As climate talks commence, Cancuns beaches are washing away

With huge investment from the Government, tons of sand are being pumped from offshore sandbars by two huge dredgers and then sprayed along miles of Cancun’s hardest hit areas.

The annual international climate talks began this week in Cancun, Mexico, the beach resort city that has already lost most of its beaches to climate change.  Brad Johnson, who will be reporting live from the climate talks through next week, has the story.

Negotiators for the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change “” which the United States ratified in 1992 to “prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system” “” are working in the shadow of the collapse of American climate policy during one of the hottest years in recorded history. Increasingly violent storms and rising seas “” fueled by the continued burning of fossil fuels “” have “aggravated the folly of building a tourist destination atop shifting sand dunes on a narrow peninsula,” the Associated Press reports:

Cancun’s eroding white sand beaches are providing a note of urgency to the climate talks being held just south of this seaside resort famed for its postcard-perfect vistas. Rising sea levels and a series of unusually powerful hurricanes have aggravated the folly of building a tourist destination atop shifting sand dunes on a narrow peninsula. After the big storms hit, the bad ideas were laid bare: Much of Cancun’s glittering hotel strip is now without a beach. Hotels built too tall, too heavy and too close to the shore, as well as beaches stripped of native vegetation to make them more tourist-friendly, have contributed to the massive erosion.

To maintain the semblance of normality in this tourist destination, “tons of sand are being pumped from offshore sandbars by two huge dredgers and is then sprayed along miles of Cancun’s hardest hit areas.”

— Brad Johnson

JR:  On our current emissions path, by century’s end, Cancun will either become a walled, beachless resort or, more likely, abandoned entirely:

33 Responses to As climate talks commence, Cancuns beaches are washing away

  1. Rice Dog says:

    Maybe climate change will do it in before the drug cartels can.

  2. paulm says:

    Rising sea level threatens ‘hundreds’ of Caribbean resorts, says UN report

    a sea-level rise of one metre, which is now regarded as highly likely by the end of the century, the Caribbean would see “at least 149 multi-million dollar tourism resorts damaged or lost” and would also see loss or damage of 21 of the Caricom airports, and the inundation of land surrounding 35 of the region’s 44 ports.

    cost of the damage and necessary rebuilding caused by sea-level rise could by 2080 have reached a staggering $187bn

  3. paulm says:

    Property in the Caribbean just got more difficult to sell.

  4. BB says:

    What was(is?) responsible for the Cape May, NJ permanent erosion? Most of it takes place before 1955 (though it’s clearly ongoing but slower)…whole city streets are now underwater…It shares coastal storm interaction like Cancun. I would assume some similar factors are afoot.

  5. Prokaryotes says:

    Stephen Leahy a frequent commentor at CP is reporting from Cancun

  6. Prokaryotes says:

    On first look on this picture i thought it was photoshoped.

  7. Deborah Stark says:

    Look at all the stuff packed onto that precious strip of sand. How can nature possibly compete with that?


  8. Just came back from a walk along the beach 10 minutes ago south of Cancun in Puerto Morelos. A few more inches of sea level rise will wipe out much of the remaining beaches here and yet new hotels/condos being built.

    And yes Cancun looks like the hotel-beach zones of Miami, Ft Lauderdale etc… both creating and facing the same problems.

  9. Joe I. says:

    Sea Level rise was discussed on On Point radio today, and Climate Progress/Joe got a shout out from caller Francesca about halfway through:

  10. Inverse says:

    If people had not built on it the land mass would move as weather (not climate) effected it. Why should nature suddenly behave just because humans dump millions of tons of concrete on it and then wonder why the sand is still trying to go elsewhere????

    Try putting a pile of sand on the ground with a brick in the middle and throw a bucket of water at it, I wonder what will be left behind!!!

  11. Chris Yonge says:

    One of the few things that will bring the reality of climate change home to people is when all the beaches in the world vanish. That is a huge deal. Few people can relate to atmospheric composition, or events fifty years in the future, or extreme weather in foreign countries. But tell them their children will never know what a beach is and – possibly – they’ll wake up for a few seconds and listen.

  12. MarkR says:

    …doesn’t erosion happen normally?

    Like, a lot of erosion. Don’t you need good evidence to determine whether the increased erosion is driven by climate or not?

  13. Marcus71 says:

    The resort has been built on sand dunes. There is no story here.

    Everyone move along now…

  14. Tim Kelly says:

    I watched the November 17th Energy and Environment Subcommittee Climate Hearing and was stunned by the testimony of Dr. Richard Feely on ocean acidification. He asserted that if we get to 450 ppm, the Arctic and Antarctic oceans will become corrosive to calcium carbonate-dependent life top to bottom.

    The Republiclowns killed the select committee on AGW yesterday. I just hopped over from the NPR page that featured that story, and the comments attached to it are terrible. The posts show that we, as a community, are regarded by some as equivalent to terrorists, even as we try to save the society.

