General information

Coastal wetlands include saltwater and freshwater wetlands located within coastal watersheds. They include salt marshes, bottomland hardwood swamps, fresh marshes, ponds, or mangrove swamps. Coastal habitats provide ecosystem services essential to people and the environment. These services are for example flood protection (wetlands protect upland areas), erosion control (they can absorb energy created by ocean currents), water quality (by filtering chemicals and sediments out of the water), or recreational opportunities. Today, Coastal wetland losses occur as a result of both human activity and natural processes.

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Public Education Schemes

Not all stakeholders are aware or informed about their vulnerability to a changing climate, or flood risk protection. Nor are they aware of the pro-active measures they can take to adapt or deal with climate change. Awareness raising and education programs are therefore important to manage the impacts of climate change, enhance peoples’ capacity to deal with the impacts, and reduce overall vulnerability.

Sharing knowledge in this way can help build safety and resilience, reduce future hazard impacts. Communities and individuals usually want to become partners in this, and the public can be empowered to deal with the impacts and reduce future problems related to flood risk and disaster risk response.

Reconnecting rivers to floodplains

River restoration contributes to flood risk management by supporting the natural capacity of rivers to retain water. As flood risk consists of damage times occurrence, flood risk management needs to reduce either the damage, or the likelihood of floods to occur, or both. River restoration reduces the likelihood of high water levels, and improves the natural functions of the river at same time.

EXAMPLE: Reconnecting lakes to the Yangtze River (CHN)

The 6,300 km long Yangtze River in China was facing a reduction of wetlands areas and flood retention capacity. In 2002, the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) initiated a programme to reconnect lakes in Hubei
Province to the Yangtze River through opening the sluice gates and facilitating sustainable lake
management. These wetlands can store floodwaters and therefore reducing vulnerability to flooding in the central Yangtze region.

EXAMPLE: Constructed wetlands to compensate for urbanization in souther Finland (FIN)

In Finland urban wetlands are being implemented to help improve water quality, absorb storm water volume and flow control, and improve the land-water habitats for urban communities. The wetlands are designed to respond to the needs and negative impacts of urbanization and therefore, public acceptance and multifunctional benefits are central to the design and implementation of the wetlands. The acceptance and understanding of the importance of urban dwellers is important and thus the project sought to demonstrate several benefits of functional wetlands.

EXAMPLE: Developing an Attica Wetland Action Plan (GR)

Attica, Greece is a region with extensive wetlands that include streams, estuaries and coastal marshes. The land area is also heavily in use for agriculture and experiences competition from various anthropocentric uses which have created a largely degraded environment. The wetlands that dot the region, are largely considered by communities as the remaining environmental hotspots and serve not only as ecologically important areas but peoples’ remaining contact with nature. They are for this reason, closely tied to community use and general well being. To protect these wetlands, an Attica Wetland Action Plan was developed.

EXAMPLE: Lowering the floodplain in Emilia–Romagna area (IT)

Near to the RISC-KIT Case Study in Emilia – Romagna, a LIFE+ “LIFE RINASCE” project has been implemented in 2014 to improve some of Emilia - Romagna drainage channels in the Po floodplain. Project leader is the Emilia Centrale Land Reclamation Consortium, in collaboration with the Emilia -Romagna Region. The project was started in 2014 and will run the end of 2018 with a total budget of almost 2.1 million €.

EXAMPLE: Restoring Riparian Forests (BG)

Floodplain or riparian forests can be extremely important for the prevention of floods and landslides. Floodplain forests used to be widespread in Bulgaria, but today they are only partially preserved. WWF, in partnership with local Bulgarian partners began a project for restoration and conservation of natural riparian forests of native species along the rivers Danube and Maritsa.

EXAMPLE: Wallasea Island Wild Coast project (UK)

The aim of the Wallasea Island Wild Coast project is to recreate a natural intertidal coastal marshland to combat the threat of climate-induced coastal flooding. The recreated mudflats, salt and brackish marshes, saline lagoons, and pastures will provide a range of habitats for coastal birds and other wildlife on the Essex coast.

EXAMPLE: Titchwell Marsh (UK) seawalls and managed realignment

Located on England’s North Norfolk coast, the Titchwell Marsh is a key piece of the North Norfolk Coast Special Protection Area (SPA) and Special Area of Conservation (SAC). This coastal wetland ecosystem includes freshwater and brackish habitats and is currently protected from the erosive power of waves by seawalls which are becoming increasingly weakened.

