From massive seawalls to mangrove conservation, coastal communities around the world are implementing a range of solutions to protect themselves against rising water levels and strong winds. Sometimes these measures are sufficient. Other times retreat is the only option. When applied right, technology can mitigate or delay some of the worst impacts of climate change.

Innovation examples

  • Dune with beach grass -Ammophila arenaria-, Vlieland, province of Friesland, The Netherlands. Vlieland belongs to the Frisian islands. The Frisian Islands, also known as the Wadden Islands or Wadden Sea Islands, form an archipelago at the eastern edge of the North Sea in northwestern Europe, stretching from the northwest of the Netherlands through Germany to the west of Denmark. The islands shield the mudflat region of the Wadden Sea (large parts of which fall dry during low tide) from the North Sea. Dune with beach grass -Ammophila arenaria-, Vlieland, province of Friesland, The Netherlands. Vlieland belongs to the Frisian islands. The Frisian Islands, also known as the Wadden Islands or Wadden Sea Islands, form an archipelago at the eastern edge of the North Sea in northwestern Europe, stretching from the northwest of the Netherlands through Germany to the west of Denmark. The islands shield the mudflat region of the Wadden Sea (large parts of which fall dry during low tide) from the North Sea.

    Dutch sand motor: a nature-based solution

    On the Delfland coast of the Netherlands, public and private actors have implemented a beach nourishment project that integrates localized … Read more

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    4. Water and coastal regions / Coastal protection / Innovation examples

    Dutch sand motor: a nature-based solution

    Dune with beach grass -Ammophila arenaria-, Vlieland, province of Friesland, The Netherlands. Vlieland belongs to the Frisian islands. The Frisian Islands, also known as the Wadden Islands or Wadden Sea Islands, form an archipelago at the eastern edge of the North Sea in northwestern Europe, stretching from the northwest of the Netherlands through Germany to the west of Denmark. The islands shield the mudflat region of the Wadden Sea (large parts of which fall dry during low tide) from the North Sea.
    Getty Images /©Frans Sellies

    On the Delfland coast of the Netherlands, public and private actors have implemented a beach nourishment project that integrates localized natural processes. A huge amount of sand (21.5m m3) extracted offshore was deposited along the coast in one operation, forming a hook-shaped peninsula. This structure protects against erosion and sea level rise. But more importantly it provides sand for redistribution further along the coast by local currents and erosion processes. Coastal degradation is delayed by creating a large repository of sand to feed costal erosion processes. This so-called sand motor was implemented in 2011 and is expected to remain active for 20 years. Further beach nourishment is unnecessary during this period. In addition, the structure provides novel recreational opportunities and has created habitats for flora and fauna.[1] [2] This idea is being implemented in Benin and Togo as part of a World Bank-financed coastal protection project targeting 40 km of coastline.[3]

  • Big seas erode beach Big seas erode beach

    Applying sophisticated coastal process modelling

    The Adelaide shoreline in southern Australia has experienced continued partial coastal erosion and shoreline recession. Using MIKE 21 software … Read more

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    4. Water and coastal regions / Coastal protection / Innovation examples

    Applying sophisticated coastal process modelling

    Big seas erode beach
    Getty Images/© LBails

    The Adelaide shoreline in southern Australia has experienced continued partial coastal erosion and shoreline recession. Using MIKE 21 software from the DHI company, including models for hydrodynamic flow, waves and shoreline morphology and detailed local coastal models were created. Based on these models, six management scenarios were simulated. They comprised combinations of soft management options such as beach nourishment and hard structures. For each scenario, the morphological evolution of the entire West Beach shoreline was simulated for a 7.5-year period for comparative assessment of their respective pros and cons. Alternative management strategy modelling was a crucial element in developing the long-term coastal management strategy subsequently adopted by the South Australian Government.[1] [2]

  • tropical mangrove forest on the caribbean coast in the Dominican republic tropical mangrove forest on the caribbean coast in the Dominican republic

    Re-establishment of hydrological conditions for mangrove

    Mangrove forests are often destroyed by local infrastructure development. This makes coastal communities more vulnerable to climate change … Read more

