The Last Beach

The Last Beach

Book Pages: 256 Illustrations: 70 illustrations Published: November 2014

Environmental Studies, Geography, Natural Sciences

The Last Beach is an urgent call to save the world's beaches while there is still time. The geologists Orrin H. Pilkey and J. Andrew G. Cooper sound the alarm in this frank assessment of our current relationship with beaches and their grim future if we do not change the way we understand and treat our irreplaceable shores. Combining case studies and anecdotes from around the world, they argue that many of the world's developed beaches, including some in Florida and in Spain, are virtually doomed and that we must act immediately to save imperiled beaches.

After explaining beaches as dynamic ecosystems, Pilkey and Cooper assess the harm done by dense oceanfront development accompanied by the construction of massive seawalls to protect new buildings from a shoreline that encroaches as sea levels rise. They discuss the toll taken by sand mining, trash that washes up on beaches, and pollution, which has contaminated not only the water but also, surprisingly, the sand. Acknowledging the challenge of reconciling our actions with our love of beaches, the geologists offer suggestions for reversing course, insisting that given the space, beaches can take care of themselves and provide us with multiple benefits.


“A clarion call for a change of policy that prioritizes the preservation of beaches over property rights.” — Kirkus Reviews

The Last Beach almost reads like a message in a bottle, one last act of hope that someone might hear their cries. Don't expect any easy answers, as none exist. Also, consider moving inland.” — Mountaineer in a Flat Land blog

"Beaches, whether sandy or stony, are very much part of summer, but if Orrin Pilkey and Andrew Cooper’s The Last Beach is right, the traditional seaside may soon be a thing of the past. These two geomorphologists argue that the problem is that beaches are dynamic systems, and change position, size and composition as a result of wave action and tidal flow…. Their book neatly combines geography with climate studies and conservation, making it an accessible guide to the threats facing a natural resource we mostly take for granted. The Last Beach shows that Westerners should not get smug about their future because development and house prices frequently trump environmental good sense.” — Adrian Barnett, New Scientist

The Last Beach did not make my swim this morning much happier, but it does provide its own alarm call – as well as offering a plan of action to reclaim the beach, for ourselves and for future generations.” — Philip Hoare, Times Higher Education

“Pilkey and follow geologist J. Andrew G. Cooper of the School of Environmental Sciences at the University of Ulster, warn that we will lose the beaches we have long enjoyed if we do not end our insistence on building whatever we want right up to the shoreline. Their book is packed with photographs of the consequences of poor conservation practices, from Topsail Island in North Carolina to Monopoli, Italy, to Benidorm, Spain, and beyond. They offer some dire predictions about what will happen if we don’t change our ways, as well as a way toward a kinder, saner relationship with our beaches.” — Cliff Bellamy, Durham Herald-Sun

“The professors make one last plea to change course before it's too late, which it probably already is. The book comes with a blurb from Bill McKibben, so you know it's going to be really good, environmentally alarming and totally depressing.” — Brian Howe, Independent Weekly

“The world’s beaches are disappearing, as much due to rising sea levels as to seaside development and the seawalls intended to protect those new buildings from the encroaching shoreline, say geologists Orrin H. Pilkey and J. Andrew G. Cooper. . . . Perhaps copies of this book . . .  should have been distributed to the [Israeli] National Council for Planning and Building subcommittee due to meet next week to discuss objections to a seawall construction plan.” — Zafrir Rinat, Haaretz

The Last Beach is sprinkled with fascinating trivia about beaches around the world. . . . it is clear and readable.”  — Theodoric Meyer, Washington Monthly

“This monograph differs by providing an all-encompassing review of the many complex factors affecting beaches, notably ill-advised engineering and development that limits natural beach processes, mining of beach material, myriad pollution sources, and the lack of general understanding of the true value of natural beaches. The clear, well-documented writing is accompanied by 67 photographs that illustrate the authors’ case for a “new view” of beaches. … Highly recommended. All academic and public libraries.” — A. S. Ricker, Choice

"The Last Beach will appeal to many readers. It is great for seaside homeowners and investors, city planners, coastal managers, geologists, and oceanographers. Those who seek to build by the ocean would do well to understand many of the factors that are presented in this book." — Ryder W. Miller, Electronic Green Journal

“This is an important book that is critical to the future of the world's beaches. . . . This book is required reading for all those interested in beaches and, indeed, in the very survival of their coastal habitations, infrastructure, and industrial-military complexes that are fronted by beaches.” — Charles W. Finkl, Journal of Coastal Research

"The Last Beach is an excellent overview of the environmental issues that affect beaches. Writing from scientific backgrounds, Orrin H. Pilkey and J. Andrew G. Cooper provide readers with a comprehendible overview of coastal threats." — Victoria Machado, Journal of Agricultural and Environmental Ethics

"We're all used to lying on beaches and zoning out—but it turns out that if we want those beaches to be there much longer we better stand up and make our voices heard. This is fascinating new information about one of the planet's most beloved ecosystems."
— Bill McKibben, author of Wandering Home: A Long Walk Across America's Most Hopeful Landscape

"The Last Beach is a must-read for anyone interested in the plight of the world's beaches. This brave confrontation with coastal engineers, coastal planners, developers, politicians, and beachfront property owners lays bare their adverse impact on the world's beaches."
— Andrew Short, School of Geosciences, University of Sydney


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Price: $23.95

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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Orrin H. Pilkey, deemed "America’s foremost philosopher of the beaches," by the New York Times, is James B. Duke Professor Emeritus of Geology at the Nicholas School of the Environment at Duke University. Pilkey is a coauthor (with Keith C. Pilkey) of Global Climate Change: A Primer, published by Duke University Press, and of twenty books in the Press's Living with the Shore series, edited by Pilkey and William J. Neal. In 2013, The Orrin Pilkey Marine Science and Conservation Genetics Center opened at the Duke Marine Lab in Beaufort, North Carolina. Pilkey lives in Hillsborough, N.C.

J. Andrew G. Cooper is Professor of Coastal Studies in the School of Environmental Sciences at the University of Ulster. He and Pilkey are coauthors (with William J. Neal and Joseph T. Kelley) of The World's Beaches: A Global Guide to the Science of the Shoreline and coeditors of Pitfalls of Shoreline Stabilization. Well known for his advocacy of nonintervention on shorelines and his work on beaches and coasts worldwide, Cooper lives in the town of Coleraine in Northern Ireland.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Foreword vii

Preface xi

Acknowledgments xvii

1. The End is Nigh! 1

2. Selling the Family Silver: Beach-Sand Mining 24

3. Indefensible: Hard Structures on Soft Sand 41

4. Patch-up Jobs: Beach Replinishment 70

5. The Plastisphere: Trash on the Beach 95

6. Tar Balls and Magic Pipes 107

7. Stuck in a Rut: Driving on the Beach 123

8. The Enemy Within: Beach Pollution 139

9. The International Dimension of Beach Destruction 160

10. The End is Here 175

Appendix 1 199

Appendix 2 203

Bibliography 207

Index 233
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