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Calling the Bluff: Coastal Decay Putting Beachside Homes at Risk

The coast of Lost Winds Beach. March 24, 2023

As you drive the scenic Pacific Coast Highway down our beautiful California coast through most of Orange County you take in sights of crystal blue water, jagged bluffs, and magnificent mansions meeting the Pacific Ocean right at its edge. Although it is viewed as the “California Dream” by most, such egocentric housing costing up to $70 million is at the forefront of climate change and could become its first victim.

March 24, 2023: Lost Winds Beach in San Clemente closed off due to the winter downpours.

The steep shoreline cliffs, or bluffs, from Corona Del Mar to San Clemente are home to many residents as well as a source of jobs for some careers. California Ocean Protection Council reports that, as of 2014, around 75% of California’s population was along its coast. A slice of that percentage is directly on the bluffs, in massive houses overlooking the surf below. These bluffs are caused by 

the change in sea level over time. As water washes away lower and lower, it takes more sediment along with every passing wave. 

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association reports the 2022 average global temperature was 1.55 degrees warmer than the average of the 20th century. As more excess carbon is released by humans the surrounding air and water expand, taking up more room. In Orange County’s case, the ocean has been expanding; soon enough we will see these waves crash against unprotected bluffs, potentially taking houses along with the tide. Some cities have already prepared for the worst. Strands Beach in Dana Point has transported in rocks to slow the waves from changing, or eroding, the beach too much. 

Along with the tide, another main suspect for local coastal erosion has been the winter storms of 2023. Golden Gate Weather recorded a 192% increase in Orange County’s average seasonal rainfall. The rainwater flows down the edge of these cliffs, tearing holes and carving new canyons that aren’t necessarily being monitored. This leaves buildings and foundations in the sediment very vulnerable to shifting or even failing altogether. 

Oceanfront home sits right below coastal bluff. March 24, 2023

The coastline constantly gets taken for granted. It is just as alive as the organisms it is home to. With that comes the need to grow and change. Humans have changed the planet in tremendous ways, most for the worst, so it is only natural that the ecosystems have to adapt to these changes. The California coastal bluffs are trying to adapt to the rise of sea level as well as the constant bombardment of rain washing away most of their sediment, without enough room these bluffs become weak and they begin to fail. In beautiful towns like Crystal Cove or Laguna Beach, where families and others reside at the edge of these bluffs, fear is growing among the residents due to the lax efforts of the people in charge. If there is no maximum effort to find a solution soon, we will see monumental works of architecture become pieces of litter at the bottom of the pacific ocean. Whether it is through the mitigation of excess pollutants or the evacuation and major reconstruction of the coastline, California needs help.