State of the Beach/State Reports/VA/Beach Erosion

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Virginia Ratings
Indicator Type Information Status
Beach Access65
Water Quality77
Beach Erosion4-
Erosion Response-5
Beach Fill6-
Shoreline Structures6 2
Beach Ecology4-
Surfing Areas58
Coastal Development{{{19}}}{{{20}}}
Sea Level Rise{{{21}}}{{{22}}}

Erosion Data

An estimated 26% of Virginia's shoreline is critically eroding, according to the report "State Coastal Program Effectiveness in Protecting Natural Beaches, Dunes, Bluffs, and Rock Shores" (T. Bernd-Cohen and M. Gordon), Coastal Management 27:187-217, 1999.

Staff at Virginia Institute of Marine Science (VIMS) estimate that of the 27 miles of open ocean coastline from the State line to Cape Henry, approximately 20 miles are eroding. Naturally accreting beaches include Croatan, Cape Henry and False Cape.

Studies show that approximately one-third of Virginia Beach’s 22.9 mile coast is experiencing moderate to severe erosion. The average erosion rates for this area are 7.3 feet/year. Some areas experience erosion as high as 10 feet/year.

Virginia's 2006 Coastal Needs Assessment reported that:

"The lack of accurate, current information on shoreline erosion remains another significant impediment to meeting 309 objectives. There is a need to better understand the degree to which this condition (i.e. shoreline erosion) persists and is problematic within the coastal zone. There are no regional studies that report shoreline erosion or accretion trends in Virginia after 1983. Related to shoreline erosion, there is also a lack of information on the effect of sea level rise on coastal development and marshes."

The Shoreline Studies Program at VIMS is doing an aerial photo survey of the coast and is digitizing data of the ocean coastline. An analysis of historical shoreline change is part of this study. VIMS is preparing digital and hardcopy datasets for localities with "higher energy shorelines", based on a series of orthorectified aerial photography taken between 1937 and 2002. A beach buggy survey was also conducted at Dam Neck.

VIMS publishes Shoreline Evolution Reports and Shoreline Management Reports that detail down to the individual property scale, the condition of the shoreline (natural, bulkheaded, revetment, etc.). Although there are reports for Viginia Beach, they only cover the Chesapeake Bay shoreline and not the Atlantic Ocean shoreline.

VIMS has a list of beach erosion-related publications for Virginia Beach, Northampton County, and Accomack County.

Flooding and erosion is a regular problem at the 1,000-car parking lot at the Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge. A coastal storm lifted chunks of asphalt and exposed the old salt marsh peat. The marsh was behind an earlier stretch of sandy beach. (Photo: Courtesy of the Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge)

The geography of Virginia provides ample evidence for the rise and fall of sea level over the course of thousands of years. Today, the ocean is once again slowly encroaching upon the land. In Virginia, sea level has been rising at about one foot per century, and recent evidence suggests the rate may be accelerating. Changes in sea level are important in Virginia because it can threaten the extensive development that has occurred in the Hampton Roads area. These changes may also result in the potential loss of extensive tidal wetlands and shallow water habitats in the Chesapeake Bay, tributaries and the vast barrier island lagoon system on the seaside of the Eastern Shore.[1] The attempt at developing Cedar Island on the Eastern Shore is a cautionary tale for others who might contemplate building on these barrier islands. The last house there finally fell into the ocean in 2014.

The City of Virginia Beach surveys the coast of their city. In its 2002 Beach Management Plan, the city of Virginia Beach identified Chesapeake Beach as having "chronic erosion", Baylake Beach is "slightly accretional", the majority of Ocean Park Beach is erosional, Cape Henry Beach is relatively stable, areas of North End Beach vary from "naturally accretional" to "moderately erosional", Resort Beach is erosional (with a 50-year history of beach fill), Croatan Beach is historically stable with current localized erosion, and Sandbridge Beach has extremely high erosion rates (nourished for the first time in 1998). As much as 8 feet per year of beach disappears at Sandbridge because the shape of the ocean floor focuses wave energy on the shore. [2]

The U.S. Navy conducts beach surveys at Dam Neck.

