Land artificialisation of coastal areas


Artificialisation of soils is the main cause for biodiversity loss. What is it? It consists in “a phenomenon of forest or agricultural land transformation through planning operations that lead to a partial or total loss of permeability because these lands are reassigned to urban and transportation developments, such as: housings, activities, businesses, infrastructures, public equipment, etc.” Artificialisation thereby leads, in most cases, to imperviousness of soils and to these natural areas losing their functionalities. In France, about 150 000 acres are artificialised each year, the equivalent of a football field every five minutes. Today, that number is growing four times faster than the population is, despite the government aiming for a “Zero Net Artificialisation” policy, established within a national Biodiversity Plan. 

According to a study led by Teruti Lucas in 2015: 

Based on Corine Land Cover, an enquiry made by the EEA (European Environment Agency): 

Coastal grounds on the front line 

A third of the population in Europe lives less than 50 km away from the sea or the ocean. And about a quarter of all coastlines have been modified because of human activities. These spaces are more and more attractive because of their resources, the quality of life they offer and the activities that are developing there. Coastal areas are the interface between marine and terrestrial spaces, dynamic and original grounds, and represent 1.6 million km of linear grounds worldwide. These areas are threatened today by land artificalisation. Indeed, when this process happens in coastal areas, it tends to aggravate climate disruptions that increase natural disasters, oceans acidification, and multiply risks for human populations.

But what can we do? What levers do we have to fight against artificialization of soils, new and old, in coastal areas? 

Short medium and long term consequences 

Environnemental : Land artificialisation causes losses in biodiversity, land permeability, contributes to climate disruptions and lowers water quality. In fact, it modifies the inner structure of natural habitats through remodeling and imperviousness of soils, which impact hydrologic cycles, housing areas and population centers. 

Socio-economical : Natural resources are getting scarce, ecosystemic services are less and less available because of diversification and intensification of coastal activities: fishing, aquaculture, seaside and sailing tourism. Seashores attract more and more people and the areas are going through gentrification, following the rise of real estate tensions.

Long term : Deterioration of coastlines destabilizes the dynamic of hydro-sedimentary processes and impacts shorelines geography. Artificialisation contributes to the thinning of littoral dunes and multiplies the number of natural disasters. For instance: Europe was struck in 2016 by torrential rains, provoking rises in water levels and floods. In 2020, the south west of France was hit yet again, causing human losses and considerable destruction.

What solutions? 

In an attempt to limit damages in coastal areas, several levers can be activated: 

• Limiting land artificialisation throughout coastline areas by establishing a maximal threshold per year, both on a national and local level. 

• Encouraging densification of urban spaces to counter urban spreading.

• Developing coastal wetlands that act as natural buffers to submersion and flood risks and limit the loss of permeability. 

• Restoring biodiversity in urban areas on the seaside to increase water infiltration and, consequently, limit pluvial streaming. 

Surfrider Europe is experimenting the Ocean Friendly Gardens 

Surfrider Europe has taken into account several recommendations made by the European Union to reduce artificialisation. Their goals: 

• Zero net artificialisation for all coastlines (0 to 1 km from shores) starting in 2025. 

• Reversing the imperviousness of 1% of European coastlines (0 to 1 km from shores) each year, starting in 2025.  

Additionally, through the Ocean Friendly Gardens program, Surfrider Europe fights land artificialisation, new and old, by reversing imperviousness and letting nature take over urban areas From drainage basin to the private parcelling, making space for biodiversity is a way to ensure sustainable development and allow water to infiltrate the ground, reaching a higher quality, guaranteeing ecosystemic benefits and encouraging short circuits resupplying.  

In order to do so, three pillars stand out: education, formation, and participative construction and realisation. The association's goal is to promote and advance an integrated gestion to prevent soil artificialisation, at different scales, mobilising territorial actors, associations, urban planning professionals and citizens. 

Problems caused by land artificalisation are not specific to Europe. Surfrider US has also developed a similar project, showing that each of us, individually, can take part in the fight to increase biodiversity in their own garden - private or shared. Each and everyone of us has the capacity to do something, there’s always a way to get involved! 

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