A seawall (or sea wall) is a form of coastal defence constructed where the sea, and associated coastal processes, impact directly upon the landforms of the coast. The purpose of a sea wall is to protect areas of human habitation, conservation and leisure activities from the action of tides, waves, or tsunamis. As a seawall is a static feature it will conflict with the dynamic nature of the coast and impede the exchange of sediment between land and sea. The shoreline is part of the coastal interface which is exposed to a wide range of erosional processes arising from flowing water sources, wind and terrestrial sources, meaning that a combination of denudational processes will work against a seawall.
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The coast is generally a high-energy, dynamic environment with spatial variations over a wide range of timescales. The coast is exposed to erosion by rivers and winds as well as the sea, so that a combination of denudational processes will work against a sea wall. Because of these persistent natural forces, sea walls need to be maintained (and eventually replaced) to maintain their effectiveness.
The many types of sea wall in use today reflect both the varying physical forces they are designed to withstand, and location specific aspects, such as local climate, coastal position, wave regime (determined by wave characteristics and effectors), and value (morphological characteristics) of landform. Sea walls are hard engineering shore-based structures which protect the coast from erosion. But various environmental problems and issues may arise from the construction of a sea wall, including disrupting sediment movement and transport patterns. Combined with a high construction cost, this has led to an increasing use of other soft engineering coastal management options such as beach replenishment.
Sea walls may be constructed from various materials, most commonly reinforced concrete, boulders, steel, or gabions. Other possible construction materials are: vinyl, wood, aluminium, fibreglass composite, and large biodegrable sandbags made of jute and coir. In the UK, sea wall also refers to an earthen bank used to create a polder, or a dike construction. The type of material used for construction is hypothesized to affect the settlement of coastal organisms, although the precise mechanism has yet to be identified.