Monterey climate-change workshop looks at the latest shoreline impacts.

Shoring Up: The problem with seawalls like this one at the Ocean Harbor House condos: “We start to drown those beaches,” scientist David Revell says, “so you can no longer walk past at high tide.”

A sand-mining operation in Marina is chewing at the southern Monterey Bay shoreline, and the West Coast sea level is rising faster than we thought. This is among the evidence that climate change is here, and our policies have a lot of catching up to do.

Last December, the Monterey-based Center for Ocean Solutions initiated that regional conversation with a workshop on climate change impacts on the Monterey Bay coast. This Thursday, Oct. 25, it’s inviting local science and policy leaders back for an update.

One study, funded by the National Marine Sanctuaries, looked at the effectiveness of various erosion mitigation strategies on local shores, which have some of the state’s highest erosion rates.

“The majority of erosion in South Monterey Bay could be reduced by 70 percent if the Cemex sand mine in Marina stopped taking sand off the beach,” says David Revell, a geomorphologist and study consultant.

The problem is compounded when property owners protect their buildings against the encroaching shoreline with seawalls. As the beach erodes, the properties become little peninsulas and cut off public beach access. Two notorious examples are Monterey’s Ocean Harbor House and Best Western Beach Resort.

That raises a new question for permitting agencies: What’s worth more, the beach or the building? The study found it’s cheaper in the long term to let erosion damage the properties in its path than to hold the shoreline in place.

“The tourism value of the beach is often more valuable than the private property behind the wall,” Revell says. “Especially when you look outside a five-to-10-year political term.”

Sea level rise also threatens the man-made things – such as sewage lines, power plants and hotels – within a few feet of sea level. “Local and state agencies want to know, what should we be taking into account?” asks Gary Griggs, director of the UC Santa Cruz Institute of Marine Sciences. “Those are big questions when there are billions of dollars of infrastructure and development at stake.”

Griggs will present the National Research Council’s latest report on the subject. He says the West Coast sea level has risen about 8 inches from 1900 to 2000 (Monterey’s average is about 1.3 millimeters a year), but we can anticipate a rise of 16 to 65 inches more by 2100.

That much uncertainty is a trademark of climate-change modeling. But even at the lowest end of that range, the stakes are high. The runways of San Francisco and Oakland airports will flood, Griggs says, when the sea level rises just 14 inches.

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Still, flooded airports in 50 years are a distant threat for most people. To assess how residents think about climate change in real terms, COS Research Fellow Susanne Moser held focus groups with South Monterey Bay coastal homeowners. She found participants were most motivated to protect everyday joys like the Monterey weather, wildlife and beaches.

“This connection people have to their home place colors everything,” Moser says. “To the extent you can link your solutions to maintaining what people love, you are going in the right direction.”

For COS Education Director Adina Abeles, that means local beaches. “I think about them disappearing, and not having a place to walk my dog and bring my baby,” she says.

Moser found that most participants care about climate change, but they don’t know what local agencies are doing about it or how they can help. “One of the big messages to the city and county of Monterey is, ‘You’ve gotta step up,’” she says. “The community is hungry to be involved.”

Learn more about the local impacts of climate change, and what regulatory agencies are doing about it, at the Center for Ocean Solutions’

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