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    4. Water and coastal regions / Coastal protection / Innovation examples

    Re-establishment of hydrological conditions for mangrove

    tropical mangrove forest on the caribbean coast in the Dominican republic
    Getty Images /©Bruskov

    Mangrove forests are often destroyed by local infrastructure development. This makes coastal communities more vulnerable to climate change impacts. In Progreso on Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula, a highway construction disrupted the flow of tidal and surface runoff water. This increased salinity which then destroyed mangrove and other natural vegetation. In response, hydro-dynamic modelling was used to identify the best sites for implementing mitigation measures. Natural tidal channels were recovered, new channels constructed and terrain levelled. Natural hydrological flow and salinity levels were both restored and the mangrove forests recovered. The mangrove forest that was recovered protects against weather events and coastal erosion. A comprehensive guide to mangrove reforestation was produced based on lessons learned from the project.[1]

Proven technologies  

  • large fleet of vessels that can undertake various beach nourishment tasks large fleet of vessels that can undertake various beach nourishment tasks

    Split barge, dredging and pumping vessels for beach nourishment

    Mavi Deniz has a large fleet of vessels that can undertake various beach nourishment tasks. Split barges, as well as dredging and pumping … Read more

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    4. Water and coastal regions / Coastal protection / Proven technologies

    Split barge, dredging and pumping vessels for beach nourishment

    Mavi Deniz
    large fleet of vessels that can undertake various beach nourishment tasks
    Photo: © Mavi Deniz

    Mavi Deniz has a large fleet of vessels that can undertake various beach nourishment tasks. Split barges, as well as dredging and pumping vessels, are available. The company manufactures and supplies equipment, vessels and services to more than 55 countries worldwide. The Split Hopper Barge for example, is a vessel designed to carry all kinds of dredged material, such as sand for beach nourishment. It is a dredging vessel that can split over its longitudinal axis to discharge the dredged material.

    • Contracting type: Services
    • Technology level: Medium
    • Country of origin: Türkiye
    • Availability: Worldwide
  • Beach by the North Sea Beach by the North Sea

    Small versatile dredging vessels

    IMS Dredges supplies one-truck transportable, self-propelled hydraulic dredges plus dredging systems for maintaining rivers, lakes, canals and … Read more

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    4. Water and coastal regions / Coastal protection / Proven technologies

    Small versatile dredging vessels

    IMS Dredges
    Beach by the North Sea
    Getty Images /© Rike_

    IMS Dredges supplies one-truck transportable, self-propelled hydraulic dredges plus dredging systems for maintaining rivers, lakes, canals and inland waterways. The Versi-Dredge can construct a beach by pumping sand onto low-lying land and has replenished many beaches in Belize, Mexico and the Turks and Caicos. These relatively small units are versatile and deploy several patented technologies.

    • Contracting type: For sale
    • Technology level: Medium
    • Country of origin: United States
    • Availability: Worldwide
  • Hopper Dredger Spraying Shingle Back Onto The Beach In Eastbourne. Hopper Dredger Spraying Shingle Back Onto The Beach In Eastbourne.

    Beach nourishment vessels

    Boskalis is a large Dutch company offering a variety of marine services. They include hard-structure costal protection and beach nourishment. The … Read more

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    4. Water and coastal regions / Coastal protection / Proven technologies

    Beach nourishment vessels

    Boskalis
    Hopper Dredger Spraying Shingle Back Onto The Beach In Eastbourne.
    Getty Images /© Nigel Wiggins / EyeEm

    Boskalis is a large Dutch company offering a variety of marine services. They include hard-structure costal protection and beach nourishment. The company has a large fleet of vessels operating worldwide. For beach nourishment, several vessels are used including a trailing suction hopper dredger. This dredger collects sand from the seabed and deposits it either through floating and submerged pipelines, rainbowing or offloading through the vessel bottom. The company is also involved in the development and implementation of nature-based costal protection methods.

