Shifting Coastlines

Historic Coastal Evolution

The Pearl River Delta today is the result of natural sediment deposition from the last millennium.  From the Ming Dynasty (1368 onwards), the largely open estuary has been filled by alluvial sediment, naturally forming land at the mouth of the Pearl River. In addition to these natural processes, local aquaculture practices in areas such as Shunde, initiated a staged reclamation technique through fishponds, agriculture, and gradually, urban settlements. A fluctuating landscape based on a nuanced relationship between water and land emerged, forming a unique coastal culture in the province of Guangdong.

The Expanded Water’s Edge

Climate change experts predict a 30cm rise of sea level in 2030, although this is not likely to put the Pearl River Delta underwater.  It will however, increase storm flooding dramatically, inundating highways, introducing corrosive salt-water into habitats where none existed, weakening infrastructure, crippling production shipment routes, and increasing the costs exponentially to rebuild from these storms. Urban settlements in the PRD are typically located along shorelines putting them at particularly high risk from flooding and an expanding water’s edge.

Human Beings & Environmental Change

The impact of climate change, from increased storm surge and sea-level rise, are of lesser effect compared to other types of human-induced environmental change in the Pearl River Delta.  One significant example is the effect of land reclamation: Large-scale reclamation projects have actively altered coastal ecologies and hydrological patterns, reducing the complexities and resilience of these areas.  The effects of climate change amplify these negative effects and increase vulnerable areas within our cities.

Since 1980, the coastline of Pearl River Delta has undergone extraordinary changes in response to rapid urbanization. Land reclamation and long-term riverbed sand excavation to supply the construction industry has increased susceptibility to salt-water intrusion from natural tidal fluctuation, which is further compounded with sea level rise. Annual dredged sand is more than double that which is naturally replaced through sedimentation, causing shoreline erosion and potentially weakening coastline infrastructure.