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Coastal economies and people

PhotoThe shape of any coast changes over time in response to changes in energy (waves, tides and currents), material (sediment type and supply), existing coastal morphology and sea level.

The potential implications of climate change, such as coastal flooding, coastal erosion and habitat change affect a diverse range of human economic activities including recreation and tourism, ports and shipping, transport and commerce.

For coastal economies and people, relative sea-level rise with increased rates and extent of coastal erosion and higher frequency of flooding are likely to be the main direct impacts.

How we respond to these challenges will directly influence environmental and socio-economic outcomes.

Case study

Storm surges in the Irish Sea

In February 2002, a low pressure system in the southern Irish Sea coincided with the spring tide, leading to an extreme water level (i.e. the highest water level in any given year) of 2.9 m above Mean Sea Level. This is the highest level in Dublin Port since records began in 1923. In Belfast the tide reached 1m above the predicted tidal water level. Graph
Annual extreme high water level, Dublin Port. From: Irish
Committee on Climate change, Third Scientific Statement.
Royal Irish Academy. © John Sweeny.

Weather chart for storm surge on Feb 1st 2002.
© Crown copyright 2002, the Met Office.

The storm surge led to-

  • Widespread flooding in Dublin and Belfast.
  • Marked coastal erosion between Cork and Belfast.
  • £4 million of damage on the Isle of Man and damage on the north-east English coast and the western Scottish coast.
  • Ferry services across the Irish Sea were suspended.

A 0.5 m rise in sea level would mean the extreme water level of February 2002 could become an annual event. Many UK and Irish ports are on estuaries and may experience increased frequency of storm surges which would affect their operations.

Links to other topics…

CO2 and ocean acidification

  • Potential impacts on shellfish aquaculture productivity.
  • Ocean acidification will be an added stressor on those fisheries that are already under pressure.

A view from above

  • Impacts on ecotourism opportunities around the UK due to changes in food-web linkages.
  • Possible impacts from changes to traditional inshore fisheries.

Arctic sea ice

  • Ecotourism opportunities increase to the Arctic.
  • Opportunities for ports and shipping through shorter trade routes.


  • Increased growth of existing non-native species will affect aquaculture structures.
  • An increase in harmful algal bloom events could affect fish farms and fisheries.
  • Non-native species can extend their range by using sea defences as stepping stones.



PHOTOS from top: Davey Benson, Lorne Gill/SNH.