Rising Seas, Shrinking Beaches

“What we’re building and not building, and where we’re zoning and planning now is really going to forecast how devastating sea-level rise is to our state… Right now we’re deciding which beaches to save and which ones to allow to disappear…”

– Mandy Sackett, Surfrider Foundation, “In California, Rising Seas Pose a Bigger Economic Threat Than Wildfires, Quakes,” Scientific American

If we lose our beaches, we lose everything that goes along with them: wiggling our toes in the warm sand, riding waves at our favorite breaks, the diverse ecosystems hosting countless ocean and coastal creatures, the key driver of our state’s economy – indeed, California’s very identity. That’s why Surfrider Foundation prioritizes coastal preservation as core to our mission.

In California, most of this work takes place each month at the California Coastal Commission meetings where our efforts are focused on establishing appropriate setbacks for development, opposing shoreline structures, and advocating for long-term adaptation solutions to our rising seas. Our constant attention to, and presence at, Coastal Commission hearings has made Surfrider staff go-to sources regarding what sea level rise means for California.

Emerging research continues to add to the urgency and importance of sea level rise planning: If we don’t act now, the costs of sea level rise and climate change adaptation will increase exponentially. A majority of California’s beaches are at risk of disappearing from sea level rise and this will come at a great cost.

  • The U.S. Geological Survey recently found that 31 to 67 percent of Southern California beaches may completely vanish by 2100 due to sea level rise and cliffs could recede more than 130 feet by the year 2100.
  • Several recent studies have shown that impacts from flooding – from water in the basement to inundated streets impact property values. For example, flooding has already hamstrung property prices and cost Hampton Roads homeowners hundreds of millions of dollars in lost or unrealized values.
  • The costs of sea level rise and climate change adaptation will increase exponentially over time. The National Institute of Building Sciences found that mitigation funding can save the nation $6 in future disaster costs, for every $1 spent on hazard mitigation.
  • A recent study published in the Nature journal found that the combination of sea level rise and storms in California has the potential to displace more than half a million people and cost $150 billion by the end of the century – 6% of the state’s GDP. 

“I feel like a broken record saying this, but there is still such a disconnect with the public on such a key, simple message: Sea level rise doesn’t just impact homeowners; it impacts every person who wants to go to the beach.”

– Jennifer Savage, Surfrider Foundation, “The California coast is disappearing. Our choices are grim,” L.A. Times

The biggest threat to saving our beaches is coastal armoring (i.e., seawalls, revetments, rip rap). California currently has 142 miles of coastal armoring: over 30 percent of the Los Angeles, Orange and San Diego County coastlines are already armored. Without strong guidance and without strong local planning policies, these numbers will increase exponentially and our coast will disappear – rendering useless all other attempts to maintain or improve coastal access for all Californians. 

Coastal landowners and planners will inevitably attempt to act to protect their assets from these losses, but protection should not come at the expense of public resources. We must ensure that the incredible value of our beaches, recreational opportunities and vital coastal habitats persist for generations to come.

To this end, Surfrider Foundation and our partners highlight important projects that come before the Commission and evaluate how committed our Commissioners are when it comes to saving California’s coast on ActCoastal, as well as post hearing presentations on ActCoastal’s YouTube channel .

7/25/19: Surfrider Foundation asks the Coastal Commission, local governments to act.
3/17/19: Surfrider Foundation presents to the Coastal Commission about King Tides.

Sea level rise in the news:

April, 2020

March, 2020

February, 2020

January, 2020

December, 2019