    • Contracting type: Services
    • Technology level: Medium
    • Country of origin: Netherlands
    • Availability: Worldwide
  • Lake levee - stock photo Lake levee - stock photo

    Synthetic revetments, dykes, levees, jetties, groynes and breakwaters

    Built coastal and marine infrastructure to protect from floods and erosion can comprise many types of materials. They include rock, concrete, … Read more

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    4. Water and coastal regions / Coastal protection / Proven technologies

    Synthetic revetments, dykes, levees, jetties, groynes and breakwaters

    TenCate Geosynthetics
    Lake levee - stock photo
    Getty Images /© shunli zhao

    Built coastal and marine infrastructure to protect from floods and erosion can comprise many types of materials. They include rock, concrete, stone and wood. Tencate Geosynthetics provides such solutions in a synthetic material. For example, the TenCate Geotube® is a large tube made of an engineered textile filled with sand that can be used as breakwaters, groynes and jetties. In terms of beach nourishment, the shoreline can be protected from wave impact energy by applying several kilometers of these tubes. The Geotube® can also be deployed during land reclamation, wetland creation and to protect against hurricane and storm erosion.

    • Contracting type: Service/For sale
    • Technology level: Medium
    • Country of origin: The Netherlands
    • Availability: Worldwide
  • Aerial drone view of motorway road and cycling path on polder dam, cars traffic from above Aerial drone view of motorway road and cycling path on polder dam, cars traffic from above

    Biodykes

    When engineered flood-protection structures such as gabion walls and concrete dykes are unsuitable or affordable, biodykes can be a low-cost … Read more

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    4. Water and coastal regions / Coastal protection / Proven technologies

    Biodykes

    Practical Action
    Aerial drone view of motorway road and cycling path on polder dam, cars traffic from above
    Getty Images /©CHUNYIP WONG

    When engineered flood-protection structures such as gabion walls and concrete dykes are unsuitable or affordable, biodykes can be a low-cost alternative. Biodykes are constructed using locally-sourced materials such as sand, rocks, soil, shrubs and bamboo. The organization Practical Action has developed a technical brief (in English) which details how to build biodykes along a river. The brief covers technical aspects, as well as financial and social considerations. Principles include maintaining an adequate river bank slope and then building a dyke along the slope and length of the river using bamboo. The dyke is then filled with sand bags and covered with fertile soil to provide a basis for vegetation. In addition to flood control, the technique can be used to manage slope instability in mountainous and hilly areas so as to mitigate against mudslides.

    • Contracting type: Locally available materials
    • Technology level: Low
    • Country of origin: N/A
    • Availability: Worldwide

Frontier technologies  

  • On descent into Jakarta airport, Indonesia, one can see an incredible watery landscape along the north coast of West Java province. During the height of the rainy season the entire coastal plain floods, inundating rice paddies during this seasonal growth cycle. The shallow ocean and coastal flats are converted to shrimp farm ponds making the actual coastline barely distinguishable. River channels are straightened as part of the intensive irrigation system to support rice farming. The small river eventually discharges into the Java Sea, mixing plumes of sediment-laden floodwaters with seawater. On descent into Jakarta airport, Indonesia, one can see an incredible watery landscape along the north coast of West Java province. During the height of the rainy season the entire coastal plain floods, inundating rice paddies during this seasonal growth cycle. The shallow ocean and coastal flats are converted to shrimp farm ponds making the actual coastline barely distinguishable. River channels are straightened as part of the intensive irrigation system to support rice farming. The small river eventually discharges into the Java Sea, mixing plumes of sediment-laden floodwaters with seawater.

