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A historical view on Coastal Erosion: The case of Furadouro (Portugal).


The village of Furadouro, on the north-western coast of Portugal, is emblematic of current problems of coastal management. The purpose of this article is to analyse the interaction between human communities and the coast in Furadouro, in order to understand how practices and arrangements have contributed to potentiate coastal erosion effects in the last century. The conceptual tools of 'socio-natural sites'; 'co-evolution'; and 'socio-natural sites as nexus of practices and arrangements' guide this investigation. The methodology adopted is socio-ecological long-term research. Data used comes mainly from primary historical sources (church registers, minutes of local authorities' meetings and newspapers) and secondary literature (local writers and monographs). Historical information was cross-referenced with geomorphological data to allow for a more global approach to the coastal erosion phenomenon. The analysis of the evolution of Furadouro shows that human activities determined the increase of coastal erosion problems, not only by contributing to the decrease of sand on the beach, but also by destroying its natural protection structures--the dunes. The reconstruction of past coastal landscapes and human intervention gives us a better understanding of the complex and intertwined history of this socio-ecological site, also offering a model of analysis and interpretation that can be applied to other cases around the world.


Socio-natural site, long-term research, coastal management, hazards, vulnerability


'Coastal erosion is the process of wearing away material from a coastal profile due to imbalance in the supply and export of material' in a given section. It takes place mainly during strong winds, high waves and high tides and storm surge conditions, and results in coastline retreat. (1) Erosion is a natural phenomenon of coastal dynamic processes, but it becomes a problem--especially in areas where built heritage exists--since it causes damage to or even loss of property located on the top of cliffs and dunes, loss of land with economic value, flooding of the hinterland and salinisation of agricultural land. Coastal erosion is already a big concern all over the world and it is believed that it will grow worse in the future. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has estimated that, due to thermal expansion of the ocean and the melting of mountain glaciers and the polar caps, sea level will rise between 0.26-0.55 m and 0.45-0.82 m, depending on the chosen scenario, by the end of the twenty-first century. (2) On the other hand, over the last century, human activity in most catchment areas and coastal zones has had a great impact, directly or indirectly, on natural coastal systems. Damming, dredging, inert extraction, fluvial and maritime engineering works, agricultural and forestry activity and the urbanisation of coastal zones have all caused profound imbalances in natural systems. Amongst other things, these imbalances have led to reduction in the amount of sediment arriving at the littoral, contributing to the degradation of coastal ecosystems and the diminishing of their resilience in the case of extreme weather events. (3) The combination of these factors could lead to catastrophic consequences across the whole world.

Matters relating to natural phenomena and their impact on the planet and its populations have traditionally fallen mainly within the scope of the natural sciences. In the last decades, multidisciplinary teams of geologists, climatologists, geophysicists and others have worked together to analyse the causes of coastal erosion. However, many of the questions posed by scientists about the state of coastlines cannot be answered simply with reference to physical conditions or recent human impact, as many of 'those "why" questions are rooted in culture'. (4) The present situation of the world's coastlines is influenced by a combination of Nature and Culture, so it is absolutely necessary to make integral and global studies of coasts, taking in both natural and human factors, to achieve a holistic understanding of coastal systems. Despite this, it is not very common to find works in Social Sciences or History about erosion and other hazards facing coastal zones. There are exceptions, like some articles published in the Environment and History special issue on Flooding; French works--motivated by storm Cynthia--about flooding and tsunamis on French coasts since the Middle Ages; and Dutch and German historiographies on coastal hazards. (5) Nevertheless, these are still a minority in environmental history especially when compared to the number of works on agriculture and forests, aquifers, rivers, droughts and river flooding, pollution, mining and industrial issues.

This work, within the frame of environmental history, analyses the case of Furadouro, a village located in the northwestern coast of Portugal, affected by erosion since the nineteenth century. Furadouro offers an excellent example of historical coastal hazards and current problems of coastal management. Coastal erosion is well studied in this area. Scientists have determined a mean retreat rate of 2.8 metres/year between 1954-1990 and eight metres/year between 1984-1990. (6) They attribute coastal erosion to a reduction in sedimentary supply to the coast, due to dams, fluvial and maritime engineering works and urbanisation. In the 1970s, the village had to be protected by hard engineering structures--groynes and a rip-rap seawall--which are recurrently damaged by the sea and have to be rebuilt and reinforced at high financial cost. These structures obviously do not solve coastal erosion; they just 'hold the line' to ensure the village's survival, transferring the problem downdrift. Coastal erosion in Furadouro, however, started much earlier, in the second half of the nineteenth century, before the major human interventions in the coast and river basins, and this has never been properly studied.