The beach survey data from both the City of Virginia Beach and the Navy are compiled by VIMS for a report to the Marine Management Service.

The Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation and local governments regulate erosion and sedimentation for land-disturbing activities.

The Virginia Energy Plan, Ch. 5: Energy and the Environment, says this:

"What does climate change mean for Virginia? Over the long term, climate change will affect Virginia's people, wildlife, and economy. The Virginia Institute for Marine Science estimates that the Mid-Atlantic sea level will rise between 4 and 12 inches by 2030, threatening coastal islands and low-lying areas."

Another source of information is Virginia Sea Grant

A USGS report National Assessment of Shoreline Change: Historical Shoreline Change along the New England and Mid-Atlantic Coasts was released in February 2011. The New England and Mid-Atlantic shores were subdivided into a total of 10 analysis regions for the purpose of reporting regional trends in shoreline change rates. The average rate of long-term shoreline change for the New England and Mid-Atlantic coasts was -0.5 meters per year. The average rate of short-term shoreline change for the New England and Mid-Atlantic coasts was also erosional but the rate of erosion decreased in comparison to long-term rates. The net short-term rate as averaged along 17,045 transects was -0.3 meters per year.

The Heinz Center's Evaluation of Erosion Hazards, conducted for the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), studied the causes of coastal erosion hazards and proposed a variety of national and regional responses. The study, published in April 2000, concentrates on the economic impacts of erosion response policies as well as the cost of erosion itself to homeowners, businesses, and governmental entities.

A NOAA website that has graphs of sea level data for many coastal locations around the country over the last 40 to 50 years and projections into the future is Sea Levels Online.

NOAA Shoreline Website is a comprehensive guide to national shoreline data and terms and is the first site to allow vector shoreline data from NOAA and other federal agencies to be conveniently accessed and compared in one place. Supporting context is also included via frequently asked questions, common uses of shoreline data, shoreline terms, and references. Many NOAA branches and offices have a stake in developing shoreline data, but this is the first-ever NOAA Website to provide access to all NOAA shorelines, plus data from other federal agencies. The site is a culmination of efforts of NOAA and several offices within NOS (including NOAA’s Coastal Services Center, National Geodetic Survey, Office of Coast Survey, Special Projects Office, and Office of Ocean and Coastal Resource Management) and other federal agencies to provide coastal resource managers with accurate and useful shoreline data.

A related site launched in 2008 is NOAA Coastal Services Center's Digital Coast, which can be used to address timely coastal issues, including land use, coastal conservation, hazards, marine spatial planning, and climate change. One of the goals behind the creation of the Digital Coast was to unify groups that might not otherwise work together. This partnership network is building not only a website, but also a strong collaboration of coastal professionals intent on addressing coastal resource management needs. Website content is provided by numerous organizations, but all must meet the site’s quality and applicability standards. More recently, NOAA Coastal Services Center has developed a Sea Level Rise and Coastal Flooding Impacts Viewer as part of its Digital Coast website. Being able to visualize potential impacts from sea level rise is a powerful teaching and planning tool, and the Sea Level Rise Viewer brings this capability to coastal communities. A slider bar is used to show how various levels of sea level rise will impact coastal communities. Completed areas include Mississippi, Alabama, Texas, Florida, and Georgia, with additional coastal counties to be added in the near future. Visuals and the accompanying data and information cover sea level rise inundation, uncertainty, flood frequency, marsh impacts, and socioeconomics.

Erosion Contact Info

Scott Hardaway
Virginia Institute of Marine Science
Shoreline Studies Program
P.O. Box 1346
Gloucester Point, VA 23062
Phone: (804) 684-7277

Phil Roehrs
Public Works/Beach Management
City of Virginia Beach
2405 Courthouse Dr.
Municipal Center, Bldg. 2
Virginia Beach, VA 23456
(757) 427-4167

Marcia Berman
Virginia Institute of Marine Science
(804) 684-7188

Hazard Avoidance Policies/Erosion Response

See the Erosion Response section.


  1. Virginia Coastal Program, Department of Environmental Quality, State of Virginia's Coast, 2001.
  2. Virgina Beach Beach Management Plan.

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