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European Research Executive Agency
News article4 August 2023European Research Executive Agency

Life on the edge: securing Europe’s coastal regions

As Europeans flock to the coasts for summer holidays, we look at how EU-funded projects work with established ecosystems to protect our coasts from erosion.

Coastal waters
© arturbo, CANVA

Cliff no more

Last year in the North-West of France, Brittany, the French governement ordererd one-hundred and twenty-six seaside towns and villages to re-draw their planning laws for property by the coast due to the fastening pace of coastal erosions, clocked at a speed of two centimetres per year.

“Rare events, like coastal flooding that today might happen once every one-hundred years in France, will in the future happen once every year” said Alisée Chaigneau, a PhD researcher in Oceanography at the Mercator Ocean International Institute, Toulouse.

Coastal erosions can be defined as the loss or displacement of land, or the removal of sediment and rocks along the coastline. Satellite data from the EU Copernicus programme reaffirms this displacement of land, with the average rate of global sea-level having risen by nine centimetres since 1993 and is now accelerating at over four millimetres per year.   

The issue is that coastal communities are home to more than 200 million Europeans, many of whom have houses next to the sea or depend on the coast for their livelihoods. How to effectively protect shores and coastlines for future generations is a question that rages on in the scientific community.

Nature-based solutions v Man-made solutions

There are many solutions to tackling coastal erosions. Historically, the 20th century has seen governments continue to use inefficient and unsustainable man-made methods to combat rising sea levels that damage the environment. These include constructing expensive concrete seawalls, building breakwaters or retaining walls to keep sand sediment locked to the shore to the detriment of adjacent beaches (sea walls often cause the erosion of adjacent beaches).

Several EU-funded projects including Erodes, MaCaBios and FutureMARES are taking an innovative approach to coastal protection in the form of nature-based solutions. Nature-based solutions can be defined as projects that work with natures elements (earth, wind, fire water) to tackle climate change, essentially adapting to ecosystems rather than radically imposing or disrupting them with man-made solutions.

Erodes: coastal dunes to fight sea level rise

Researchers from France involved with the Erodes project, part of the Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions programme, are conducting field observations as to how sand dunes can protect our coasts from rising seas. Using satellite imagery and remote sensing, they can predict survey models and predict sand dune behaviour in its interaction with the sea for greater coastal sea management.


MaCoBios: evidence-based guidance for marine policy formulation

MaCoBioS assess the effectiveness of nature-based solutions when looking at marine coastal ecosystems (MCEs) such as kelp forests and seagrass beds. The findings currently assist in the EU strategies on MCEs, biodiversity and climate change and are representative of the EU’s Mission on the adaptation to climate change


FutureMARES: habitat forming species vital to protecting coast

Researchers based in the Netherlands from the FutureMARES project are looking at the restoration of coastal habitats and habitat-forming species that can buffer the effects of coastal erosions and improve seawater quality. FutureMARES conservation actions are directly in line with the EU’s Mission to ‘Restore Our Oceans and Waters’, with 2030 targets to preserve aquatic eco systems and support biodiversity.


Dunes are the new mangroves

Until the re-introduction of mangrove forests in Vietnam in the 1990s, coastal flooding and erosion was a regular occurrence, and stands as a blatant example of how nature-based solutions can successfully reverse the destructive power of nature. If Europeans want to continue enjoying life by the sea, then it is imperative that we look after it in a sustainable manner, favouring nature-based solutions over man-made ones.



Publication date
4 August 2023
European Research Executive Agency