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February 28, 2020

A project led by the University of Hawai'i at Hilo, with funding from the Pacific Islands CASC, evaluated shoreline erosion in three areas of Hawai'i Island and combined this data with projected sea level rise to estimate future coastal impacts.

Research on coastal erosion by University of Hawai'i at Hilo graduate student Rose Hart is being used to shape county planning policies in Hawai'i County. Currently, the county has a standard shoreline setback requirement that does not consider the land type or climate-related changes. Understanding shoreline changes is critical for effective coastal management. Hart’s project worked to address this need and is an example of how a collaboration between researchers and management can yield products that have a practical purpose in preparing a county for the impacts of climate change.

Hart evaluated shoreline erosion in three areas of Hawai'i Island — Kapoho, Honoli'i and Hapuna Beach — by comparing historic photographs, drone imagery, and topographic surveys. This data was then combined with sea level rise projections in order to estimate future impacts to the coastline. Hart and Scott Laursen, a co-author on the study and program specialist with the Pacific Islands CASC, met with county planners who had expressed a need for research to support a “more comprehensive and effective coastal development setback policy.”

The county is already hoping to expand on this research and evaluate different shoreline types for the entire island, in order to understand and prepare for the coastal impacts of climate change island-wide.

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