Expert urges action as stronger El Nino years, further coastal erosion predicted

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Mother Nature has done some damage to our shores, and one of Hawaii’s top erosion experts says it’s only going to get worse.

While the powerful waves helped bring the Quiksilver in Memory of Eddie Aikau Big Wave Invitational alive for the first time in years, the giant surf also wreaked havoc on our coastlines.

University of Hawaii at Manoa professor Chip Fletcher predicts stronger El Nino years in the future, which means more beach erosion.

“We’re overdue,” he said. “We need to start making things happen now. We need to catch up.”

Fletcher studies coastal hazards and says 70 percent of beaches on Kauai, Maui, and Oahu are eroding.

A lot of it has to do with El Nino. “Sea-level rise, of course, which is going to cause increased coastal erosion, coastal flooding with high waves,” said Fletcher.

So how can residents protect themselves and how can we prevent our beaches from disappearing?

“We should be changing the building codes in the coastal zone, moving houses in the mauka portion of lots when they require complete renovation,” Fletcher said.

Fletcher also says instead of allowing a house to be built on a cement slab on ground level, houses should be put on a pier, so they’re two or three feet above ground level.

“In the case of a large wave like we’ve seen on the North Shore in the last couple of weeks, that wave can run right underneath the house and not do any damage, but if the house is built on the ground level, it can wipe out the first floor of a house and that basically destroys the value of whole house,” he said.

As for beaches, he has an idea, but it’s expensive.

“I think one feasible way to deal with this problem is to expand our beach parks. Where do we have beach parks with healthy beaches not severely eroding today?” he asked. “Where is land made up of sand from sand dunes so that when that land erodes, it’s releasing sand into the ocean rather than hard rock?”

The state Department of Land and Natural Resources says the state has an Interagency Climate Adaptation Committee. Fletcher says the committee is researching long-term solutions to the erosion issue.

George Atta, director of planning and permitting for Honolulu, said in a statement:

“The Department of Planning and Permitting is responsible for issuing building permits in the coastal zone, even in the conservation district where we have no zoning authority and on the coastal plain. The Department of Land and Natural Resources does not issue building permits.

The codes are also affected by the national flood insurance program, which is also our responsibility through delegation from DLNR. The City runs the coastal zone approvals reflected in our Special Management Area regulations and in the shoreline setback variances.”

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