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Sandy beach social–ecological systems at risk: regime shifts, collapses, and governance challenges

Defeo, Omar; McLachlan, Anton; Armitage, Derek; Elliott, Michael; Pittman, Jeremy


Omar Defeo

Anton McLachlan

Derek Armitage

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Professor Mike Elliott
Emeritus Professor of Estuarine and Coastal Sciences/ Research Professor, Institute of Estuarine and Coastal Studies

Jeremy Pittman


Approximately half of the world’s ice-free ocean coastline is composed of sandy beaches, which support a higher level of recreational use than any other ecosystem. However, the contribution of sandy beaches to societal welfare is under increasing risk from local and non-local pressures, including expanding human development and climate-related stressors. These pressures are impairing the capacity of beaches to meet recreational demand, provide food, protect livelihoods, and maintain biodiversity and water quality. This will increase the likelihood of social–ecological collapses and regime shifts, such that beaches will sustain neither the original ecosystem function nor the related services and societal goods and benefits that they provide. These social–ecological systems at the land–sea interface are subject to market forces, weak governance institutions, and societal indifference: most people want a beach, but few recognize it as an ecosystem at risk.


Defeo, O., McLachlan, A., Armitage, D., Elliott, M., & Pittman, J. (2021). Sandy beach social–ecological systems at risk: regime shifts, collapses, and governance challenges. Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, 19(10), 564-573.

Journal Article Type Review
Acceptance Date Jan 1, 2021
Online Publication Date Sep 9, 2021
Publication Date 2021-12
Deposit Date Jun 1, 2022
Publicly Available Date Jun 6, 2022
Journal Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment
Print ISSN 1540-9295
Electronic ISSN 1540-9309
Publisher Ecological Society of America
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 19
Issue 10
Pages 564-573
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Copyright Statement
© 2021 The Authors.
This is an open access article under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs License, which permits use and distribu-tion in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited, the use is non-commercial and no modifications or adaptations are made.

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