Coastal Marketplaces

The Center for the Blue Economy and the Nature Conservancy’s Innovative Market-Based Coastal Development Solution

Let's imagine that you are a homeowner (congratulations!) with a home built directly on the beautiful California coastline.  You've noticed that the ocean high-tide line is coming closer and closer to your front door.   What do you do?  At the moment, you apply for a permit from the California Coastal Commission for an emergency sea wall, a process that is complex, time consuming, expensive, and quite possibly, damaging to the coastline you love.  Your sea wall may cause your neighbors to lose their beach sand at a faster rate and may have other unintended negative impacts to the entire ecological environment. 

Under California law, the Coastal Commission must issue a permit to a homeowner in distress, but the process as it is now results in decisions that are piecemeal, and that do not necessarily take into account that some locations are more suitable for hard armoring (your sea wall), others for soft armoring (beach nourishment or wetland restoration).     The California Coastal Commission recognized that this process was less than ideal, and they approached the Nature Conservancy for help.    The Nature Conservancy have been leaders in climate adaptation tools, and we at the Center for the Blue Economy are now their on-call economists for California coastal adaptation projects. 

Enter the innovative "Coastal Adaptation Marketplaces" research project, a project that is part of the Center for the Blue Economy cooperative agreement with the Nature Conservancy.   The research project imagines a coastline called "MONTERA,"  a fictional and idyllic locale, combining the Monterey and Ventura County coastlines to represent all possible types of land owners.   The model uses as transferable permit system with a pricing mechanism that takes economic and ecological factors into account.  Specifically it will test the logic of two market-based land use tools:  transferable development rights and credit trading.  (Think carbon cap and trade).

The incentive for land owners is a simpler system to navigate with less time for permitting (currently it can take years to get any kind of permit).  The incentive from the environmental policy side is a more holistic, nature based management approach that will look at the entire coastline and the effects of the each individual action on the entire system.

"No one has done this kind of study--this is way out there,"  said CBE Director of Research Dr. Charles Colgan, the lead researcher on the study at the recent CBE Advisory Council meeting.

Initial outcomes of this study show that indeed this marketplace approach is less hassle for homeowners while improving ecological impacts.  The Nature Conservancy is pursuing funding for a more in-depth study that could be used to approach lawmakers for policy creation. 

READ THE ENTIRE STUDY:  A Prototype Market-based Approach to Regulating Shoreline Protection in California: A Working Paper


Charles S. Colgan, PhD
Director of Research, Center for the Blue Economy
Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey

Sarah Newkirk
Senior Coastal Project Director, The Nature Conservancy-California