In the Shadow of the Bluffs

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My parents always kept me and my brother away from the stretches of shady sand directly under the cliffs when we visited the beach as children. Since I’d never seen a cliff collapse, the advice didn’t make as much visceral sense to me as “don’t stand on the top edge of a cliff” did. The latter seemed obviously dangerous—I might fall. And while that’s true, standing on the edge also increases stress on the cliff and could lead to collapse, injuring me and any poor souls that happened to be underneath me on the beach.  

On Friday, in Encinitas, CA—just north of San Diego—a deadly scenario, much like those my parents were trying to prevent, played out when a beach-side cliff collapsed, killing three women. After the incident, Encinitas officials released a statement that recommended beachgoers use caution and “avoid areas near or under the bluffs and keep a recommended safe distance of 25 to 40 feet.” 

The bluff that fell was near a popular surf beach called Grandview, the LA Times reported on Saturday. And although the beach changes somewhat with the tides, it is generally very narrow, meaning there isn’t much beach to enjoy that isn’t under the cliffs.  

Some coastal erosion comes with the territory—tides and storms take some sand and sediment out and often bring it back later in the year. But when beaches are bordered by high cliffs, it’s likely that rock and sediment will eventually fall. According to the AP, Southern Californian bluffs collapse four to eight times a year—but increased storm action and rising sea levels can speed that process up. The article in the LA Times points out that, “In Southern California alone, cliffs could recede by more than 130 feet by 2100 if the sea keeps rising.” 

In the wake of Friday’s incident, it’s particularly frustrating that, in addition to the challenges of stabilizing such high cliffs, it’s unclear who is responsible (if anyone) for monitoring and preventing coastal erosion along the bluffs in Encinitas.  

Have you done work on beach-side cliffs? What challenges did you face? What would you like to see done to protect lives and property near coastal bluffs? Send your comments to 

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