Facilitating landform migration by removing shore protection structures: Opportunities and constraints

Karl F. Nordstrom, Nancy L. Jackson, Charles T. Roman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Scopus citations


Recent studies have identified the need to adapt to climate change by allowing landforms and habitats to migrate landward, although implementation of actual adaptation responses is limited. Removing the barriers that shore protection structures create between coastal and upland habitats can reestablish exchanges of sediment and the ecological functions of the natural ecotone. The potential for removing these structures was evaluated in 12 national parks managed by the U.S. National Park Service. Criteria for removal included condition of structures, influence of natural processes, environmental benefits, public safety, and visitor access and use. We found that 145 structures out of a total of 407 could be removed or allowed to deteriorate. We highlight three adaptation projects that are currently being conducted, two of which involve removing structures. Reasons for not taking a more pro-active approach to removing protection structures include (1) conflicting policy directives; (2) presence of key access roads and critical archaeological and historic sites; (3) lack of data; (4) lack of funds and human resources; (5) reluctance to replace known problems with an unknown set of problems; (6) consideration of visitor desires; and (7) reluctance to allow erosion to occur. Demonstration projects are needed to provide information about adaptation strategies that promote enhancement of ecosystem functions. Projects to remove protection structures are likely to be viewed as successful only if results are specified as a positive product, and the distinction between the concept of loss (erosion of existing landforms and habitats) and the concept of gain (evolution of new landforms and habitats) is made clear.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)217-226
Number of pages10
JournalEnvironmental Science and Policy
StatePublished - Dec 1 2016

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law


  • Beach erosion
  • Coastal habitat
  • Managed retreat
  • Resource management
  • Sea level rise
  • Sediment resources


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