The case of Furadouro allows us to observe the antecedents of coastal erosion, the beginning of the phenomenon and the motivations beyond the activities that explain the increase in present problems. The American geologist Orrin Pilkey contended, in 1979, that 'no erosion problems exist until people lay out property lines and build'. Beaches are moving environments; any building on or near them normally increases the rate of erosion, since structures and their foundations reduce the flexibility of natural systems to respond to changes in their dynamic equilibrium. Later, Pilkey synthesised his ideas in just a few words: 'No people, no problem'. (7) Based on this core principle, a main theory is tested in this case-study: in the twentieth century two opposing realities joined to potentiate the effects of erosion--urban growth in risk areas and sediment supply reduction to the coast.

The purpose of our study is therefore to analyse the interactions between human communities and the coast, understanding how practices and arrangements contributed to the transformation of a specific coastal site and how this led to unexpected side effects, unintended consequences that were not, or could not be, foreseen. This requires monitoring change over time, recognising natural and human dynamics, determining the impacts of transitions and identifying actors and intentions, in order to have a complete perspective on these complex phenomena. To this end, we analyse the consequences of the settlement in Furadouro and its passage from fishing village to locus of tourism. We also compare the natural behaviour of this coastal system with the consequences of human intervention on the catchment areas of the supplying rivers and the coast itself. The goal is to understand the legacy of past actions for present and future decisions and to build the bases to extrapolate this particular case to other coasts around the world.


Winiwarter et al. wrote that interdisciplinary, long-term studies are still a novelty. The joint work of scholars with different disciplinary backgrounds imposes challenges concerning communication and understanding of data, notions, methods, theories and forms of presentation between them. Facing this challenge, a team of historians and natural scientists working on a long-term study of the evolution of the Viennese Danube defined a conceptual basis that they applied to the analysis of the riverine landscape. (8) Since these concepts proved to be useful tools, we decided to apply them to coastal landscapes.

So, in this case-study of Furadouro: (a) Furadouro is considered a 'socio-natural site': a place created by both human action and biophysical phenomena; (b) its transformation is interpreted as a 'co-evolution': a product of human and nature interactions as a process between two structurally coupled systems; (c) as a socio-natural site it is the spatial 'nexus of practices and arrangements', 'practices' being understood as a routinised type of behaviour, a combination of perceptions, motivations and knowledge inherent in human action, 'arrangements' the material precipitates and the prerequisites of practices; (d) both practices and arrangements are understood as socio-natural hybrids and are transformative of each other, since human ideas and activities cannot be separated from the environment where they emerge and at the same time that environment is transformed by those ideas and activities; (9) (e) human 'actors', individuals or groups, and nonhuman elements are considered as driving forces in the making of this coast; (f) 'legacy' is the idea that its current situation is dependent on a material and immaterial inheritance. As a working methodology we adopted socio-ecological long term research, as described by Haberl et al., focusing on three core themes: socio-ecological metabolism, land use and landscapes, governance and decision making. (10)

Furadouro started as a seasonal fishing camp dependent on a nearby village called Ovar, later becoming a seaside resort of regional relevance. This evolution followed a process common to other human settlements in European coastal areas, a development based on new ideas and perceptions about the beach, which drove the creation of a novel urban form--the seaside resort. According to Clairay, it can be defined as an urban area, near the sea, organised in direct connection to a beach, characterised by an innovative maritime architecture and specific infrastructure; a leisure destination, where most economic activities are seasonal with a summer predominance. Lemos says that iconic European seaside towns--like Brighton (UK), Scheveningen (Holland), Biarritz (France) and San Sebastian (Spain)--defined urban models that were copied and adapted to other countries and regions, according to historical periods, culture, habits, uses, climate and the specific environments of the implantation sites. Despite local differences, there is a set of elements shared by most seaside resorts: location, basic structures, infrastructures, public spaces and transport. Much literature has been produced about seaside resorts; we used the works of Clairay, Lemos, Justome and Gray (11) to characterise the urban evolution of Furadouro and its socio-economic effects.

