June 28, 2024 - It’s happening. Access to California’s beaches is disappearing at the rate of 100 access sites with every foot of sea level rise. By the end of the century, about 15% of Ventura County’s and 40% of Santa Barbara County’s beach access sites will drown.

Climate scientists have been warning us about sea level rise for years, but a new comprehensive study by two CSU Channel Islands (CSUCI) Environmental Science & Resource Management (ESRM) faculty members has connected the dots using geospatial data in a detailed interactive map that allows users to see exactly where access to specific beaches will vanish first.

Associate ESRM Professors Dan Reineman and Kiersten “Kiki” Patsch contributed equally to the study, which was published in the journal “Shore & Beach,” entitled: “Sea level rise impacts on coastal access.”

Not only does the study research and map out human access to the actual sand, it also researches the effect of rising sea levels on beach conveniences.

“When we go to the beach, there are a few things we need,” Reineman said. “First, we need to actually access the sand - the beach itself. Next, we often rely on bathrooms or picnic tables or barbecues to make our visit pleasant, and last, we need a place to park.”

All of the amenities - trails, piers, beach stairs, restrooms, picnic tables, and parking - are threatened. In fact, Ventura and Santa Barbara County, along with San Diego County, will lose the most in terms of beach parking, compared with other coastal communities in California.

This study is the first in a trilogy. The just published Part I studied the impact of sea level rise on beach access, amenities like bathrooms and parking; Part II will update a 2016 study describing inequities in beach access for California’s diverse population; and Part III examines the environmental justice impacts of sea level rise on beach access.

As for what we can do about it, there’s good news and bad news. First, the bad news.

“No matter what we do about climate change, sea level rise based on the heat already introduced into the atmosphere and oceans is baked in: sea level will continue to rise,” Reineman said. “Beaches are in trouble, some less than others, some later than others, but they’re all in trouble.”

Now the good news.

“The decisions we make about how to manage our coastlines will have a big impact on whether beaches survive,” said Patsch, who specializes in coastal dynamics. “We can improve their chances by ensuring that as sea level rises, beaches have space to adapt by shifting inland. Hard, permanent manmade coastal armoring, like sea walls, deny beaches this chance. Natural features like dunes and natural processes like erosion will help this chance.”

Reineman and Patsch developed the interactive map with the help of CSUCI student researchers and hope it will be helpful in terms of informing the public and the policymakers who make decisions on beach management.

“The data underlying this study are really helpful as beachgoers and communities try to figure out what the risk is for their beach access,” Patsch said. “We wanted to make sure anyone could access data about their beach access!”

Patsch and Reineman are now tackling Part II and III simultaneously, with plans to publish the entire study sometime around the end of the year.

To read the study in its entirety, visit: Sea level rise study.

To see how sea level rise is affecting beach access in a specific community, visit: Sea Level Rise map.

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