In April 2000, students from I.V. Surfrider and the A.S. Environmental Affairs Board rallied together to oppose the seawall being constructed at Goleta Beach. With a little help from the news media and eventual support from county officials, the seawall was soon removed and local activists had reason to celebrate.
A seawall is a large structure installed parallel to the coastline in an effort to slow erosion. The wall is typically made from boulders, wood or concrete. Though they can provide short-term means of protecting cliffs and shorelines from the impact of waves, over time seawalls actually increase erosion of the general vicinity.
On Dec. 21, 2002, during high tide and amid large swells at Goleta Beach, Santa Barbara County crews dumped 2,000 tons of boulders on the shore. An emergency permit issued by the California Coastal Commission allowed the construction of a temporary seawall to protect the lawn, parking lot and public restrooms from erosion. The SB County Board of Supervisors is now considering making the seawall a permanent fixture at Goleta Beach.
According to Katharine L. Dixon and Orrin H. Pilkey, authors of The Corps and the Shore, seawalls create a vicious cycle resulting in increased wave force from reflecting off a hard, perpendicular surface rather than gradually washing up on the shore. In addition, it can decrease the amount of sand on the beach caused by the pull of the stronger waves. Further erosion creates a need for a taller seawall, which in turn increases erosion, ultimately leading to complete elimination of the beach.
Needless to say, the folks at Surfrider Foundation and Environmental Affairs Board, not to mention the numerous professors, scientists, local activists and lovers of the natural beauty at Goleta Beach are concerned. These members of the newly formed Coalition to Save Goleta’s Beaches strongly object to a seawall, which they see as an underresearched, potentially destructive quick fix. The coalition would love to see the beach and park area returned to its natural state as a sandspit where the endangered snowy plover makes its home, grunions breed without disturbance, and migratory birds frequent with ease. However, these beach lovers recognize that the importance of Goleta Beach goes beyond its ecological values and serves as a community and recreational area. Therefore, the coalition has drafted a list of recommendations for the board of supervisors that include further research by environmentalists and scientists to determine the most sustainable and low-impact development policy for the beach.
We all need to recognize that the coast is not a thing but a dynamic process and is constantly changing. To try to stop that process by building structures such as seawalls is like trying to build a house on the side of an active volcano. It just doesn’t work.
Supervisor Susan Rose is hosting a community forum at the Goleta Valley Community Center on Jan. 29 at 7 p.m. Join groups like the Environmental Affairs Board and I.V. Surfrider, and cast your vote in favor of “soft,” long-term, sustainable solutions to the erosion of Goleta Beach. E-mail or for directions or more information.
Christine Underwood is co-chair of the Environmental Affairs Board, Aaron Gillman is a sophomore environmental studies major and Deanna Kavanaugh-Jones is the A.S. external vice president for local affairs.