Every country with a beach has its own beach culture, and historical images of beaches are among the most nostalgic that we find in our collective archives. But the fact that beaches are also at the front line of rising sea levels tends to be something many of us know without thinking about it too much in the grand scale of the climate crisis. In fact, shrinking beaches make for a stark visual reminder of what we are to lose without dramatic efforts from global powers.
Unfortunately, though, beaches are far more than a visual metaphor for the changes ahead. The beach is a dynamic ecosystem relied upon by birds, insects, shellfish, turtles and other creatures — including humans, of course. They are buffers between the wild ocean and essential agriculture and infrastructure on land. Lives, homes and livelihoods are put at risk by rising sea levels and erosion caused by intense, climate breakdown-induced storms.
Sandy beaches account for over one-third of the global coastline. A certain amount of slow change is normal. But, while natural sediments and ‘land rise’ compensate in some areas, we could lose “half of the world’s sandy beaches by the end of the century,” according to a study from the Joint Research Centre of the European Commission.
The beach is so, so precious on many levels. So, HawaiianIslands.com decided to visualize the potential losses to the tourist beaches likely to be worst hit by rising sea levels and erosion by the year 2100.
What We Did
HawaiianIslands.com analyzed European Commission data that estimates how shorelines worldwide will change by 2100. We then used this data to calculate the average change (in meters) of shorelines at the ten most-reviewed beaches in each country on Tripadvisor. Finally, we used these figures to identify the 20 tourist beaches worldwide and 15 on each continent that will change the most by 2100.
- Landmark Beach in Lagos, Nigeria, is set to lose 918.3 meters of shoreline by 2100 — more than any other tourist beach in the world.
- Playa Akumal in Cancún, Mexico, is the North American tourist beach that will shrink the most by 2100 (265.9 m).
- Clearwater Beach in Longboat Key, Florida, is the U.S. beach that will shrink the most (193.4 m).
- The UK beach set to shrink the most by 2100 is Scarborough Beach in Yorkshire (145.6 m).
The Popular Beaches That Will Shrink the Most in the Next 100 Years
These are the top 20 beaches that will shrink the most if the world’s major political and economic powers fail to take responsible action.
North America: Beaches in Cancún and Florida to Take Worst Climate Change Hit
The shoreline of Playa Akumal in Cancún, Mexico, looks likely to recede by 265.9 meters before the end of the century. Parts of the Quintana Roo coast, where Akumal is found, are already losing up to 4.9 m a year. Some beaches are artificially maintained with dredged sand and consist of little more than a narrow belt between the sea and the buildings against which the waves already crash.
“Rises in sea level of just a few inches would mean chaos. All the beaches in front of urban developments would probably disappear unless drastic nature-based beach restoration measures are taken.”~ Christian Appendini, National Autonomous University of Mexico
Drinking water might not be the first casualty you consider as sea levels rise in Florida. But aquifers in Clearwater — home of the most at-risk beach in the U.S. — are vulnerable to saltwater intrusion that could jeopardize the local supply for millions of locals. A so-called red tide of toxic algae in the water, flourishing partly due to climate change, is already blighting coastal life by causing serious allergic reactions in people and animals.
South America: Brazilian Beaches Set to Recede Significantly
Brazil is home to nearly half of South America’s most vulnerable tourist beaches. The impact of climate change here is of local and global significance. In Brazil, flooding due to sea level rise is likely to impact 618,000 people annually between 2070 and 2100, with river communities in the Amazon River basin among the most vulnerable — an increase in waterborne diseases is likely to be one of their greatest existential threats.
In addition, flooding can dramatically alter ecosystems in the Amazon rainforest, which is one of the world’s primary “carbon sinks,” absorbing one-quarter of the CO2 that is absorbed by all the Earth’s land.
Two Ecuadorian beaches feature among the top ten for the continent. The Salinas area is particularly vulnerable and suffered waves “2.6 meters above normal” earlier this year, flooding buildings and destroying boats. While the Playa de Chipipe coastline could recede by 110.3 m before the end of the century, the range of damage is likely to increase dramatically long before then.
“There is extensive saltwater intrusion under these buildings which could compromise structural integrity. I worry about collapses such as the one we witnessed in Florida two years ago.”~ Klever Pacheco, Ecuador’s Geophysical Institute
Europe: Cyprus Tourist Beach to Be World’s Second Greatest Casualty
Mackenzie Beach in Larnaca, Cyprus, is the European tourist beach likely to shrink the most. It is also the second most vulnerable in the world. A significant proportion of the coastline is already subject to erosion, “mostly the result of human activities such as beach mining, dam and illegal breakwater construction and urbanisation,” according to local strategists.