    Tuesday, I took information from the Subcommittee hearing, along with the Deutche Bank skepticism report, to my state senator. The sense I got was one of skepticism. I did manage to stop him short when he saw a piece from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette showing the possible two-meter sea level rise projections. But, on the whole, he still thinks Mike Mann is a fraud and doubts the severity of what could be coming.
    I wonder if the fallen civilizations that preceded us went through this…

  15. FedUpWithDenial says:

    MarkR (#12) asks:

    “…doesn’t erosion happen normally?

    “Like, a lot of erosion. Don’t you need good evidence to determine whether the increased erosion is driven by climate or not?”

    The short answers are (i) Yes, beach erosion can happen normally and often does, due to factors such as storms, winds, and tides. In a stable, relatively unchanging climate, however, when mean sea level is constant over a long period, there is no net erosion globally. Various factors also act to deposit sand and silt and so restore shorelines and beaches over the long term. Short-term, reversible fluctuations in shorelines are not to be confused with irreversible (on the human time scale) ones due to long-term changes in mean sea level due to global warming or cooling.

    The other short answer is (ii) Yes, you do need good evidence to determine whether the increased erosion is driven by climate or not. In the present case massive evidence exists in the form of documented long-term sea-level rise due to man-made global warming secondary to the rise in atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases, CO2 in particular. Simultaneously, there has been a documented worldwide increase in storm intensity due to increased evaporation from the globally warmer sea surface and the humidification of the global atmosphere, providing more energy in the form of latent heat to drive storms of all kinds, including hurricanes. Rising seas and beach erosion—leading to the accelerating disappearance of long-established shorelines—are now a fact of life worldwide. The increased intensity of today’s ocean storms is a factor in many cases. What other evidence could any rational person want?

  16. Peter M says:

    I know here in Connecticut- where we have a activist state Government concerned with sea rise associated with climate change

    From the State of Connecticut EPA

    Erosion of our Connecticu­t shoreline is increasing because of the increased intensity of storms-

    The EPA estimates that barrier beaches could suffer extensive damage from sea level rise and coastal storms. The direct impacts of sea level rise include beach erosion, complete loss of beaches, increased flooding, loss of ecological­ly important wetlands, and saltwater contaminat­ion of drinking water on Long Island. Tourism and commercial and recreation­al fishing will be negatively impacted. It is estimated that sea level has already risen 10 inches in New York in the last century. Today, many of our coastal beaches suffer from severe beach erosion.”

  17. John McCormick says:

    RE #15

    Tim, you said:
    “he still thinks Mike Mann is a fraud and doubts the severity of what could be coming.”

    Then asked:
    “I wonder if the fallen civilizations that preceded us went through this…”

    I am often reminded of a terrible video shot of the tsunami that struck Southeast Asia in 2005. It was taken from the balcony of a resort hotel and showed a single man squatting on the flat beach watching the tide recede and not having a clue what was about to happen next. The video showed exactly what happened but it was obviously too late for him to save himself.

    Likely he had no idea what was happening out there in the ocean and had no prior experience on which to base his action or inaction. He merely was an observer of a progression of events that would eventually take his life.

    Did the tree cutter on Easter Island think what would happen next when the last tree fell?

    If there was a climate change siren that began wailing continually when the atmosphere’s CO2 concentration reaches 400 parts per million (likely in 2013) maybe people would begin paying attention to their tsunami experience that is coming?

    Oh, maybe the repugs would enact a federal law banning the installation and operation of climate change sirens.

    We mortals are not wired to peer into the future. That is why we drive when drunk. Gamble with our paychecks. Build on the shoreline. Buy a four ton tank to drive Junior to school. And, I suppose we can add; voting for teabaggers and repugs.

    Finally OT but a pleasing note:

    Happy 40th birthday to EPA and our prayers are with you Administrator Jackson.

    John McCormick

  18. Jeandetaca says:

    Following comment 12, I agree that the loss of our sand beach could be a powerfull argument to understand the danger of global warming for everyone of us, close in the distance and in the time frame and in our daily way of enjoying life.
    Who knows how many centuries of sea level stability are needed by Nature to “build” a sand beach?

  19. Anne says:

    This reminds me of the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992 — the sanitizing that is done to make things “look nice” before the guests come, the house-cleaning. Here in Cancun, sand is added to the beaches; in Rio it was gathering up street children — young homeless kids just trying to survive — and transporting them deep into the Brazilian countryside and left to fend for themselves. These poor little children were an embarrassment to Brazil and needed to be erased from the landscape. It’s all window dressing, and it’s all wrong. While adding sand is not equivalent to the “kidnapping” — it’s all of a piece, the same mindset. For goodness sakes, these talks are serious, and not some sort of clubbish cocktail party or black-tie-n-tails event. Yet, this is how host cities behave, as if polishing silver and pulling out the good china and linens before the guests arrive. A crying shame, really, and, if you look at it deeply, it’s a sort of narcissism that pervades our society: image over substance. As long as we look good, everything’s OK.

  20. Deborah Stark says:

    House Republicans kill global warming committee


    …..Rep. John Boehner, R-Ohio, in line to be speaker in the new Congress, said disbanding the panel is part of the Republican pledge to cut waste in government.

    “The global warming committee doesn’t need to be a separate committee,” Boehner said. “We believe the Science Committee is more than capable of handling this issue, and in the process we’ll save several million dollars.”….. END excerpt.

