The main objective of land claim is neither erosion nor storm reduction.  The aim of land claim is to create new land from areas that were previously below high tide.  These measures can be taken to reduce the exposure of these areas to coastal flooding.  For example, in Singapore and Hong Kong, there are enforced minimum reclamation levels to account for future sea level rise

Based on information from ClimateTechWiki.

General Description

Land claim is likely to be accomplished by enclosing or filling shore or nearshore areas (Bird, 2005).  Several alternative terms may be used when referring to land claim; these may include land reclamation, reclamation fill and advance the line. Typically this measure is undertaken to gain land (French, 1997), today especially around coastal cities (like Singapore and Hong Kong), where very high land values are justifying the costs.

In order to enclose areas for land claim, hard coastal defences must be constructed seaward of the existing shoreline.  Dike and seawalls are typically constructed to protect the claimed land from flooding by the sea (Burgess et al., 2007). Two main methods of land claim are: (1) enclosing and defending shore or nearshore areas; and (2) filling shore or nearshore areas, often using the same techniques used in beach nourishment. When considering adaptation to climate change, land claim using fill methods is perhaps more appropriate as it does not carry such a great flood risk.

Advantages and disadvantages of the technology

The key advantage of land claim is the gain of additional coastal land for uses such as agriculture or development.  Apart from the valuable land, this additional coastal land can function as a buffer and reducing the risks of flooding.

Land claim can also generate a number of negative impacts. The process of land claim requires either the enclosure of intertidal habitats by hard defences, or the raising of their elevation above that of sea level to prevent inundation.  This causes the direct loss of intertidal habitats such as saltmarshes, intertidal flats and sand dunes (French, 1997). Another disadvantage is dewatering.  By draining reclaimed land which has a high water content, land is caused to dry out, compact and shrink (French, 1997), thus reducing its elevation in relation to sea level.  This causes a difference between land elevations inside the flood defences, where compaction and shrinkage has occurred and outside, where natural intertidal environments continue to naturally accrete sediments.  This difference in elevation is also exacerbated by SLR and results in an ever increasing requirement for flood defences (Burgess et al., 2007). It also requires an ongoing commitment to defend these areas (French, 1997).

Any type of land claim will cause the displacement of water during a natural tidal cycle. Because of this displacement, incoming tides have a smaller area to inundate. This will cause water depths to increase and will mean intertidal areas are submerged for longer – this has the potential to cause negative biological consequences and can also increase the tidal range upstream (French, 1997).

Financial requirements and costs

The financial costs of land reclamation are dependent on a number of factors:

  • Chosen method of reclaim (enclosing previously intertidal areas using hard defences or raising the elevation of previously submerged land)
  • Availability and proximity of fill material from onshore or offshore sites
  • Number, type, size and availability of dredgers
  • Requirement for hard protection measures to defend reclaimed land from coastal flooding and erosion
  • Project size and resulting economies of scale
  • Estimated material losses

If land claim is conducted by enclosing previously intertidal areas, the additional costs of providing hard protective measures, such as seawalls or dikes, to prevent flooding and erosion of these areas is important.  Ongoing maintenance costs for these structures must also be considered.

If land claim is achieved by raising the elevation of previously submerged land, the cost of fill material is likely to be the main determinant of project cost.  In turn, this cost will be influenced by the availability of appropriate materials, their proximity to the construction site and the characteristics of the reclaim site – this influences the type of dredging equipment which can be used.  Changes in the cost of fill material are likely to occur in future due to increased demand and greater restrictions on dredging.

Institutional and organisational aspects

The institutional and organisational requirements of land claim projects are likely to depend on the scale and ambition of the project.  Small-scale land claim for agricultural uses is more likely to be achievable at the community level than large-scale island enlargement and creation as seen in Singapore or Dubai.  These large-scale projects will require the involvement of large organisations and large amounts of funding. 

Key lessons learnt

One barrier to the use of land claim is potential long-term costs.  Land claim creates land which will require protection from coastal flooding and/or erosion.  This requires construction of defences such as seawalls or dikes with associated construction and ongoing maintenance costs. Land claim through elevation raising may also be a cost-effective method of disposing of dredged material from ports, harbours and navigation channels.  This could reduce the overall cost and eliminate the need to identify offshore disposal sites for dredge material.  As with beach nourishment, pollutant levels in the dredge material should be carefully monitored.

Environmental concerns may provide another barrier to implementation. By reclaiming land in these areas, environmentally important intertidal habitats are lost, and knock-on impacts such as alterations to ebb/flood dominance may also occur.  As a result, environmental opposition to land claim may mount.  In the EU, compensation for lost habitats is required

Literature sources
Bird, E. (2005) Appendix 5: Glossary of Coastal Geomorphology in Schwartz, M.L. (ed.).  Encyclopedia of Coastal Science.  The Netherlands: Springer, 1155-1192.
Burgess, K., Jay, H. and Nicholls, R.J. (2007) Drivers of coastal erosion in Thorne, C.R., Evans, E.P. and Penning-Rowsell, E.C. (eds.).  Future Flooding and Coastal Erosion Risks.  London: Thomas Telford, 267-279.
French, P.W. (1997)  Coastal and Estuarine Management.  London: Routledge.
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