Beach erosion, often referred to as coastal erosion, occurs when the area’s sand is washed into the ocean. Beach erosion is a constant process, and the persistence of a beach depends upon local rivers and streams to transport more sand to the area. If the area loses more sand than it gains, it begins to shrink over time.
Beach erosion occurs because of wind, rain and waves. Strong storms in the ocean can cause serious damage in a short period of time. As most major rivers in the United States have been dammed, the amount of sediment that reaches the ocean is very low. Accordingly, most U.S. beaches are slowly disappearing. Climate change, which causes the sea level to rise, also influences the rate of erosion.
When the beach begins disappearing, there are a few things that humans can do to protect it. Sea walls and other structures often serve as a temporary solution, but they ultimately cause different problems. A better solution is to protect naturally occurring barrier islands. These islands weaken the waves and storms that contact the beach, which reduces the amount of sand that is washed away. Another alternative is to increase the amount of vegetation on the beach, as tree and plant roots help to stabilize the sand.