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Adaptation option

Seawalls and jetties

A seawall is a structure made of concrete, masonry or sheet piles, built parallel to the shore at the transition between the beach and the mainland or dune, to protect the inland area against wave action and prevent coastal erosion. Seawalls are usually massive structures designed to resist storm surges. The height of a seawall will at least cover the difference between the beach level and the mainland, though commonly seawalls are built higher to protect the land against wave overtopping. Seawalls are also used to stabilize eroding cliffs and protect coastal roads and settlements. The crest of the wall often extends into a stone covered part that may be used for a road, promenade or parking area. A seawall creates a distinct separation between the beach and the mainland. Seawalls are often found in the case of narrow or steep beaches, where a typical breakwater is either too large or not economical.

A jetty platform on wooden or concrete piles built into the sea to protect a navigation channel and it allow the berthing of ships. It usually does not have a shore protective function (which instead breakwaters do). Parallel jetties are frequently built to delimit a navigation channel. Jetties will affect longshore transport of sediment and ecological processes (see success and limiting factors). Jetties can be constructed with concrete, stone, timber or steel. Jetties are not usually adaptation measures per se, but may be connected with seawalls or other hard coastal defence structures.

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Adaptation Details



IPCC categories

Structural and physical: Engineering and built environment options

Stakeholder participation

If an EIA is undertaken, the EU Directive provides for the right to access information and to participate in the environmental decision-making procedures to the public concerned by the project. If a project could create a significant impact on a Natura 2000 sites, the ‘appropriate assessment’ of the infrastructure project may include a public participation process, though this is not mandatory. Similarly, the Floods Directive, the Water Framework Directives and the Maritime Spatial Planning Directive establish public participation processes that may be relevant for these projects.

Several categories of stakeholders can be affected by strengthening seawalls or jetties. A seawall as well as a jetty can negatively affect the landscape and the use of the beach, or can be used to artificially widen the beach to create recreational space. Tourists and tourism industry as well as other recreational users will therefore be affected. However, the protection against flooding offered by the seawall can benefit settlements and economic activities.

Success and Limiting Factors

Success factors:

  • A seawall provides a high degree of protection against coastal flooding and erosion.  It fixes the boundary between the sea and land which can be beneficial if important infrastructure or buildings are located on the shoreline.
  • Seawalls have a lower space requirement than other coastal defences such as dikes. Seawalls can be heightened to face sea level rise, which requires simultaneously a widening of the foundation.
  • The high level of security provided by a seawall can favour the development of the hinterland. The crest of the seawall often extends into a stone covered part providing other functions, e.g. road, promenade or parking places.
  • Sufficient long jetties will limit siltation in an inlet or navigation channels, thereby keeping sufficient depth within the channel.

Limiting factors:

  • Artificial structures such as seawalls and jetties can have adverse effects on the coastal environment. Due to their perpendicular-to-shore placement, jetties can disturb longshore drift and cause downdrift erosion (As a mitigating action, sand building up along the jetties can be redistributed elsewhere on the shore.) The longer the jetty is, the greater impact it has on adjacent areas.
  • Seawalls often interfere with natural processes such as habitat migration, causing the reduction of intertidal habitats. However, these effects depend very much on the main wave and sediment transport direction and the design of the seawall. The choice of coastal defences will be made according to site-specific conditions and primary and secondary goals (such as wave protection, road stabilization, space conservation and mooring capabilities). Where sufficient space is available and no conflict with other primary or secondary goals exists, green measures (such as beach nourishments and dune restoration) are often preferred.
  • Seawalls often do not stop erosion in front of the structure but prevent erosion of the dunes and hinterland. Vertical seawalls often reflect wave energy instead of dissipating it, which makes the shoreline more subject to erosion. Many seawalls have therefore been more recently conceived to integrate slopes.
  • When seawalls are regularly overtopped, or when this occurs in major storms, the water can remove soil or sand behind the wall and weaken it.  Overtopping water saturates the soil and increases pressures from the landward side, which can cause structural collapse. Sea rise level and potential overtopping must be taken into account in the construction of the seawall. In general, continued erosion can undermine the foot of the structure and threatened its stability.
  • Seawalls can have negative impact on the landscape and can reduce the attractiveness of the landscape. However, seawalls have also been used, more or less successfully to artificially widen a beach at steep shores to create recreational space.

Costs and Benefits

Construction costs are high but these structures usually require low maintenance. Construction costs vary according to the shape of seawall structures: the volume of the seawall depends on the required crest level, the foundation level, the wave loading, and acceptable overtopping rates. In the Netherlands, it has been estimated that a seawall would cost 300-500€ per m3 of concrete (Deltares, 2014). Costs related to jetties are estimated at 10,000 € to 20,000 € per running metre in the Netherlands; costs mostly depend on the water depth and availability of rock (Deltares, 2014).

Estimates made by Scottish Natural Heritage in 2000 show that in the UK, costs at the time varied from £200,000 to £500,000 (250,000 – 625,000€)/100m length for seawalls and impermeable revetments. The English Environment Agency (2007), gives an average construction cost for seawalls of US$ 2.65 million (at 2009 price levels; about 1.85€ million) including direct construction costs, direct overheads, costs of associated construction works, minor associated work, temporary works, compensation events and delay costs. No indication on the length of the seawall was provided. These and other sources note that costs for seawalls vary according to the type of construction, dimensions, availability and proximity of construction materials, anticipated rates of future erosion and wave loadings, facilities such as walkways and steps or slipways.

The construction of coastal works to mitigate erosion and hard sea defences ‘capable of altering the coast’, such as seawalls and jetties, fall into Annex II of the EIA Directive (codified as Directive 2011/92/EU): Member States decide whether projects in Annex II should undergo an EIA procedure, either on a case-by-case basis or in terms of thresholds and criteria. However, this requirement does not affect the maintenance and reconstruction of these works. Any infrastructure project likely to have a significant impact on a Natura 2000 site must be subjected to an ‘appropriate assessment of its implications for the site’ to determine whether the project will adversely affect the integrity of the site.

The Water Framework Directive calls for the good status of Europe’s water bodies, including coastal waters. Coastal defences could alter the hydromorphological characteristics of coastal waters – for example in terms of water flow, sediment composition and movement– and thus to a deterioration of ecological status. Any projects that do so would need to meet criteria set out in Art. 4(7) of the Directive. The EU Floods Directive (2007/60/EC) provides a legal framework for flood actions and defence. The construction and restoration of dikes could be part of measures under flood risk management plan. The 2014 Maritime Spatial Planning Directive requires consideration of the interactions between land and sea, along with maritime activities and adaptation to climate change. Seawalls and jetties could affect these land/sea interactions.

Implementation Time

Depending on the complexity of the structure 5 to 20m per day can be realised during construction phase. Preparation before construction might double the implementation time.

Life Time

Typically, 30-50 years life expectancy before major repair.

Reference information

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Published in Climate-ADAPT Jun 07 2016   -   Last Modified in Climate-ADAPT Sep 10 2022

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