Those are beaches that are about to disappear due to climate change – and not just because they’re great for relaxing, surfing the web or watching people. With each wave breaking and the tide changing, billions of pieces of sand and rocks are constantly being rearranged.
In many cases, this real estate that is coveted for its proximity to the beach is disrupting natural processes and in many places, increasing the rate of erosion. Compounding the problem are the jetties, groins and other man-made structures built to keep sand from moving.
“Once you block the movement of sand, it may move to deeper areas offshore instead of replenishing the beach,” said Kristina Hill, an associate professor at the University of California, Berkeley. Combine this with rising seas and more intense storms caused by the climate crisis, and you have an existential threat to some of the best beaches around the world caused by the climate change.
“As sea levels rise, that beach wants to be somewhere inland. And in order to try to get there, we expect that it will take away the beach much faster than it is right now,” said Orrin Pilkey, director emeritus for the Program for the Study of Developed Shorelines.”Sea level rise will spare nobody.” Here’s how some of the world’s most famous beaches are imperiled by sea level rise, because of the climate change.
Waikiki Beach, Honolulu, Hawaii
Framed by highrise buildings and the Diamond Head crater, when you think of Hawaii, you think of Waikiki Beach.
Sadly, the beach is at risk of sinking beneath the very waves that bring surfers to it within the next 15 to 20 years, according to a 2017 Hawaii Climate Commission report. Losing Waikiki would not only be devastating for its value as a landmark, it would also be a blow to Hawaii’s tourist economy: Visitors to the beach bring in $2 billion annually.
Hawaii, for its part, is taking climate action. The state is aiming to generate 100% of its energy from renewables by 2045. But scientists say we are already locked into some amount of sea level rise from the greenhouse gases humans have added to the atmosphere, and without swift global action to reduce emissions, Waikiki’s fate remains uncertain.
South Beach, Miami Beach, Florida
Dubbed the “canary in the mine shaft” by its own mayor when it comes to the impacts of sea level rise, South Beach and all of Miami Beach’s high-end real estate sits just feet above sea level. The city is taking action to keep the most vulnerable areas dry by building sea walls, installing pumps and raising roads, but recent hurricanes combined with rising seas have eroded parts of South Beach.
After past storms, the city has tried to replenish the sand lost from its famous beaches by dredging it up from offshore. But finding usable sand is becoming harder in an era of rising seas. Since Miami Beach’s offshore reserves have been depleted, city officials are now exploring buying sand from the Bahamas and elsewhere to keep their beaches alive.
Copacabana Beach, Rio de Janeiro
One of Brazil’s most iconic beaches, Copacabana welcomes more than two million revelers to its annual New Year’s Eve extravaganza, plus millions more throughout the year to its sandy shores.
But Copacabana and several of Rio’s other popular beaches are highly vulnerable to the impacts of sea level rise. The threat has become more apparent in recent years, as a series of extreme storm surges have eroded stretches of the city’s beaches and sent sand onto surrounding streets.