Erosion of Queen’s Chain Due to Sea Level Rise

70 percent of our coastline – which is public land – will be swallowed first by rising seas.

We may live on higher ground well above sea level – so why should we be worried about sea-level rise and coastal erosion?  Because 70 percent of our coastline – which is public land – will be swallowed first by rising seas.  No matter where we live most of us enjoy the coastal environment – especially the “Queen’s chain”.  Much of our local economy is dependent on our coast being preserved .

This is an issue which has not been talked about much – until now with this excellent article from Eloise Gibson in Newsroom.

“Publicly-owned land by the beach will be first to go when the seas rise.

A hundred years of progress at getting New Zealand’s coastline into majority public ownership may be about to start unravelling, because of sea level rise.

The public recreational land that’s sometimes called the Queen’s Chain is a patchwork of council-owned reserves, roads, Crown-owned national parks and other land that together make up more than 70 percent of New Zealand’s coastline.

People treasure it – and, as a result, so do politicians – but it’s ill-equipped to move with the tide.

While beaches in countries like the United States are dotted with “Private – Keep Out” signs, we enjoy comparatively open access to land adjoining the ocean.

But the boundaries of the public space will in many cases not move to adapt to coastal erosion and flooding. Instead, the seaward edges will be pushed inland towards private land boundaries, narrowing (and, in some places, possibly eliminating) public strolling, running and picnicking areas.

Public land held in esplanade reserves, where the council owns the title: the land title will simply shrink. The seaward boundary is usually defined by the high-water mark, which will gradually creep inland when sea level rises. Meanwhile, the landward boundary will stay put, squeezing the public recreation area.”

Already there are examples where public access along a beach is not possible except at low tide – eg. Cooks Beach

cook beach

Our Property Law Does Not Deal With these Issues

Current legislation, in fact most of our property law, was developed in the context of people assuming land was simply there and doesn’t move, and clearly, that’s not going to be the situation going forward.

Our Local Economy is Threatened

A huge slice of our local economy is dependent on visitors who are attracted to our fantastic beaches and coastline –  $506 m total visitor revenue by 2025 is projected.

tourism growth

But what will be the impact on our local economy if public access to the coast is increasingly restricted by rising sea levels and erosion? Very little thought has been put into how these threats will affect our local economy in coming decades. This extract from the latest TCDC economic development strategy doesn’t acknowledge these issues.

support tourism

Climate change and sealevel rise will affect us all regardless of where we live. There is a need for a wider discussion beyond protecting narrow private coastal property interests. Our coast is a common good.  We need to better define the risks with expert mapping and modelling.  Then we need a robust discussion about how these threats will affect us all – whether it be our recreation and amenity values and/or the impact on our economy.