    Hydrological modelling

    DHI provides a set of software products (under the label MIKE Powered by DHI) for use in water environments to analyze, model and simulate … Read more

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    4. Water and coastal regions / Coastal protection / Frontier technologies

    Hydrological modelling

    DHI
    On descent into Jakarta airport, Indonesia, one can see an incredible watery landscape along the north coast of West Java province. During the height of the rainy season the entire coastal plain floods, inundating rice paddies during this seasonal growth cycle. The shallow ocean and coastal flats are converted to shrimp farm ponds making the actual coastline barely distinguishable. River channels are straightened as part of the intensive irrigation system to support rice farming. The small river eventually discharges into the Java Sea, mixing plumes of sediment-laden floodwaters with seawater.
    Getty Images /© Mangiwau

    DHI provides a set of software products (under the label MIKE Powered by DHI) for use in water environments to analyze, model and simulate various types of water-related challenges. For example, a multitude of coastal parameters, such as waves, sediment dynamics and ecological systems, can be modelled in 2D and 3D to support coastal engineering structures. Hydrological models can also be built so as to understand upstream hydrology and water flow feedback and interaction. This enables the development of strategies for managing rivers, reservoirs and canals to reduce downstream flooding. While the technology is proven and has been used for decades, it is continuously evolving.

    • Contracting type: Service
    • Technology level: Medium
    • Country of origin: Denmark
    • Availability: Worldwide
  • Aerial image of a restored peat bog. Previously forestry land, now converted into a peat bog ecosystem, maintained by local volunteers. The first hint of healthy sphagnum moss taking hold and a good even level of wet ground. Happy Planet Earth! Aerial image of a restored peat bog. Previously forestry land, now converted into a peat bog ecosystem, maintained by local volunteers. The first hint of healthy sphagnum moss taking hold and a good even level of wet ground. Happy Planet Earth!

    Aerial imaging in support of wetland restoration

    Aerial imaging can support land managers in modelling water movement and landscape change. Nearmap provides high-resolution aerial satellite maps … Read more

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    4. Water and coastal regions / Coastal protection / Frontier technologies

    Aerial imaging in support of wetland restoration

    Nearmap
    Aerial image of a restored peat bog. Previously forestry land, now converted into a peat bog ecosystem, maintained by local volunteers. The first hint of healthy sphagnum moss taking hold and a good even level of wet ground. Happy Planet Earth!
    Getty Images /©KNeville

    Aerial imaging can support land managers in modelling water movement and landscape change. Nearmap provides high-resolution aerial satellite maps of urban areas across Australia. However, the technology has also recently been used by indigenous landowners to learn more about how water flows to wetlands and rivers. Combined with artificial intelligence tools, data from aerial imagery is fed into maps that aid wetland restoration by the Australian Nature Conservancy. Nearmap data complements manual and drone-based hydrological monitoring and shows changes over time.

    • Contracting type: Service
    • Technology level: Medium
    • Country of origin: Australia
    • Availability: Australia
  • Blaue horizontale Linie Blaue horizontale Linie

    Breakwater reef balls

    Reef BallsTM in coastal areas have the dual benefit of reducing wave impact while providing a habitat for marine life. A hollow … Read more

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    4. Water and coastal regions / Coastal protection / Frontier technologies

    Breakwater reef balls

    Reef Innovations
    Blaue horizontale Linie
    Getty Images /©ookinate23

    Reef BallsTM in coastal areas have the dual benefit of reducing wave impact while providing a habitat for marine life. A hollow concrete structure, Reef BallsTM can protect the coast against erosion by dissipating incoming waves. When placed in parallel to the shore, reef balls can act as a breakwater. Compared to traditional breakwaters, Reef BallsTM may provide additional economic benefits due to being fabricated on-site using a mold system and deployed using lift bags rather than barges and cranes.

    • Contracting type: For sale
    • Technology level: Medium
    • Country of origin: United States
    • Availability: Worldwide

Horizon technologies  

  • Renewable energy, tidal power. Ocean waves, current energy power. Waves energy converters. Turbine that stores the energy of sea currents. 3d rendering Renewable energy, tidal power. Ocean waves, current energy power. Waves energy converters. Turbine that stores the energy of sea currents. 3d rendering

    Wave conversion technology

    Patents for leveraging the energy of waves date back to the 18th century. But wave energy is still considered to be in the developmental phase. … Read more

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    4. Water and coastal regions / Coastal protection / Horizon technologies

    Wave conversion technology

    Seabased
    Renewable energy, tidal power. Ocean waves, current energy power. Waves energy converters. Turbine that stores the energy of sea currents. 3d rendering
    Getty Images /© Naeblys

