‘Unmanaged retreat’: Report calls for swift action to tackle North Shore erosion

Coastal erosion on the North Shore continues to be a major problem and over the last year, a group has been working to lay out a detailed path forward.
Published: Nov. 1, 2022 at 8:40 AM HST|Updated: Nov. 1, 2022 at 2:20 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - “Unmanaged retreat.”

That’s what Denise Antolini calls the steady loss of North Shore beaches and properties to worsening erosion.

Antolini has fond memories of living of her family’s Sunset Beach home in the 1990s. Today, the law professor is partnering with a working group to come up with proposals to save the coastline and its homes.

The group, led by the Surfrider Foundation’s Oahu Chapter, has identified three coastal erosion hotspots.

They include the stretch near Sunset Beach, the area near Laniakea and Chuns as well as Mokuleia.

”While coastal erosion is a natural process, it has been accelerated by climate change and sea level rise and unfortunately private homes and public infrastructure have been built too close to the shoreline and the water’s edge and directly atop the natural dunes from which the shoreline would naturally replenish itself,” said Lauren Blickley, of the Oahu Surfrider Foundation.

A new report from the group found that 73% of North Shore beaches are undergoing chronic erosion.

Furthermore, roughly 28% of beachfront residential North Shore properties have a home within 20 feet or less of the shoreline.

This isn’t a new problem of course, but the Surfrider Foundation and its partners say current efforts to make things better, don’t go far enough.

“The response to erosion has largely been reactionary and piecemeal. Aside from recent updates to shoreline setbacks, there has been little to no planning for long-term shoreline change in Hawaii,” added Blickley.

The group today released this 34-page report offering solutions to the public and government leaders.

Dolan Eversole, of the UH Sea Grant and the UH Manoa School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology, said things will only get worse in the coming decades.

”There has been at least one study that looked at the majority, something like 90% of the beaches on the North Shore, we expect to be highly eroding. We would expect 10 inches of sea level rise probably in the next 20 to 30 years,” said Eversole.

“So we might expect nearly all the beaches on the North Shore to enter into an erosional phase if they’re not already in one within our lifetime — within the next 30 years or so.”

The working group’s 34-page report details a number phases of a plan forward over the next few decades.

The first, which could happen immediately, includes pushing sand from low lying areas of the beach ack toward the shoreline, adding vegetation to restore dunes and limiting sandbags and other emergency barriers.

The second phase, which could happen in five years, recommends limiting access points to discourage walking on the beach, which the group said pushes sand into the ocean.

From 5 to 25 years, the group says building policies should change to require that new homes are elevated..

Eventually, the group is calling for a “managed retreat” after 25 years. That would entail moving homes and portions of Kamehameha highway away from the ocean. That might be achieved with tax incentives and government buy outs.

In their report, the working group also says that there isn’t a cohesive strategy and enough cooperation between agencies and other stakeholders when it comes to tackling this problem.

The report also recommends stricter enforcement and tougher consequences for those who do unauthorized work and use unauthorized materials to try and shore up their properties — which was seen when a homeowner tried to cement the sand bank fronting their home.

To read the full report, click here.