several years.
There are a wide range of complementary approaches: protecting natural coral reefs, building artificial reefs, restoring dunes and stabilizing sand banks are all strategies that help maintain biodiversity. According to PreventionWeb*, restructuring a natural or artificial reef can dissipate 97% of wave energy**, which prevents the accelerated erosion of beaches and limits flood risks.
These kinds of approaches also offer enthusiasts the chance to discover nature in a new way on dives and underwater excursions. While providing economic players with opportunities to develop fisheries, aquaculture and leisure activities (fishkeeping***).
The Now Jade Riviera Cancún Resort site, one of Mexico’s most highly prized tourist destinations (Puerto Morelos beaches), has benefited from a long-term restoration program for its beaches and dunes: two artificial reefs were built 120 meters offshore near a natural reef with great biological wealth (Mesoamerican reef), which has encouraged their lasting presence and the colonization of a wide variety of species. Thanks to this program, which began in 2008 following an extremely violent hurricane the previous year, the huge volumes of sand displaced from north to south have since been managed.
Likewise, in the Netherlands, the creation of the “Sand Motor” (a 138-hectare artificial peninsula requiring 21.5 million cubic meters of sand to construct it) program in 2011 has changed the dynamics of the winds, waves and currents. It is also encouraging the natural formation of new shores over 10 kilometers, along with additional beaches. The twenty-year goal is to create new open-air leisure areas in harmony with nature.
These NbS programs break away from the traditional engineering previously used, which did not guarantee sustainable solutions****, as demonstrated by the fact that the US government has spent some nine billion dollars on projects of this kind, with mediocre results given the costs incurred. Apart from the sheer unsightliness of certain dykes and other protective infrastructure, the shores’ resilience has not been proven.
*The site, the article’s source, offers a platform for presenting disaster risk reduction solutions.
** The effectiveness of coral reefs for coastal hazard risk reduction and adaptation, Nature journal, May 2014.
*** Leisure activity consisting in reproducing aquatic animals and keeping them in captivity in a controlled and aesthetic environment: the aquarium.
****“A Never-Ending Commitment”: The High Cost of Preserving Vulnerable Beaches, source

© Alonso Cupul/EFE/SIPA