V. Bax1*, W. van de Lageweg1, T. Terpstra1, J.M. Buijs1

1 HZ University of Applied Sciences

*corresponding author: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Coastal realignment is a coastal management approach that involves the relocation of the primary flood defense. Nowadays, nature compensation projects and climate adaptation of the coastal zone are resulting in landward realignment, leading to a re-establishment of tidal flooding and restoration of intertidal ecosystems in a formerly reclaimed area from the sea. Intertidal ecosystems contribute to human well-being and society at large by providing important ecosystem services such as coastal protection against flooding, opportunities for recreation and habitat for a variety of plants and animals.

While the benefits of restoring intertidal ecosystems through coastal realignment are widely accepted in policy and academic circles, the implementation of concrete projects often faces opposition from the local community. Public opposition to coastal realignment may result in the delay or complete cancellation of planned projects and disturbs relationships between authorities and the local population. In consequence, to facilitate design and implementation processes, it is important to understand to what extent and under what circumstances coastal realignment interventions are supported by the local population and what factors contribute to social support or opposition.

Accordingly, in this study we examine the social response to coastal realignment. We hereby focus on one ongoing (Hedwigepolder) and two fully established (Rammegors and Perkpolder) project locations in the Southwest delta, the Netherlands. A comprehensive questionnaire instrument was elaborated and administered in neighboring towns, resulting in about 100 filled-out questionnaires per project location. We computed correlations and constructed regression models using SPSS and R to analyze the questionnaire data.

The results show that inhabitants in the surroundings of the Rammegors and Hedwigepolder project locations have little sympathy for coastal realignment. Negative sentiments revolve around governance-related aspects (e.g. lack of trust in authorities and planning procedures) and socio-psychological factors (e.g. disruption of place-related bonds and feelings of disconnection with the social and physical surroundings). In addition, inhabitants associate the landscape transformation with the loss of ecosystem services. This is a noticeable outcome, given that it is a key policy objective of coastal realignment to increase the availability of ecosystem services.

When it comes to the transformation of Perkpolder, the local population is critical toward planning authorities and concerned about the possibility of salt intrusion and environmental pollution (due to the presence of PFAS in the Western Scheldt and heavy metals in the newly established sea dike). Meanwhile, in contrast to Rammegors and Hedwigepolder, the transformation of Perkpolder is generally considered to have increased the availability of ecosystem services. Local inhabitants recognize the contribution of coastal realignment to erosion control and flood risk protection, but the new landscape is particularly valued for its cultural ecosystem services, including landscape aesthetics and opportunities for recreation and tourism. We found that this translates into an overall positive attitude to the coastal realignment intervention and the landscape transformation more broadly. Hence, to achieve socially acceptable and sustainable outcomes, it will be important to minimize the loss of cultural ecosystem services, or better yet, look for possibilities to increase the availability of cultural ecosystem services through coastal realignment.

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