    OK, that’s it.

    This is not about “saving several million dollars.”

    And it’s not about letting the Science Committee handle “this issue.”

    Enough said.

    It is clearly necessary to go around these b*stards utilizing legislation already in place.

  21. Gravy says:

    @Joe I. #9
    One thing new to me that I heard from OnPoint was that insurance companies are starting to refuse new policies on coastal construction because of sea level rise predictions combined with greater storm strengths. Whereas the 100-year flood definitions of the NFIP are based on history, insurance companies are actively trying to predict forward risk.

    Also interesting was the cognitive dissonance of many Virginians trying to reconcile the coal industry driven climate denial propaganda versus the observed fact their streets and homes are flooding on a more common basis.

  22. Bob Doublin says:

    Kassandra was ALWAYS right.

  23. Mike Roddy says:

    Mexico and Central America are going to be particularly hard hit by global warming. Sonora desert residents are going to migrate north when it becomes too hot to grow corn. Major problems are also forecast farther south, especially in deforested areas such as El Salvador.

    Mexico is not addressing this aggressively because their drug cartel problem, now spilling north, has put them on the defensive.

    There are about 148 million people living in Mexico and Central America. Arable land is quite limited, and vulnerable to the storm caused erosion and drought that climate change is already causing. Future emigrants will be in a different mood, and less likely to congregate on street corners lining up to work as cheap manual laborers. Soon word will get out on the Hispanic street that it was the gabachos up north who were most responsible for the collapse of their agriculture. This means that our military will be called upon to both repel them at the borders and act in support of local police here at home. By giving this kind of power to the military, our democracy will become vulnerable.

    If we stay on our current path, corporations already running our government will corral the military for their own uses. These will include attacking and scapegoating desperate immigrants, and enforcing these kinds of policies by emergency declarations and a de facto police state. Instead of comical terror alert oranges and reds, it will be a state of brown- and if we’re not careful, the ones who end up in charge will be the same ones who caused it.

  24. Mark says:

    Another possible carbon cycle feedback has appeared in recent papers. I had not come across the compost bomb concept before.

  25. Mark says:

    And sea level rises of 1 to 2.5m per century seemed to occur naturally in past deglaciation. Will human induced climate change beat that given the greater rate of rise in CO2 and temperature?

  26. paulm says:

    Global sea-level rise at the end of the last Ice Age

    Global sea level rose by a total of more than 120 metres as the vast ice sheets of the last Ice Age melted back. This melt-back lasted from about 19,000 to about 6,000 years ago, meaning that the average rate of sea-level rise was roughly 1 metre per century.

    studies of sea-level change at individual locations have suggested that the gradual rise may have been marked by abrupt ‘jumps’ of sea-level rise at rates that approached 5 metres per century.

    …a high degree of statistical confidence…analyses indicate that the gradual rise at an average rate of 1 metre per century was interrupted by two periods with rates of rise up to 2.5 metres per century…

  27. paulm says:

    The disturbing thing is, apparently, CO2 emissions & concentrations are unprecedented for ~800k yrs.
    The rate of these emissions is also seems to be unprecedented in this period.
    This indicates that sea level rise will probably be tracking on at around the worst case scenarios.

  28. Prokaryotes says:

    U.S. wetlands in climate change risk

    Many coastal wetlands worldwide, including some on the U.S. Atlantic Coast, are at risk of disappearing by the end of this century, scientists say.

    U.S. Geological Survey scientists say coastal wetlands may be more sensitive than previously thought to climate change and sea-level rise projected for the 21st century, a U.S. Interior Department release reported.

    Even in a slow sea-level rise projection, wetlands with low sediment availability and low tidal ranges are vulnerable and may drown, researchers say.

  29. Prokaryotes says:

    paulm says “The disturbing thing is, apparently, CO2 emissions & concentrations are unprecedented for ~800k yrs.”

    You would have to go back at least 15 million years to find carbon dioxide levels on Earth as high as they are today

  30. Chris Winter says:

    RE: Post #21 —

    So John Boehner proposes to save several million dollars by killing a “wasteful” House subcommittee. Its official title is “The Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming.”

    Does John Boehner hate energy independence? I’m certain he would say no. Yet he will doubtless push policies that keep us addicted to oil, and advocate more drilling on our territory.

    Politico has the full story:

    “We have pledged to save taxpayers’ money by reducing waste and duplication in Congress,” said Michael Steel, spokesman for incoming Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio). “The Select Committee on Global Warming – which was created to provide a political forum to promote Washington Democrats’ job-killing national energy tax – was a clear example, and it will not continue in the 112th Congress.”

    It’s a setback, but I’m not sure how big a setback it is. As Senator Markey says, the problem it was created to exist still remains.

    “The politics may change but the problems have not changed,” Markey said. “The problems still need to be remedied by legislative action that comes from the United States Congress.”

    See also LiveScience for related stories.

  31. Jeandetaca says:

    When the sea will start to raise at 1 or 2 meters per century, I think we will say good bye to the beaches and all the enjoyable moments we used to share there together.