Seaside Selfie

Leveraging social media to track coastal erosion and increase awareness

Ec Blog Generic

I can sometimes be a bit of a killjoy at the beach. I’ve taken to warning friends and family not to sit too close to coastal bluffs lest they collapse. I point out how rising tides and more powerful storms are eroding the coastline. The problem is that once you know something, you can’t unknow it. I care about coastal erosion and I think others should too. The trick is how to make others see what I see.  

A charity in the United Kingdom may have found a way to help the public to look at coastlines differently. The National Trust preserves hundreds of historic sites, nearly 250,000 hectares of land, and about 780 miles of coastline throughout the UK. And for an island nation, that coastline is particularly important—according to the group’s website, no one in the UK lives more than 75 miles from the ocean. But in order to know how to best protect a shoreline, you first need to know how the beach is being affected by tides and storms.  

“Working with nature is really important to us,” says the National Trust’s website. “By understanding what is happening to the natural environment around our coast, we can make well-informed choices about whether and where to continue maintaining hard sea defencesor to adapt and work with nature rather than against it.” To that end, the group has come up with a way to leverage social media to gather information on at-risk coastlines.  

The travel website Lonely Planet first put this on my radar. According to an article posted last week, the National Trust has set up a photo stand along a part of the UK coastline at Studland Bay. Visitors are encouraged to use the stand to snap a photo using their smartphone (no zoom, no filters) of the coastline and share it on social media with the hashtag #NTshiftingshores. The National Trust will use the images to create a time-lapse video and track changes to the coastline.  

It’s a clever idea. Rather than paying to erect a time-lapse camera to track coastal changes, the photo stand takes advantage of the fact that virtually everyone has a powerful camera in their pocket. Adding a social media aspect not only gives the National Trust easy access the images, but it also fosters a sense of community for those taking the photos. Even for those visitors who choose not to take and share a photo of the coastline, the stand will hopefully increase awareness of coastal erosion and degradation. Maybe the next time they visit the beach, they’ll look at it a little differently.  

Send your thoughts and comments on the National Trust’s photo stand and other coastal erosion outreach projects to 

More in Vegetation Management