The Titchwell Marsh Coastal Change Project aims to protect vital freshwater habitats from both coastal erosion and sea level rise through managed realignment and seawall reinforcement, and mitigate and compensate for the loss of important brackish habitats.

Rainwater harvesting

Water harvesting is when rainwater or stormwater is collected and stored for productive use later. It can be used for agriculture, drinking and more. Historically, rainwater harvesting is a common practice and has been used by many communities to support agriculture in sensitive and variable climates.

Spatial Planning and Integrated Coastal Zone Management (ICZM)

Coastal and marine environments are usually characterized by beautiful landscapes and rich ecosystems of great importance, offering elements such as rich biodiversity. They also attract human activities such as tourism and industrial uses. However, the co-existence of human activities and natural resources often creates conflicts of use in the coastal zone.

Management policies are an important means of implementing planning in order to minimise, prevent or resolve use conflicts. The development of a coastal and marine spatial planning system presents an opportunity for the implementation of an overall strategy of conservation, sustainability and management to maximise future economic profit.

Rivers setback leeves

When rivers are denied the space to meander due to levees, rock revetments, or other impediments, many beneficial river services are diminished. Setback levees increase channel capacity for carrying floodwaters. Once a levee is setback, the river may begin to meander and this poses a challenge to implementing riparian restoration on the floodplain.

Flood and hazard forecasting

Flood forecasting is an essential tool for providing people still exposed to risk with advance notice of flooding, in an effort to save life and property.

Evacuation planning

To minimize the loss of lives and reduce other flood impacts, an area should be evacuated when the depth of standing water due to flooding is already or is expected to become high. Such floods are defined as those which are expected to cause buildings, including residential houses, to be washed away or seriously damaged by the flooding.

Early warning systems

The purpose of early warning systems (EWS) is simple. They exist to give advance notice of an impending flood, allowing emergency plans to be put into action. EWS, when used appropriately, can save lives and reduce other adverse impacts.

Emergency planning

It is vital to recognize that even after the implementation of non-structural flood mitigation measures residual flood risk will remain. It is of paramount importance to make plans to deal with flood events and their aftermath. This involves multiple activities which can be included as part of a flood emergency plan. In this section there is an overview of the elements central to emergency planning.

Risk awareness campaigns

Flood risk awareness is the cornerstone of non-structural flood risk management. All actions to minimize the impact of flooding hinge upon stakeholders becoming aware these are both necessary and desirable. Ignorance of flood risk encourages occupation of the floodplain, in the first instance, and can allow appropriate building design practices to fall into disuse. In the event of a flood, the lack of awareness of risk can result in a failure to heed warnings to evacuate, thereby endangering lives.

Land and soil management practices

Soils face various risks related to erosion and pollution, however, adopting good land and soil management practices can help mitigate these negative impacts and in some cases can improve the overall productivity of soils. Such practices generally seek to improve soil structure and/or increase cover so as to reduce erosion, increase soil infiltration, and reduce runoff and transport of sediments. 

Managed realignment

Managed realignment is a measure that usually results in the creation of a salt marsh by removing costal protection an allowing for an area previously protected from flooding to become flooded. Managed realignment is a measure dealing with sea level rise and coastal erosion. It is also often a method that replaces hard coastal defense measures with soft coastal landforms. Rather than relying on hard structures for defense, managed realignment depends on natural defenses to absorb or dissipate the force of waves.

Marsh vegetation in intertidal and coastal zone

Saltmarsh and mudflats are usually located together with mudflats in front of the saltmarsh. Saltmarsh vegetation and saltmarsh creeks help manage floods by dissipating wave and tidal energy.  They are valuable barriers to the risks of flood, as they dissapte wave and tidal energy. Saltmarshes used in combination with other measures can have beneficial outcomes to managing climate change impacts. Even a small width of fronting saltmarsh can significantly reduce the height of sea walls required to achieve the same level of protection and thus also reduce initial construction costs. Having saltmarsh fronting will also significantly reduce maintenance costs due to the reduced exposure to wave and tidal energy.