This paper draws on substantial primary historical sources, such as church records (1758) and regional descriptions (1801); the minutes of the meetings of the Ovar Township Assembly and the local Tourism Commission; the newspapers Ovarense (1888-1921), Povo d'Ovar (1929-1942) and Noticias d'Ovar (1954-1994); the urbanisation plans of Furadouro (1950, 1961, 1968, 1981); and the coastal erosion defence plans organised by the National Hydraulic Services. (12) As secondary literature, we reference the works of several local writers who wrote about Furadouro, the consequences of sea invasions, the way of life of the inhabitants and the development of the village. (13) The most relevant information missing is the fishermen's perceptions of coastal erosion events. Fishermen and their families were the first and the majority of the inhabitants of Furadouro but, due to their illiteracy, there are no written sources produced by them. And, as Favier and Granet-Abisset (14) have noticed, it is very difficult to find popular knowledge in administrative archives.

Finally, historical information was cross-referenced with geomorphological data and some studies of the coastal erosion phenomenon at Furadouro, (15) allowing us to do a long-term analysis of the co-evolution of this socio-natural site.


Characterisation of the conditions of this coast

The coast of Furadouro, located in the north-west of Portugal, facing the North Atlantic, presents a NNE--SSW orientation and a straight profile (Figure 1). It is a low-lying sandy area, subject to severe wave conditions and a mesotidal range. The wave height is more than a metre for 85 per cent of the year and over four metres during two to five per cent. The waves of ten-year return period storms can reach ten metres and more. (16) Furadouro is situated in the middle part of the sand barrier that separates the Aveiro Lagoon from the ocean. All this coastline is geologically very recent, as the sand barrier, formed by dunes, grew between the tenth and nineteenth centuries, due to high sedimentary deposition. When the mean sea level reached its current level, about 5,000 to 3,000 years ago, this coast was an open bay exposed to the high energy waves of the Atlantic. At the end of the first millennium CE, demographic factors and new political and economic conditions--namely the growth of the population in the north of the country (Minho); the development of agriculture (favoured by the Little Climatic Optimum); and the Christian conquest of the region between Minho and Douro from the Moors--led to a major increase in sediment supply to the coast. Sediments carried by rivers to the ocean, especially the Douro River, were transported by longshore currents, running North to South, feeding the beaches along this coastal stretch. Due to the NW dominant orientation of the waves, a sandy spit was formed towards the SSW, converting the open bay into a coastal lagoon. (17) The coast of Furadouro was formed during this process.

The Portuguese coast on the eastern margin of the North Atlantic Ocean is subject to extreme weather conditions. The energy of the big North Atlantic storms, fed by a fetch of thousands of kilometres, often dissipates on the Portuguese coast. This is therefore a very energetic coastline. On the other hand, the Portuguese territory is frequently affected by the passage of low pressure atmospheric systems that generate storm surges. When the two types of waves occur together, the energy dissipated on the coast is very high, assuming catastrophic proportions. Coastal erosion can reach its maximum amplitude on these occasions, with significant coastline retreat. Several works also show that storm strength is greater on the North than on the South coast of Portugal, the stretch between Espinho and Nazare (including Furadouro) being one of the hardest hit. (18)

Human and natural factors: coastal erosion problems

Socio-natural sites--like coasts--are nexuses of practices and arrangements. Human needs for food, water, housing, energy, transport, raw materials, security, pleasure or leisure determine practices. But these needs do not emerge in a vacuum; in many ways they depend on natural conditions societies have to face. To fulfill these social metabolic needs, arrangements like dams, ports, roads, buildings, factories and groynes are built using the natural resources available and causing deep impacts on ecosystems. The hybridity in all this is the result of an indistinguishable blend of social and natural elements and processes. This is what Winiwarter et al. tried to explain in their studies on the environmental history of the Danube; and what we are interested in doing for Furadouro. In other words, our purpose is to identify practices and arrangements, human and non-human forces, explaining how they acted and evolved over time at this specific site, forging it and leaving as a legacy the current erosion problems. Grosso modo, we identified four different stages in humanenvironment relations in Furadouro.

