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Coastal Armoring

The Problem: Sea turtle nesting beaches throughout Florida and in many other areas around the world have been substantially altered by urbanization and development. People want to live near the coast and coastal areas are considered prime real estate by many developers. As a result, many of the world's beaches have been heavily developed. Many coastal areas are facing increasing shoreline erosion due to rising seas, coastal storms and houses being built too close to the beach. Coastal property owners often build coastal armoring structures to protect their homes from erosion and storms. Two common types of armoring are wooden or steel vertical seawalls and piles of rock called revetments. In addition, governing bodies often add to erosion problems by constructing and deepening navigation inlets or constructing jetties and groins which alter the natural flow of sand.

What many don't realize is that these man-made structures such as seawalls prevent sea turtles from continuing their natural life cycles. Armoring directly threatens sea turtles by reducing suitable nesting habitat and forcing turtles to nest in less favorable nesting areas. Although coastal armoring is intended to decrease sand loss, studies show that armoring can actually increase sand loss and erosion in front of and around them. So while property owners may be protecting their homes, the sea turtles are losing their nesting habitat. In addition, studies have shown that fewer turtles emerge onto beaches with seawalls than onto adjacent, non-walled, natural beaches. False crawls (when turtles crawl onto the beach to nest but return to the water without nesting), can actually increase in front of seawalls. Florida's beaches host approximately 90 percent of all the sea turtle nesting in the United States. Sadly, the number of these armoring structures in Florida increases every year with sea walls stretching across about 20 percent of Florida's beaches.

Species Affected: All sea turtle species are affected by coastal development and beach nourishment.

The Solution: People need to rethink how we allow development on the seaward edge of critically eroding beaches. By not allowing people to build or rebuild so close to the water we can reduce the need for coastal armoring. We also need to ensure that when seawalls are constructed they are placed as close to the home and as far off the nesting beach as possible. We must continue to study the effects of beach nourishment and ensure we rebuild beaches to the highest standards possible and that the new beach is of the same quality as the natural beach. There are a number of things people can do to protect nesting beaches. These changes cannot take place without the public's help.
  *Support set back policies and other changes in regulations that prohibit building too close to the nesting beach;
  *Don't build seawalls on the beach;
  *Help re-plant native dune vegetation to reduce coastal erosion and protect nesting habitat.

Case Study: In 2004, Indian River County in Florida developed the Habitat Conservation Plan, designed to minimize the impacts on marine turtles resulting from the construction of county-permitted sea walls. The county has continued to permit sea wall development for years now and is one of the most armored counties in Florida. These types of armoring structures are harming sea turtles in violation of the Endangered Species Act. Models, made to predict the impact of such structures, have found that the cumulative impacts of beachfront armoring may be substantially greater than the sum of impacts from individual structures. As the extent of armoring increases, proportionately fewer nests are being laid on the affected beach.

Related links:
  * Watch "Higher Ground: The Battle to Save Florida's Beaches
  * Free the Beach Campaign
  * Resource Management Issues: Coastal Armoring
  * Planning, Policy and Regulatory Approaches to Shoreline Management
  * Read more about coastal habitats
  * Take the Coastal Habitat Quiz
  * Sea Turtle Survival


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