Riparian buffers

Riparian buffers are vegetated, often forested, areas (“strips”) adjacent to streams, rivers, lakes and other waterways protecting aquatic environments from the impacts of surrounding land use (Enanga et al. 2010). Use of riparian buffers to maintain water quality in streams and rivers is considered to be a best forest and conservation management practice in many countries and is mandatory in some areas.

Wetland restoration

Wetland restoration can serve to reduce coastal flooding and erosion. It has also additional benefits like provide new habitats or improve the landscape for recreational purposes. Wetland restoration relates to the rehabilitation of previously existing wetland functions from a more impaired to a less impaired or unimpaired state of overall function.

Reafforestation in upland areas and buffer zones

Reafforestation and afforestation refer to to activities where trees are established on lands with no forest cover. The concept of reafforestation is usually used in reference to areas where there was recent forest cover. Reafforestation and afforestation activities, as well as existing forests, can help to reduce the occurrence and intensity of floods.

Flood embankments and Floodwalls

The construction of floodwalls and embankments has been the traditional means of protecting lowlying communities and infrastructure against flooding. Although the primary function of a wall or embankment may be flood defence, such structures also frequently have a secondary function – quite often with the aim of enhancing the environment or improving the amenity or both.

Rivers dredging

Dredging is the general term used for the excavation of material below water level either as a maintenance activity or as part of channel enlargement works. The main purpose of dredging is either to maintain the navigation depth or the flood capacity, or sometimes both.

Flood and river bypasses

Lowland rivers and estuaries are naturally often flanked by vast areas of floodplain that was periodically flooded. The extent of inundation varied between years and formed an integrated system together with the river for moving water from the continental interiors to the ocean. With settlements and farming activities in these floodplain areas, these areas were disconnected to the river system.

With the idea of flood bypasses, these portions of the historic floodplain are reconnected to the river and become inundated during major flood events. They act as relief valves in two ways: conveyance and storage. If this attempt is used in area were these bypasses are not based on historic floodplains, the term relief channels is used.

River bank protection and restoration

Bank protection is needed where there is the risk of erosion of the bank and where this erosion would cause economic or environmental loss. If there is sufficient space available, it may be possible to reduce the need for bank protection by re-profiling the bank to a flatter slope to reduce velocities and encourage good vegetation growth. Even if bank protection is still required, it may be less severe if a flatter slope can be achieved, or may only be required below normal water level.

River bank relocation – floodplain lowering

Traditionally, interventions in river channels have been carried out to reduce flood risk at a particular location. This approach has produced artificial river geometries which have often been found, for a variety of reasons, to be unsustainable. A core principle of modern river engineering is that, in general terms, rivers tend to return to their natural ‘regime’ state, in which the main channel has the capacity for a particular flow and no more.

Flood storage systems

If fluvial systems don't have sufficient room for natural detention of floodwater in the floodplain, the development and management of flood storage within and adjacent to the natural floodplain is recommended and described in more detail in this measure. It addresses aspects like the process of selecting where to locate the flood storage, deciding how much storage is needed, how to measure the storage capacity, selecting appropriate flow control structures, analysing how the works will perform and making sure that the flood storage scheme is safe in extreme floods.

Exposed elements elevation

'Elevation of buildings' and ' Land raising' are two separated measures with the aim to elevate exposed elements.

Exposed element relocation and removal

Moving a building out of the existing flood hazard area is the safest solution among several retrofit-ting methods; however it is also usually the most expensive method (FEMA, 2009). When a community acquires a flood-prone home from the owner, relocation is often applied, as well as demolition of the building. The relocation is not only limited to buildings, it can also be applied to other exposed coastal infrastructure.

Coastal and river setbacks

Coastal setbacks are an demarcated area where all or certain types of development are prohibited. Coastal setbacks can be measured either as a minimum distance from the shoreline for new buildings or infrastructure facilities, or may state a minimum elevation above sea level for development.  Setbacks determined by distance from the shore are used to combat coastal erosion, while setbacks determined by evaluation are used to control flooding.

Adaptive management

Highly dynamic coastal systems (like sandy beaches, dunes or estuaries) might be best managed by not interfering with the natural processes, but instead accepting that change will occur and adapting backshore management accordingly. Key in this approach is a proper monitoring of the processes to analyze and evaluate the changes (for examples at eroding cliffs or dunes). With a proper planning horizon, these changes can be anticipated and with enough room for the environment to involve this can be a very cost-extensive approach.