How Humans Manage and Interact with Coastlines

Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Kevin Newton

Kevin has edited encyclopedias, taught history, and has an MA in Islamic law/finance. He has since founded his own financial advice firm, Newton Analytical.

Humans have inflicted considerable damage on the world's coastlines, threatening the survival of these fragile ecosystems. Learn more about preventative measures intended to protect them from further destruction. Updated: 11/11/2021

Humans and Coastlines

Humans have always had a thing for being near the water. In ancient history, many of the greatest civilizations used seas and oceans for trade and conquest. Crossing the Atlantic Ocean opened the idea of globalization for all people. More recently, coastlines have been transformed into high-priced real estate.

However, this has all come with quite a bit of impact. In this lesson, we are going to look at the impact of humanity on the coastlines of the world. We will see how our interest in that thin strip of surf and sand has in many ways endangered its survival, as well as some of the steps that we are now taking to solve those issues.

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  • 0:01 Humans and Coastlines
  • 0:43 Beaches
  • 2:21 Cities
  • 3:28 Erosion
  • 4:48 Lesson Summary
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Every year, millions of people go to the beach. If you're like me, it's all about the seafood! But I guess there's something to be said about lying on the sand and getting sunburned. Regardless, places like Daytona Beach in Florida and the Costa del Sol in Spain transform into sunning grounds for those who just need some time to get away from it all.

However, the huge numbers of visitors have many impacts on beaches. Litter is the most obvious impact, as many people are not exactly considerate when it comes to disposing of their waste. Still, other impacts are less evident. People also have the potential to disrupt fragile processes, like sea turtle births and sand dunes.

For example, artificial lighting near beaches can hurt the chances of survival for sea turtle hatchlings because it disorients them, making it harder to successfully reach the ocean. Also, sand dunes are hills of sand shaped by wind and found along some shorelines. They act to protect the inland from abnormally high tides all while harboring their own delicate ecosystems, but they cannot do so nearly as well after being trampled by beachgoers.

To stop all this from happening, many beaches are starting to take action. Littering fines have been raised, as have protections for marine life. Stretches of beach are often closed when sea turtles are laying eggs and when those eggs are hatching, so as to not impede on other life. Sand dune ecosystems are also gaining significant protections - in some jurisdictions, even walking on protected areas of the dunes is illegal.


Still, more people live in cities on the waterfront than ever visit the beaches. Simply put, a waterfront is part of a city that borders a large body of water. From Shanghai to New York, many of the world's largest cities have waterfront properties. For years, this meant that coastlines suffered.

The idea of 'out of sight, out of mind' governed many cities' approach to how to get rid of waste, and dumping it into the ocean seemed to be the perfect idea. Also, as transportation across the waves grew into a bigger practice, there were more waste products near the water. Finally, with the construction of large factories, some businessmen simply dumped hazardous chemicals onto the shoreline.

Now, things in most places are very different. Strict rules govern what can go into the water. Cities get publicly ranked on water pollution, and citizens are unlikely to stand for a smelly waterfront. Also, cities grew to embrace their shorelines as a place to be proud of. Today, you'll often find some of the nicest buildings of a city along its coastline.

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