First period: an almost empty place

Geologically very recent, the coast where Furadouro is located is a hybrid product of both nature and humans: as mentioned, the sand spit that originated all this coastal area was due to nature's driving forces, but also to the increase of activities such as agriculture and deforestation in the basins of the nearby rivers (like the Douro), the main sediment suppliers to this littoral. The sand spit in front of Ovar (town located at a distance of 4.5 km from the coast) was formed between the eleventh and twelfth centuries and the first reference to Furadouro in medieval documents dates from 1354. As the sand spit consolidated and turned stable, the local county rented this area to private or religious institutions for grazing cattle. Later, in the fourteenth century, it became a common space where the people of Ovar raised their cattle. (19) Until the nineteenth century, all this sandy barren land, belonging to the township of Ovar, was considered useless and without economic value.

It is probable that fishing activities in Furadouro started earlier, but historical sources only mention them from 1501, stating that the fishermen of Ovar used to go there to fish sardines, on a seasonal basis. Because of the proximity of the Aveiro Lagoon, most of the fishing was done in that sheltered and plentiful estuarine environment. Fishing on the maritime coast, where there was no harbour or natural protection for the boats, was a dangerous activity, only possible in the summer, with good weather and calm seas. (20) For a very long time, environmental conditions--exposure to extreme weather, large dunes, nonexistence of proper soils for agriculture, scarcity of fresh water; and human factors--privateers and piracy, low technology, absence of roads and a general demographic deficit--have imposed restrictions to fishing and settling on the coast of Furadouro.

Since this coast is highly exposed to storms and is characterised by fast variations in width, it is probable that maritime overwashes occurred during major storms. However, because Furadouro was uninhabited for centuries and its first settlers were fishermen, who did not have written sources, we have no historical information about occurrences before the nineteenth century. There is one exception: according to oral tradition, on the occasion of the 1755 earthquake and the following tsunami, the sea invaded all this area, right down to Carregal (around three kilometres inland from Furadouro). No one was killed and damage was limited, as no one lived in Furadouro at the time. (21)

In this first period, until the second half of the eighteenth century, the socioeconomic needs of humans drove them seasonally (in the summer) to this coast looking for the acquisition of nutrients--through fishing--as a complement to rural activities and as an additional income. Because of the temporary use of the land, the only structures there were palheiros, wooden houses with thatched roofs, built on the dunes. These precarious houses, typical of the sandy coasts of Portugal, were perfectly suited to this rough environment, as they were perishable (probably rebuilt or fixed every year) and mobile (shifting places according to coastline changes). Nevertheless, we can say that, in this period, Furadouro was an 'almost empty space': 'le territoire du vide' according to Corbin's concept of some coastal zones previous to the nineteenth century, (22) since only a few actors--the fishermen--used it for a short time and structures were temporary with almost no impact on the landscape. The governance of this area was weak, as the land had no value and the existing impositions were mainly related to taxes on fishing. (23)

Second period: a fishing camp

In Memorias Paroquiais (church records), in 1758, Furadouro is not mentioned, meaning that it was still unoccupied. As the years went by, the situation slowly changed. A small chapel was built on the beach in 1759 and the activities of fishing and salting sardines increased. In 1763, estimates point to 480 to 640 men working in fishing companies; in 1801 there were 666 and in 1835, 1,000. This development was due to the use of a fishing gear called xavega and to the establishment of a new method for salting sardines introduced in the Portuguese coast by the French Jean Mijoulle, who opened an artisanal factory in the region. These technical improvements helped increase the catch and preservation of the fish, allowing for the expansion of commerce and the growth of fishing revenues. The organisation of fishing activities also changed, the old cooperative system of fishermen crews being replaced by enterprises run in a capitalist spirit. All this brought significant growth to Furadouro, as warehouses, small factories and more houses appeared on the beach. In 1827, Furadouro had about 380 palheiros. (24)

