Opportunities and constraints for managed retreat on exposed sandy shores: Examples from Emilia-Romagna, Italy

Karl F. Nordstrom, Clara Armaroli, Nancy L. Jackson, Paolo Ciavola

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31 Scopus citations


Managed retreat is rarely implemented on exposed sandy coasts because of public interest in beach recreation and the great human-use value of existing beaches and dunes. The feasibility of retreat on the sandy coast of the Adriatic Sea in the Region of Emilia-Romagna was evaluated at a site with a single user facility (a beach concession) backed by public parkland. A conceptual scenario of changes to landforms and habitats was developed for the retreat option. Interviews with key stakeholders revealed perceptions of alternatives for addressing erosion and flooding by managed retreat or by protecting existing features in place.The beach concession occupies a segment of shore between an eroding (-9.3myr-1) washover barrier updrift and an accreting beach downdrift. Landward of the concession is a portion of the Po Delta Park, consisting of a brackish lagoon and marsh and an artificially-created freshwater lake. Shore protection projects have maintained the concession and the integrity of a dike protecting the lake. Allowing retreat to occur would cause (1) loss of the concession in its present location; (2) erosion of the dike, converting the lake to brackish habitat; and (3) migration of the shoreline to a pine forest, campground and residences that are now 500m from the shoreline. Freshwater and pine forest habitat would be lost, but salt water wetland and pioneer coastal species would be restored. The beach and campground could still be used as the shoreline migrates inland, but with less fixed infrastructure. Landward facilities could be protected by a ring dike.At issue is whether normally dynamic and short-term landforms and habitats should be protected as static features in perpetuity and whether human actions should be taken to protect human-created nature (lake, pine forest) against natural evolutionary processes. Stakeholders indicated that managed retreat should occur eventually but existing features should be protected now. The retreat option is compatible with Regional ICZM plans, but differs from the standard engineering designs actually suggested for implementation. The benefits of managed retreat on exposed sandy shores can only be presented in conceptual terms until demonstration projects provide concrete answers, so it is not surprising that the undocumented benefits of a more dynamic shoreline have little appeal relative to maintaining the status quo. •Managed retreat is evaluated on a coast where sandy beaches have recreational value.•Human-induced erosion is being countered by shore protection projects.•Normally dynamic landforms and habitats are being maintained as static features.•Managed retreat would reestablish natural features and still support beach use.•Stakeholders prefer maintaining the status quo but know that retreat should occur.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)11-21
Number of pages11
JournalOcean and Coastal Management
StatePublished - Feb 1 2015

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Oceanography
  • Aquatic Science
  • Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law


  • Beach use
  • Coastal erosion
  • Managed realignment
  • Sediment budget
  • Wetlands


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