Research

UNCW, Duke University & Ohio State examine correlation between property values and beach nourishment measures

A groundbreaking collaboration between the University of North Carolina Wilmington, Duke University and Ohio State University fuses physics, economics and oceanography toward quantifying the correlation between property values and beach nourishment measures-in other words, what would happen to property values if federal beach nourishment subsidies were to end.

Experts across several fields of study have been examining the issue, and their findings indicate that shrinking federal beach nourishment subsidies would greatly affect coastal economies.

Dylan McNamara, lead researcher and assistant professor of physics and oceanography at UNCW, explains the various factors involved in the study and why it took such a diverse team of experts to tackle the issue. DylanMcNamara

"It's a complicated formula. Economics and physics influence one another," said McNamara. Issues include the "rate of sea level rise, storm patterns changing, the increasing vulnerability of the coastline, and the rising cost of beach nourishment. We had to look at how all these systems intertwine."

Funded by a National Science Foundation grant, the study will help coastal communities better discuss the issue at town meetings and within local government. The team's findings have been published in the open-access peer-reviewed journal PLOS ONE.

"The moment the subsidies stop and the homeowners have to bear the cost of beach nourishment, values could erode by as much as nearly 17% in towns with high property values and almost 34% in towns with low property values," says Martin D. Smith, professor of environmental economics at Duke University. "This would be analogous to the bursting of a bubble."

The study also reflects what the beaches will do in the years to come, based on changing storm and erosion patterns. Most coastlines along the East Coast are low-lying sandy beaches vulnerable to different degrees of erosion and in constant need of nourishment.

"A portion of the property value equation is how wide the beaches are in front of the house-where you can put your towel," says McNamara.

Beach nourishment happens in many communities, and around 65% of nourishment cost comes from the federal government. Wrightsville Beach has been nourishing its shores for 60 years.

Given the likely local impact, "we wanted to get the information to the public as soon as possible. It's not about policy recommendations," says McNamara. "It's about making the information available."