Coastal change in the pacific islands
This guide responds to the emerging needs of many communities in the Pacific Islands whose members
are expressing concerns about storm damage, sea-level rise, and the frequency and severity of coastal
flooding events and shoreline erosion. For the purpose of the guide, the term “coastal zone” refers to
the entire area from the upland forest out to the reef edge. On small low-lying islands and atolls, the
entire island would be considered the coastal zone.
The term “coastal change” refers to:
1. Flooding of coastal lowlands from any, or combination, of the following: high (king) tides;
typhoons/cyclones/storms; large ocean swells; and heavy rainfall leading to storm water, river,
or stream flooding.
2. Gain or loss of land along the shoreline, which is the area of the coastal zone that directly
interacts with the sea and is changeable (e.g. sandy beaches, mangroves, cliffs).
With existing tools, communities have been able to identify the potential impacts of threats and
hazards to the coastal zone. However, understanding the complex interaction between natural coastal
systems and human development in order to determine effective responses often requires further
technical assistance, which is often not accessible.
Strategies to address the impacts of coastal erosion and flooding also tend to focus on reactive
approaches, normally through engineering projects such as building seawalls. In many cases, these
“solutions” have negatively impacted the surrounding environment and have increased conflicts with
other community values. Likewise, they are typically short-term in effectiveness, ignoring the role
inappropriate human development often plays as a key driver of the problem. Furthermore, these
strategies often result in a false sense of security, leading to further development in hazard-prone
areas. This usually results in the problem of hazards in the coastal zone becoming more significant and
more complex to address over time.