    Patents for leveraging the energy of waves date back to the 18th century. But wave energy is still considered to be in the developmental phase. Recent advances include solutions that integrate wave energy converters with coastal protection structures such as breakwaters. However, such structures are generally not located where wave intensity is highest. In order to provide the dual function of absorbing wave energy to produce energy, but also to reduce erosion by minimizing the impact of waves on the coast, wave farms have been proposed as a solution. Wave farms have been shown to be able to influence coastal morphodynamics and reduce dune and beach erosion.[1] One example of a company that produces wave energy converters (WEC) often used in wind farms is Seabased. The company develops floating buoy-type wave energy converters and has supplied its products to wave farms throughout Europe and in Africa.

    • Contracting type: For sale
    • Technology level: High
    • Country of origin: Sweden
    • Availability: Worldwide

Coastal zones increasingly at risk

Sea temperature has already increased by 0.87°C since the 1850–1900 period. But it is expected to rise further by between 0.64°C and 0.95°C by 2050, depending on the climate change scenario[19] Warmer … Read more

Coastal zones increasingly at risk

Sea temperature has already increased by 0.87°C since the 1850–1900 period. But it is expected to rise further by between 0.64°C and 0.95°C by 2050, depending on the climate change scenario[19] Warmer oceans result in more frequent and extreme weather events exacerbating impacts on coastal zones. As the ocean heats, it expands. Together with melting of ice sheets and glaciers, this has already caused a 0.16 meter sea level rise during the period 1902–2015. The sea is now rising at a rate of 3.6 mm each year and this is expected to accelerate. Just a 0.15 meter further increase in sea level will mean 20 percent more people exposed to what used to be 100-year floods.[20] Increased climate-related pressures on coastal zones in the form of flooding, costal erosion and changes in sea channel morphology are all of high economic and livelihood importance. However, coastal impacts are also influenced by several other human-induced factors. These factors include land subsidence due to groundwater extraction, pollution, habitat degradation and reef and sand mining.[21] There are several ways in which coastal zones can be adapted to meet imminent threats. Technology and innovation are part of the solution. Read less

Beach nourishment: temporary but effective

Coastal erosion is a natural process exacerbated by more frequent and violent weather events, inducing large economic losses. A common method to mitigate coastal erosion is through adding sand to affected areas, so-called beach nourishment. … Read more

Beach nourishment: temporary but effective

Coastal erosion is a natural process exacerbated by more frequent and violent weather events, inducing large economic losses. A common method to mitigate coastal erosion is through adding sand to affected areas, so-called beach nourishment. Adding sand will delay the effects of the erosion process, but will normally not stop or change the erosion process significantly. It is therefore a temporary solution which must be maintained or repeated. Nonetheless, it can be an effective climate adaptation measure, and one of the few alternatives to building hard structures. Beach nourishment is relatively simple. It consists of moving similar particle size sand sourced on-shore or offshore to affected coastal zones. However, both the sourcing and depositing of sand may have negative environmental impacts. They include burying benthic marine life, altering currents and habitat morphology, temporary increased turbidity, and disturbance to source area habitats.[22] Therefore beach nourishment projects require thorough environmental impact assessment. Technologies commonly deployed include pumping sand from offshore barges using floating or submerged pipelines, spraying sand onto a beach (rainbowing), or dumping large quantities of sand using split-barges. Beach nourishment has been used worldwide for decades and is a well-proven method. Innovation is taking place in technologies for depositing sand. Improved understanding of coastal fluvial processes and hydrological modelling can optimize deposition effectiveness and minimize environmental disturbance. Such improved understanding also makes possible the further development of nature-based solutions. Read less

Hard coastal protection methods

Other shoreline protection methods include hard structures like groynes, breakwaters and seawalls. Groynes are constructed perpendicular to the coastline. They protect against erosion by reducing alongshore drift and trapping sediment. … Read more

