The ecological implications of sea-level rise and storms for sandy beaches in KwaZulu-Natal.
Harris, Linda R.
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The aesthetic appeal of beaches has made coastal properties prime sites for development. However, this development has been mismanaged and is within the littoral active zone. Beaches retreat landwards as sea levels rise, but with current development trends, beaches are trapped in a coastal squeeze. Climate-change predictions include an increase in frequency and heightened intensity of storms, which can cause significant erosion. This study aimed to determine the ecological implications of sea-level rise and storms for beaches in KwaZulu-Natal (KZN), using geographic information systems (GIS) and beach sampling methods. The beaches were mapped in terms of physical and biological attributes. Spatial trends in these attributes showed that the coastline can be split into three – the northern, central and southern regions. Although 25 % of the coastline is protected by marine reserves, these are located in the Delagoa bioregion: 28 macrofauna species in the Natal bioregion are not protected. Storm impacts for beaches can be heterogeneous, depending on local coastal features, e.g., nearshore reef and sand dunes, and represented a temporary disturbance to macrofauna communities. A GIS-based coastal recession model was derived from Bruun’s rule, and applied for different scenarios of sea-level rise and coastal development. Coastal squeeze is concern, particularly in the southern region. Further, the 10-m elevation contour was not completely effective as a setback line, even for a low sea-level rise scenario. The coastal recession model was validated using data from a real event in KZN, where sea level rose temporarily by ~1.0 m. The model performed well, although the calibration possibly did not span a wide enough range of beach morphodynamic types, and under-predicted retreat for dissipative beaches. It was concluded that the Natal bioregion needs marine reserves, and that higher resolution spatial data are required for accurate beach modeling and the south coast railway line should be relocated proactively. Guidelines for sandy beach systematic conservation planning were outlined, and seated in a conceptual framework of managing beaches for resilience. Application of the proposed recommendations and frameworks could aid in determining a way forward in integrated coastal zone management for KZN, in the face of the uncertainties associated with climate change.