Beaches are an important part of the shoreline ecology in that they provide a diverse habitat environment for a broad array of marine and terrestrial wildlife in various life stages. They provide valuable habitat functions such as intertidal spawning areas, sheltered tide pools, foraging areas, and nearshore migration corridors.
Beaches also provide multiple opportunities for public recreation, education, scientific study, and scenic enjoyment.
Typical beaches consist of exposed deposits of loose sediments such as sand, silt, gravel and cobbles that have been eroded directly from bluff or bank erosion, fed by nearby river mouths, or transported literally from other beaches or shoreforms. They can range from several miles in length to small, isolated pocket beaches that can be found between rock headlands.
Beaches are constantly changing due to erosion and accretion (accumulation) processes. Their shape can change from day to day, or even hour to hour. The primary mechanisms that fuel shore changes include:
Littoral Drift (Transport)
Development pressures along shorelines can increase desires to stop upland impacts from tidal processes, and to minimize fluctuations of beach features. Often, artificial structures such as bulkheads, groins, and other types of shore defense works are proposed to reduce or prevent potential impacts from these processes. However, use of shore defense works must be evaluated carefully as they can often increase erosion of a beach when waves reflect off a hard structure.
Beach erosion resulting from bulkheads and other hard shoreline structures can erode nearby beaches or banks and can destroy or degrade fish and wild life habitat. Alternative management strategies can include maintenance of shoreline vegetation, moving or replacing threatened structures and soft shoreline stabilization.