When the first fishermen settled here, it was a large dune area. Maps and descriptions point to a coast in accretion. (25) The beach profile was always changing, but that wouldn't be a problem for them. Their wooden houses could be easily rebuilt and, based on historical reports from other places on the Portuguese coast, it is known that fishermen used to move their houses according to shifts in the coastline. (26) In spite of the increasing activities on the beach the structures built--warehouses and factories--were made of wood and using the same local techniques. In fact they were just bigger palheiros, as these had several practical functions. Also, the settlement was not permanent; in the winter people returned to Ovar or moved to other fishing places (mainly sheltered estuarine and river environments). (27)

In this second period, from the last quarter of the eighteenth century to the second half of the nineteenth, the socio-economic use of this site was related to fishing and the small production of salted sardines. The use of the xavega and improvements in the methods for salting sardines increased fishing incomes and made it possible for more people to live off these activities. Men went to sea. Women worked in the factories and sold fish in the surrounding areas. New actors arrived at the beach as novel business opportunities appeared and the local economy became more complex. Entrepreneurs--the ones with the money--were responsible for the organisation of fishing companies and small factories. The commerce in salted sardines also implied the presence of tradesmen, taking care of the buying and shipping of the fish to other parts of the country. Governance of the beach--and along the coast--become more effective, as the authorities established regulations--in some cases based on old ones--to increase their control over workers and fishing companies, in order to enhance tax revenues. (28) In this second stage, population and activities increased, but sociological metabolic needs and land use didn't change much. Practices connected with the demand for food, housing, small scale production, mooring of boats and drying of fishing nets were still based on the available local resources and their material arrangements still had little impact in the environment.

Third period: new people, new ideas, big transformations

In the 1850s and 1860s some wealthy families from the surrounding areas--Ovar, Oliveira de Azemeis, Vale de Cambra--started to visit Furadouro for beachgoing in the summer. (29) Following a fashion already well-established in other European countries (England, France, Netherlands, Spain) the Portuguese elites went to the beach for therapeutic reasons. (30) The railroad arrived at Ovar in 1865 and in 1870 a road was built linking Ovar to Carregal (some years later arriving at Furadouro). Both events increased the affluence of people at the beach and contributed to the development of the salted sardine trade, facilitating transportation to Ovar and other parts of the country. Until then, communications between Furadouro and Ovar were by foot or horseback, through a difficult path in the dunes. In 1884 animal-powered vehicles transported people and merchandise between the railroad station and the beach. An automobile daily service was established between the two places in 1912. In the first years, the newcomers rented fishermen's houses during their stay at the beach. Then, slowly, between the end of the nineteenth century and the first three decades of the twentieth, Furadouro started having small hotels, rental houses, cafes, billiards and a meeting place for social get-togethers, concerts and dances (Figure 2). A branch of a large sardine cannery settled there, in 1905, reflecting the flourishing state of fisheries. This industry developed greatly during World War I, supplying Portuguese soldiers. (31)

According to historical sources, the land--or better the sand dunes--where Furadouro developed belonged to the township of Ovar. In 1843 it was established that no-one could build or rebuild a palheiro without a license from the township. From 1866 onwards, the township started collecting taxes from those interested in building on the beach. A plan from 1904 (information from 1913 was later added to it) found in the Municipal Archive of Ovar shows the ownership of different land plots in Furadouro. In the north part--urbanised according to an orthogonal plan applied after 1881, when a fire destroyed most of the palheiros--land had been sold to private individuals at the end of the nineteenth century. The south part of the village was less occupied; near the coastline most of the land belonged to the township, which granted (in 1904) a large part of it for free to the enterprise that owned the cannery factory A Varina, for the installation of that industrial infrastructure. (32) In the year 1912 the sea destroyed about twenty palheiros. The sand where they used to stand disappeared or was covered by the water. To help the fishermen, the Township of Ovar decided to give them some land, to the south of Furadouro. Because that land was public, a special authorisation had to be asked from Parliament so it could be sold directly to the victims. To the poorest, the land was not sold but given. Also in 1912, the Township decided to divide and sell a part of its land in the south so private individuals could build on it. (33)

The first known information about 'sea invasions'--the name overwashes were given then--is from this third period of human--environment relations in Furadouro. It is almost from the same time as beachgoers came to the beach. In February 1841 some fishermen are said to have been killed by the sea and in January 1857 fifteen palheiros were destroyed. (34) One of the first descriptions of an overwash at Furadouro, in 1863, is from an eyewitness, a bather, spending some days at the beach. According to him, 'the sea invaded the coast, ruining 22 palheiros. The sea that during syzygy tides was 40 meters away from the palheiros, or even more, in seven days washed them up ... This was something never seen before'. The event caused 'profound terror' in the families bathing at Furadouro and many returned home with fear. (35) Only fishermen were not surprised, as they were used to changes to the coastline.

