On east coast, an uphill battle against beach erosion

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On east coast, an uphill battle against beach erosion

East coast residents have watched the sea creep closer and closer for five years, with the waters slowly swallowing up the beaches, which play a pivotal role in protecting the land from windstorms and tidal waves.

“The waters keep on approaching,” said Lee, 81, owner of a bed and breakfast on Najeong Port beach in Gyeongju, North Gyeongsang. “Not many people come by my place anymore, and now the waters are trying to take my home away.”

Lee’s home stands precipitously near the waters. She has poured gravel between the water and her home for the past three years, but to no avail.

Specialists say humans are to blame, not nature. “I remember a lot of tourists sunbathing on the wide sandy beaches 10 years ago,” said Nam Sun-deok, a resident of Bongpyeong Beach in Uljin County. “But after the seawalls were built, the sandy beaches began to disappear.”

With the construction of seawalls on the northern shore, sand stopped flowing into Bongpyeong Beach. In the summer, waves surge from the southeast to the northwest, carrying sand north. The sand moves back south in the winter. But with seawalls standing in the middle, the sand fails to move south, piling up by the port.

The coastal roads are also an underlying reason for the erosion. To avoid privately-owned land, the Korean government usually builds coastal roads near the shoreline. Since the roads’ retaining walls stand on beaches, beach space is bound to get smaller, leading to coastal erosion.

“When sandy beaches shrink due to road construction,” said Jin Jae-yul, a researcher at the East Sea Research Institute, “the waves have an even bigger impact on the coast, leading to more and more erosion.”

The reduced sand supply from nearby streams contributes to the problem. The coast used to receive a lot of its sand from streams, but this has stopped with the addition of underwater weirs to reduce water speed.

Beaches around Sanpo-ri in Uljin County, North Gyeongsang normally received a substantial amount of sand from Wangpi Stream. But 21 underwater weirs have been built since 2000 and 52,038 square meters (62,237 square yards) of beaches has disappeared since 2010. The eastern coast, which includes North Gyeongsang and Gangwon, has lost 946,658 square meters of beaches. This is 132 times the size of the Seoul World Cup Stadium.

The government is trying to prevent further erosion by building underwater seawalls to block waves and by supplying sand to the beaches. About 900 billion won ($799.6 million) has been spent already, but skeptics remain. “Artificially supplying sand and building underwater seawalls may slow down the erosion process,” said Shim Hun-sup, head of Gangneung Citizen’s Center for Environment, “but will not stop it.”

Residents of Wonpyeong Beach in Samcheok, Gangwon, doubt this will bring change. “The construction has been going on for four years, but I still don’t see any difference,” said Kim Gab-bae. “I doubt the beach will go back to its original state even when construction is finished in 2019.”

BY PARK JIN-HO [shon.jihye@joongang.co.kr]

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