Journal of Coastal Research
The coastal zones of Latin America have many landforms and environments, including sedimentary cliffs, deeply incised estuaries, headlands, barrier coasts and low lying, muddy coastal plains. These forms will respond differently to the expected changes in climate and associated sea level rise, which may produce coastal erosion in the future. Considering the coasts of Latin America overall, erosion is not yet a serious threat, although it is widespread and it is severe in some parts. Major erosion problems are frequently associated with human intervention in sediment supply, with poor planning or with the morphodynamic nature of the coast. Permanent erosional processes, locally or regionally, are caused by tectonic subsidence, deforestation and the fragmentation of coastal ecosystems, land use changes and sediment deficits because of infrastructure built along the coast. In this article we analyse coastal erosion in Latin America and the challenges it presents to the region. We first highlight the relevance of Latin America in terms of its biodiversity; then we describe the population at risk, demographic trends and economic growth throughout the low lying coastal zones. We also examine the vulnerability of the region by analyzing the resilience of key coastal ecosystems after exposure to the most frequent hazards that affect coastal zones in Latin America, namely tropical cyclones, sea level rise, ocean acidification, earthquakes and tsunamis. Finally, we discuss seven case studies of coastal erosion across Latin America. We close the study by pinpointing the main areas of concern in Latin America and explore possible strategies to overcome erosion and thus sustain economic growth, minimize population risk and maintain biodiversity.