The third phase of Furadouro must be divided in two: the first half of the twentieth century, already characterised, and the 1950s-1960s. Both were driven by the arrival of new people at the beach, its growth and progressive urbanisation. However, these phenomena were particularly pronounced in the second part of the period.

Furadouro was never an elite beach. It was a modest place frequented by people from the surrounding areas. (36) Nevertheless, the economic relevance of the tourism phenomenon determined the intentional organisation of the urban space, especially from the 1950s onwards. In Furadouro it is possible to find a set of equipment and infrastructure common to many other seaside resorts, and even the rearrangement of the village followed a specific organisation, according to the aesthetic and functional concepts current at the time. (37) The transformation of Furadouro occurred in different phases. Following the arrival of the sunbathers, a set of seasonal businesses was installed: hotels, rental houses, restaurants, cafes and shops. Meanwhile a new neighbourhood was created, separated from the pre-existing one. The big fire of 1881 destroyed most of the palheiros of the north part of the village. The later reconstruction allowed the realignment of streets and buildings according to an orthogonal plan. (38) In time, this became the best part of the village, where summer visitors settled; simultaneously, fishing and industrial activities were pushed to the south, creating two different neighbourhoods.

In 1950, integrated in a national campaign for the modernisation and embellishment of coastal towns, Furadouro had its first urbanisation plan. The village had then about 100 families, corresponding to 500 inhabitants, most of them fishermen, living in extreme poverty. In the south part of the village, where the palheiros were standing, the plan provided for the replacement of these old houses with homes with better living conditions. In the north part, a new residential area would be built for touristic proposes. Some new basic infrastructures--sewage system, a market, a school, a church, hotels, restaurants and a theatre/town hall--were also planned. (39) Other plans were designed in 1961 and 1968, but like most of the urbanisation projects of the 1950s and 1960s in Portugal, they were never implemented or only a part of them was put into practice. As Furadouro kept attracting people during the summer and the existing urban regulations were not enough, the site grew in an unordered way, with uncharacteristic buildings and houses, of all sizes and shapes. (40)

During this time the Ovar Township and the Tourism Commission tried hard to improve the village, creating rules to define the condition of the houses rented to tourists, forbidding the presence of pigs outdoors, ordering the demolishing of palheiros in ruins, repairing the streets, supporting private initiatives for the construction of sporting fields, playgrounds and a camping park. In order to follow the model of other seaside resorts, the great ambition of these two institutions was the construction of the Esplanada, a kind of boardwalk and balcony, parallel to the beach, delimiting the maritime and urban areas, that would be the centre of social life during the summer. (41) This enterprise became much more difficult than expected as the sea was constantly changing the maritime frontage of Furadouro.

According to historical information, maritime overwashes occurred in 1841, 1857, 1863, 1868, 1887, 1888, 1889, 1905, 1912, 1938, 1939, 1940, 1946, 1957, 1958, 1960, 1964, 1965, 1969 and 1971. (42) Lamy and Rodrigues say that 106 palheiros and other buildings were destroyed between 1857 and 1969. Some 'sea invasion' events had more impact on local community than others--for instance, the chapels' destruction in 1939 and 1957 and the disappearance of Chalet Matos in 1969. The first chapel of Furadouro was built in 1766, in front of the ocean, and was destroyed by the sea in 1939 (Figure 3). It was a shock for the population. Although the chapel had been repeatedly at risk, people never expected it to be destroyed. There was a popular belief that the sea would respect that sacred place. In 1887, a new chapel was built in Furadouro, because the old one was considered too small and inadequate for a developing seaside resort. The New Chapel only lasted 68 years; it was ruined by the sea in 1957 and afterwards demolished by the local authorities. The Chalet Matos was the biggest palheiro of Furadouro; it was built between the end of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth. Its owners were influential people in the region and the house became an iconic building of the beach. The sea destroyed it partially in 1964-1965 and then in December 1969 it disappeared, taken by the waves. (43)

For a long time there wasn't much that local authorities and the population could do about overwashes. Furadouro was a small fishing village, so its defence was not a priority. At the beginning of the twentieth century, Portugal faced a political, social and financial crisis and resources were scarce. Also, unlike the town of Espinho, a seaside resort nearby, nationally known and frequented by the upper class, Furadouro did not have enough social and economic relevance to convince the government to spend a large amount of money on building hard defence structures to protect it from the sea. In the 1930s, after an interruption of almost twenty years, when the sea started to cause damage again, local authorities asked the government for some protective measures.