Hard coastal protection methods

Other shoreline protection methods include hard structures like groynes, breakwaters and seawalls. Groynes are constructed perpendicular to the coastline. They protect against erosion by reducing alongshore drift and trapping sediment. Typically, a series of groynes is constructed. Groynes can be constructed out of a hard material such as concrete blocks, rubble, wood and steel, but rocks are most commonly used. Breakwaters are structures that extend into the sea to shelter vessels, protect shorelines or prevent navigation channels from silting up. They are typically built of rocks and concrete. Seawalls are hard, static, shore-based structures designed to protect a limited area from flooding, waves and erosion. They must be maintained as they are constantly exposed to erosion. Hard structures can also have a significant impact on currents and sediment flow patterns and must be carefully designed to correspond to local coastal processes. Maladaptation may occur if the coastal dynamics are changed, potentially leading to increased erosion along adjacent shorelines. Advances in hydrodynamic modelling help maximize the protective effect of hard structures and minimize environmental impacts. However, hard protection measures along the coast can block socioeconomic opportunities for coastal populations. For example, by restricting easy access for those relying on fishing and other resources. Such solutions must therefore be implemented only after a thorough consultative process. This so they are adapted to local contexts and can be assessed alongside potential alternative nature-based adaptation solutions. Read less

Multiple benefits from nature-based solutions

Artificial or reinforced reefs can protect coasts against erosion from wave energy and are less intrusive than above-surface structures. The restoration or even creation of reefs – including coral reefs – is attracting increasing attention as … Read more

Multiple benefits from nature-based solutions

Artificial or reinforced reefs can protect coasts against erosion from wave energy and are less intrusive than above-surface structures. The restoration or even creation of reefs – including coral reefs – is attracting increasing attention as they are an important marine life habitat (see section on “Marine ecosystems”). Other nature-based solutions include coastal conservation measures such as mangrove restoration. Mangrove trees act as a natural storm barrier and can be a cost-effective alternative to hard structures.[23] Covering vast coastal areas in the tropics and sub-tropics, these salt-tolerant trees and bushes occupy the intertidal coastal zone. Their root system slows sediment flow during tidal flooding and accumulates deposited sediment. Together with leaf litter this creates important wildlife habitats. But mangrove forests have been steadily on the decline due to massive infrastructure developments in coastal zones, agriculture and logging. However, many countries are now embarking on mangrove restoration projects. Methods include re-establishing natural water flows (e.g., by cleaning up or creating channels) or planting mangrove seedlings in coastal mudflats. Understanding the local ecosystem and selecting suitable species and locations will be critical to successful restoration.[24] Read less

Combining hard and nature-based solutions

Integrating hard structures and nature-based approaches could offer optimized, cost-effective and long-term solutions. Adaptation based on local natural processes may provide long-term protection through self-reinforcement and avoid creating new … Read more

Combining hard and nature-based solutions

Integrating hard structures and nature-based approaches could offer optimized, cost-effective and long-term solutions. Adaptation based on local natural processes may provide long-term protection through self-reinforcement and avoid creating new vulnerabilities to erosion. Dikes are hard structures that have protected coastal communities against flooding for centuries. Important advances have been made in their design and construction. Modern dikes are wider and less steep than traditional designs and have a strong core that better resists breaching. Overtopping of waves is less likely with wide dikes although more space is required. The slopes can be used for agriculture and recreational purposes. In Schleswig-Holstein in northwestern Germany, every dike must now include a 0.5 meter safety margin in case of sea level rise, with a further 0.5 meter as supplementary reserve to mitigate against strong sea level rise.[25] There are also specially designed dikes that allow overtopping by waves and have secondary parallel dikes to contain the overtopped water. Such double dikes can provide improved security against flooding. Dikes are often combined with nature-based elements. One of these could be coastal wetlands which can absorb excess water and dissipate wave energy thereby protecting against erosion. Coastal wetlands are brackish or saltwater-covered areas that are either temporary or permanent in nature. They can provide key environmental services such as fish and shellfish nurseries, bird habitats, water purification and recreational areas. Many wetlands have been drained or degraded by human activities. But wetland restoration and realignment with other coastal defense structures may provide efficient protection against increased sea levels and extreme weather events.[26] Read less