All along the coast of the U.K. and in other coastal communities around the world, the threat of sea level rise and more violent storms is forcing towns and governments to make difficult choices — build higher, build stronger, or retreat.
The U.K.’s Environment Agency is experimenting with a kind of coordinated retreat for the hardest to defend coastal areas, a tactic referred to as managed coastal realignment. It’s a controversial approach for a relatively small island nation. But the recent wild winter storms are starting to change attitudes — strategic surrender suddenly seems like it may be the smart, sustainable solution.
The controversial plan? Cut a 100 meter channel into the shingle bank and let the ocean reclaim 500 hectares of land, transforming three farms and the RSPB nature reserve into a saltwater marsh. Then behind the newly created inter-tidal zone, about two kilometers inland, build a new seven kilometer curved clay embankment — completely “realign” the coast. The price? £28 million ($46.5 million). The coastal realignment not only moves the sea wall further inland, it also creates a powerful buffer zone of marsh that can absorb storm energy. Interestingly, there is archeological evidence that the area was originally dominated by saltwater marsh hundreds of years ago.
It’s not just the Islanders in the South Pacific who are threatened.