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San Diego County Chapter

Beach Preservation

Preserving our beaches is core to Surfrider’s mission. But how can we enjoy our beaches if they are disappearing before our eyes? Enter our Beach Preservation committee, the most effective volunteer watchdog for the preservation and protection of San Diego County’s 70 miles of coastline.

What We do

Our volunteer-led Beach Preservation committee keeps tabs on issues that negatively affect beach access and/or the future of our natural coastline. We fight to ensure access to the beach, by first making sure there is a beach to protect, and by keeping coastal cities and the California Coastal Commission accountable. We meet monthly on Monday evenings, 1-2 weeks prior to the California Coastal Commission. If you would like to learn more and/or become active in the critical work of preserving San Diego’s beaches, there is a seat at the table for you. Email beachpres@surfridersd.org for more info, or drop in on our next meeting. 

beach pres 1984

The Issues

Rising Tides, Shrinking Beaches

Human activity has greatly accelerated sea level rise, exacerbating the erosion of San Diego County beaches. By the year 2050, we stand to lose 50-100 feet of beach in many areas of the county.  A Sea Level Rise Vulnerability Assessment by the city of Del Mar, for example, found that the city’s beaches could be completely underwater by 2060. Sea level rise impacts are not exclusive to San Diego: Southern California stands to lose up to two thirds of its beaches entirely if climate change is left unchecked, according to the Unites States Geological Survery. The video below, which provides local footage of the annual King Tides event, offers a sobering glimpse of what our beaches will look like in the future.    

 

Sea Walls and Coastal Armoring

Prioritization of private property at the expense of public beaches

Casual beachgoers often assume sea walls are built for their protection, but this is almost never the case. Sea walls, like the ones that line Solana Beach, are typically constructed by homeowners to prevent damage to their property. The problem is that sea walls set an artificial back to the beach. This interrupts the natural landward migration of our beaches that has accelerated due to sea level rise. Additionally, coastal armoring has been shown to worsen erosion, meaning the construction of seawalls is the quickest way to lose our beaches.   

Sea wall construction in Solana Beach
Concrete fill next to natural erosion of the bluffs in Solana Beach
Sea walls south of Fletcher Cove
The site of a house built after the Coastal Act, closer to the bluffs than recommended, whose owner now wants to build a sea wall.

Sand Supply

Beach sand is primarily a product of the weathering of land, and most of it comes from rivers and streams. In San Diego, it also comes from the erosion of coastal bluffs. Development upstream has severely interrupted natural sand flow to San Diego beaches, as have harbors, jetties, and other hard structures along the coast. This loss of natural sand sources contributes greatly to the thinning of our beaches.

Historically, sand has been imported to our beaches at taxpayer cost. Surfrider Foundation is not opposed to beach (aka sand) nourishment per se, as it is a preferable “soft solution” to the hard armoring we oppose. However, we recognize that beach nourishment is, at best, a temporary solution to maintaining our beaches for several reasons. First, ocean currents constantly displace beaches; sand does not stay where you put it. Secondly, sand nourishment alone will never be sufficient to stop rising seas. And lastly, different types of sand can negatively affect wildlife, especially microbial communities.

Beach Access

Beaches belong to the public and should be accessible to everyone. But our access is constantly being challenged by private property owners, developers, poor city planning, sea level rise, or a combination of all of the above.

Maintaining beach access in an era of development requires thoughtful and specific action, especially as it becomes buried by other priorities. As the threat of sea level rise looms large for instance, seawalls have unfortunately become a go-to short term solution to protect private property. In many areas of San Diego County, seawalls now block previously accessible beach access points. In other cases, private property owners have simply chosen to illegally limit beach access.

Relocation (aka Managed Retreat)

Sea level in San Diego County will rise from 1-3 feet by 2050 and up to 10 or more feet by 2100. Each ‘vertical’ foot of sea level rise equates to the loss of about 100 ‘horizontal’ feet at sea level. The science is quite clear; if we do not leave space for our beaches to migrate landward, we will lose our beaches. This is why Surfrider Foundation advocates a policy we prefer to call ‘resilient relocation.’

Other entities advocate for beach nourishment and engineered solutions as a way to preserve our beaches, but these expensive strategies have unintended consequences and will be rendered ineffective as sea levels rise exponentially by the turn of the century. Simply put, the ocean is moving landward and we cannot stop it. We can have a managed retreat or an unmanaged one. We believe the former is a better deal for everyone. 

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