Seawalls as maladaptations along island coasts
Ocean & Coastal Management
small islands, adaptation, coastal erosion, seawalls, maladaptation, relocation
Owing to their high shoreline-to-land-area ratios, islands are especially sensitive to coastal change and their inhabitants especially vulnerable to associated impacts. In places along island coasts where shoreline recession is particularly noticeable and/or its impacts most severe, perhaps because adjacent population densities are unusually high, a common response has been to build a seawall. While this solution may appear instinctively correct, studies suggest otherwise, even to the point where seawall construction, particularly outside urban areas, might be considered maladaptive – neither solving the intended problem in the short-term nor helping coastal peoples cope effectively with longer-term shoreline change. Seawall construction can be viewed as part of a broader group of maladaptive solutions that are uncritically embraced by island peoples who may judge the efficacy of these solutions by their success in (wealthier) continental or urban contexts. More effective and sustainable approaches involve nature-based solutions in the short term and planning for transformative responses involving relocation in the longer term.