Placeholder Image photo credit: Noah Abrams/KRCB
Wide and sandy Salmon Creek State Beach,
popular with beach goers, is frequently molded
by large winter swells impacting the shoreline.

As sea levels rise and storms intensify, some experts are warning that California’s beaches could soon disappear - anywhere from a quarter to as many as seven in ten sandy beaches washed away by the turn of the century according to one model.

What does the threat look like for beaches on the Sonoma Coast?

After a winter buffeted by storms, Brendan O’Neil said the effect on beaches up and down the Sonoma Coast has been apparent.

"This year in 2023, we had fairly significant beach erosion," O'Neil said.

O’Neil is an environmental scientist with California State Parks, and said part of the coastal erosion issue is due to natural cycles.

"It's not unusual that we have a lot of beach erosion on, uh, winters with big swells," O'Neil said.

Another big part - human development.

"We have put in place a certain style of life that is not conducive with a much more active climate," Doug George said.

George is with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Office for Coastal Management in Oakland. He said we’re already seeing the consequences of sea level rise and coastal erosion play out.

"Such as Gleason Beach, you know, Highway One being rerouted there and the bridge being constructed there," George said.

An oceanographer and science writer, George said confronting the issue also means accepting the dynamic nature of the coastal environment - one which leaves infrastructure and development vulnerable in areas like the Sonoma Coast, which is retreating by a foot a year in some places.

"It's our infrastructure that's in the way," George said. "It's not that coastal erosion is the problem, it's that what we put there is the problem, but we put it there for a good reason, at the time."

Like George, O’Neil said part of the solution is accepting and adapting to natural processes of coastal erosion.

"When I say they, I guess I'm talking about we, we'll have to figure out how to, how to move," O'Neil said. "So there's a lot of creative thinking that's gonna have to happen and a lot of compromise."

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