Ten years of morphodynamic data for sustainable beach management

Sustained high quality data of nearshore waves and beach morphology are crucial to understand morphodynamic processes that determine beach evolution. We present a free and unrestricted dataset to support adaptation and mitigation actions under different global change scenarios in urban beaches.
Published in Research Data

In November 2001, a severe wave storm struck the north and east coasts of the Island of Mallorca in the Western Mediterranean (Balearic Islands). Apart from infrastructure damage, the loss of sand on the beaches was the primary impact. Cala Millor beach, one of the popular tourist destinations since the 1960s, was particularly affected. With its economy relying on sun and beach tourism, offering up to 14,000 hotel vacancies in 2001, with more than 500,000 visitors annually and supporting more than 6,000 inhabitants only at Cala Millor beach (17,000 within its socioeconomic influence area), the storm posed a substantial environmental and socio-economical hazard. Historically, Cala Millor has faced the impacts of waves and surge storms, and several beach renourishment projects were carried out during the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s to restore its width. These measures were temporary, aimed at ensuring the summer tourist seasons.

Then, given the urgency of addressing beach erosion comprehensively, the civil society reached out to the scientific community for science-based advice and sustainable solutions. Despite limited in-situ data, we undertook this challenge. The study encompassed the historical variability and the development of a conceptual model to understand the response of Cala Millor beach to mean wave climate and extreme wave events. The ultimate goal was to provide recommendations for beach management and potential renourishment, establishing a new, science-based approach aligned with Integrated Coastal Zone Management (ICZM) principles. Over the following years, several studies emerged focusing on near-shore dynamics. Researchers, technicians, and students from various institutions collaborated, gaining valuable experience and knowledge regarding the dynamics and processes of Mediterranean beaches.

The most important lesson learned was the need for consistent and coherent open-source sustained data, a key element of ICZM framework. With this knowledge, a novel beach monitoring program, the Modular Beach Integral Monitoring System (MOBIMS), was conceived. The MOBIMS approach is unique in Spain, particularly in the Mediterranean Sea. The main objective of MOBIMS is to provide high-resolution and sustained hydrodynamic and morphodynamic data for beaches, supporting researchers, coastal managers, and society as a whole. The implementation of this system was carried out by the Balearic Islands Coastal Observing and Forecasting System (SOCIB), a Spanish Research Infrastructure that had formally initiated its activity  in 2011 and that initially focused on three beaches with distinct characteristics. 

Over the years, the beach monitoring program implemented at the Balearic Islands, through close collaboration with national and international researchers, has successfully bridged the gap between science and society. By actively involving the regional authorities, stakeholders and local community, the program has developed scientific products and solutions that address their specific concerns. Furthermore, this collaborative approach has built trust and fostered an effective exchange of knowledge, benefiting both science and the local population.

Cala Millor has emerged as one of the most extensively studied beaches in the Mediterranean Sea today. With over 20 years of continuous research and more than a decade of sustained collection of high-quality morphodynamics data, the beach has garnered significant attention. The active engagement and commitment of researchers from multiple disciplines, local stakeholders, authorities, and inhabitants throughout these years have led to the LIFEAdaptCala Millor project, co funded by the European Commission, that aims to develop a participatory and multi-level governance process to design a transformational climate change adaptation project at Cala Millor beach. The project started in January 2023 and adopts a novel integrated and multidisciplinary approach, drawing on scientific knowledge to address the challenges effectively. Its ultimate goal is to develop nature-based solutions that can be applied not only to Cala Millor, but also to other urban beaches in the Mediterranean Sea facing similar issues. The project aims to ensure that the voices of all stakeholders, authorities and inhabitants are heard, making it a comprehensive and adaptable initiative for sustainable beach management in the face of climate change.

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