Plus, rising sea levels raise safety threats for “infrastructures such as Larnaca airport, desalination stations, and power plants, increasing dangers arising from potential storm surges, and increasing the economic demand for coastal defences.”
In the UK, Scarborough Beach on the east coast is forecast to suffer the greatest losses. But the east and west coast alike are more vulnerable to tidal erosion than the lengthy south coast. The UK’s Environment Agency built a £62m sea wall to protect the west coast holiday town Blackpool from flooding. However, the construction has been criticized, and concrete sea walls are commonly thought to be a poor solution since they disrupt natural sand deposits and require ongoing maintenance.
“Part of manmade erosion results from protecting cliffs whose wearing would normally top up the associated beaches with gravel. This happens, for example, in Bournemouth, to safeguard luxury properties built on top of fancy viewpoints.”~ Robert Nicholls, University of East Anglia
Asia: Western Coasts to Suffer the Most from Rising Sea Levels
Bangladesh’s Kuakata Beach occupies a popular tourist area and is also a site of high ecological importance. But, according to one study, “the whole Kuakata Coast of Bangladesh is shifting landward at a rate of more than 3 meters per year.”
A mud flood ridge 100 m from the shore has been created to counter the effects of flooding. But it is, at best, a mid-term measure, with the shoreline set to pass it as it recedes by 361.2 m over the next three-quarters of a century — making it the Asian tourist beach that will shrink the most.
The fortunes of Asian beaches are very much a mixed bag, with natural sand deposit accretion levels counter-balancing erosion in eastern parts of the continent. However, Asian tourist beaches account for eight of the top 20 globally for shoreline recession over the next three-quarters of a century.
In Manila, the capital of the Philippines, “rare” extreme sea-level events are expected to occur 18 times more often by 2100, according to a study in the Nature Climate Change journal.
“The world needs to act on climate change with far more urgency and ambition to protect the millions living in our coastal megacities.”~ Lourdes Tibig, Institute for Climate and Sustainable Cities in the Philippines
Africa: Lagos — Population 8 million — Faces Devastating Climate Change Effects
Lagos’ tourist beaches are becoming “an exclusive right for a privileged few,” as gentrification takes a literal toll on the city — with beaches such as Landmark in Victoria Island increasingly subject to entrance fees. But a greater existential threat looms over the city and its beaches, where devastating floods are now an annual affair.
“The increase in water level is eating into the land.”Manzo Ezekiel, Nigeria’s emergency management agency (NEMA)
Meanwhile, controversial projects to ‘reclaim’ and wall off land from the sea divert attention from fundamental issues such as the “inadequate and poorly maintained drainage systems and uncontrolled urban growth” that exacerbate the effects of flooding. As things stand, Landmark Beach is set to suffer greater shoreline recession than any other tourist beach in the world — 257 m or 38.9% more than the second-worst Mackenzie Beach in Cyprus.
Green House Reductions Could Make Substantial Difference
As the situation in Lagos shows, efforts to patch up or replace vulnerable beaches — tourism spots or otherwise — are less of a solution than a delayed reaction. And they are not always designed to protect the majority of the poorest people who are likely to suffer the most from the effects of rising sea levels.
Meanwhile, the same report from which we drew the data for our visualizations states that “moderate greenhouse gas reductions could prevent 40% of shoreline retreat.” The message to the political and corporate powers responsible for the future of our beaches and planet as a whole is clear: do not hesitate to act against the rise of global warming.
METHODOLOGY & SOURCES
To find out which tourist beaches will shrink the most by 2100, we analyzed a dataset published by the European Commission  that estimates how the shorelines around the world will change globally by 2050 and 2100 under different scenarios. With this data at hand, we gathered the top 10 beaches in each country by the number of reviews on Tripadvisor. We then calculated the average decrease or increase of their shorelines in meters.
First, we mapped the coordinates present at  to different beaches around the world. As the coordinates in the original study were rounded, we used the coordinates in Aqua Monitor‘s future shoreline dataset instead — while mapping their displayed points to those in the original study.
After that, we calculated the average shoreline change for the mapped points on each beach. We considered the RCP45 median shoreline change in 2100 to compute the average.
Then, having already computed the average shift on a set of beaches, we gathered the top 10 most popular beaches on Tripadvisor by the number of reviews in every country.
Finally, we ranked the beaches based on how much they were estimated to shrink by 2100.
Data correct as of June 2023. Note that positive values indicate shoreline reduction.
 European Commission, Joint Research Centre (JRC) (2019): Global shoreline change projections. European Commission, Joint Research Centre (JRC) [Dataset] doi: 10.2905/18EB5F19-B916-454F-B2F5-88881931587E PID: http://data.europa.eu/89h/18eb5f19-b916-454f-b2f5-88881931587e