Making the case against hardening North Carolina’s coast

The plight of these homes stranded after a major storm along the Carolina coast highlight the challenges facing this dynamic landscape. (© Tom McKenzie/USFWS)

As changes to North Carolina law open the way to hardening the state’s cherished coast, experts are gathering to discuss the implications of trying to tame a dynamic landscape.

Tomorrow evening Derb Carter, Director of SELC’s Chapel Hill office, will serve on an expert panel to explore these issues further. The panel is part of the “Future of North Carolina’s Coast Symposium,” hosted at North Carolina State University and sponsored, in part, by SELC.

Since the state legislature repealed long-standing laws against beach hardening structures such as sea walls and jetties, there has been a spike in proposed and permitted projects. This increase comes despite the known impacts these structures have, including increasing beach erosion and disrupting coastal ecosystems.

Softer alternatives such as beach nourishment, living shorelines, and strategic retreat respond to rising seas while maintaining the beaches and marshes that are essential to both our coastal ecosystems and coastal economy.  The most common soft approach is beach nourishment, where sand is brought in to rebuild beaches. Living shorelines are another alternative, where tidal marshes are recreated, building up a waterfront that not only absorbs the tide but provides a home to many creatures critical to coastal ecosystems.  And there must be some recognition that retreat from rising seas and the billions of dollars of public expenditures to fight the inevitable is the wisest choice.

These soft options are better able to weather the constantly changing, storm-prone nature of the barrier islands and maintain our beaches and marshes, which belong to the public. The long history of infrastructure crumbling when built along these shores has given the false impression of fragile barrier islands. In reality, it’s not the dynamic, continuously shifting islands that are fragile, but the human structures built on top of them. Espousing a policy of beach hardening ignores these realities and sets the coast up for even greater challenges in the future.

For more information on beach hardening in North Carolina and to register for the event, please visit

More News

Laundry list of reasons why mining next to the Okefenokee Swamp is a bad idea

The Okefenokee Swamp, a pristine and iconic wetland in southern Georgia, is home to the state’s treasured Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge. Th...

Attorney testifies on administration’s attack on Clean Water Act

As the current administration’s assault on clean water protections continues to make international headlines, SELC’s own Senior Attorney Geoff Gi...

Spraying animal waste is bad, and worse before a hurricane

As coastal communities along the Outer Banks and beyond continue to rebuild after the destruction wrought by Hurricane Dorian, there’s an additio...

Swift action needed toward N.C. Clean Energy Plan goal

SELC submitted comments on the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality’s draft Clean Energy Plan just as the comment period closed thi...

House bill, backed by Coastal reps, bans ocean drilling

The House of Representatives has passed a ban on oil and gas drilling off the Atlantic and Pacific coasts, fulfilling a campaign promise by Charl...

Trump administration continues efforts to gut Clean Water Act protections

The Trump administration today completed its repeal of the 2015 Clean Water Rule, part of its multi-phase effort to gut Clean Water Act protectio...

More Stories