But their request was not answered. It would take twenty more years for the national authorities to act in defence of the village. (44)

In 1958, the sea destroyed part of the Esplanada. The National Maritime Services made an emergency intervention, placing a rip-rap coating in front of Furadouro. But this was not enough; the stone wall was too short in length to protect all the urban area and, after some years, the sea took most of the stones, spreading them on the beach and ruining the wall. On 7 April 1960, after a severe winter, the journal Noticias de Ovar asked for 'stone, more stone' to protect the village and the new Esplanada that was being built to replace the previous one. Because the Maritime Services were not acting fast enough, Ovar Township was forced to take measures to protect the Esplanada. Tons of stone--carried by trucks--were then dropped onto the beach. (45) According to records, between 1958 and 1970, in front of the village, overwashes were responsible for a coastline retreat of fifty to a hundred metres. (46)

From the second half of the nineteenth century onwards, but especially in the twentieth century, new practices and their material implications--arrangements--changed human--environment relations in Furadouro. 'Changes in societies are closely intertwined with ecological transformations': many factors--shifts from agriculture to industrial economies and from biomass to fossil fuel use, societal modifications as institutional and regime change or new legal frameworks, fashions and patterns of consumption--can disrupt or modify socioecological dynamics. (47) That is to say, people have the ability to act intentionally to shape their world, but 'so-called human agency cannot be separated from the environment in which that agency emerges'. (48) In the third phase of the evolution of the socio-ecological site of Furadouro, new ideas, uses and activities changed the beach and at the same time were conditioned by a changing littoral, in a complex puzzle of human and natural features, with consequences turning into causes and vice-versa. We will see this better later, when explaining the causes of coastal erosion problems.

In this period, leisure and pleasure practices determined arrangements and the transformation of Furadouro. Beachgoing habits were introduced in Portugal at the end of the eighteenth century. They spread slowly from the upper to the lower classes of society, throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Empty or scarcely populated coasts like Furadouro, until then working and living places for marginal communities, turned into attractive and desired spaces. As new people arrived at the seashore, new socio-economic demands emerged: for lodging, food supplies, transports, communications, energy, basic infrastructure and entertainment. Arrangements reflected these needs: houses, hotels, railroads, roads, telegraph, telephone, postal services, electricity, water and sewage, cafes, restaurants, meeting places, cinemas, sporting fields, seaside boardwalks. Land use changed significantly as the palheiros were gradually replaced by masonry buildings. There was also a shift in settlement patterns: the urbanised area grew and spread along the coast and inland. The authorities' role increased and became more effective as all these people and activities needed more regulation, supervision and financial support.

Public (and previously wasted) land near the sea, belonging to the township, became valuable and was sold to the highest bid--or given away according to different interests--to increase the township revenues. As Bavel and Thoen put it, the issue around property rights is not about their nature, but who or which social groups possess them and what the objectives and economic strategies are of those who hold these rights. Functions, uses and interests concerning the land influence management, decision-making processes and the adopted coping strategies related to that environment. (49) In Furadouro, as more people arrived at the beach, more actors participated in the transformation of that site: fishermen, beachgoers, builders, traders, and representatives of local and national authorities. But not everybody had the same power and influence; in this process there was one crucial group--the builders--who created and manipulated the village's new image and the associated built environment. According to Gray, 'the builders include professional architects and designers and engineers, surveyors and constructors, but also extend to the individual, communal, government and corporate owners, developers and authorities making a direct contribution to building and rebuilding' a specific area. 'Apart from making a physical artifact, the builders of seaside resorts also envisage and enact a particular view of their work and its purpose and future use'. (50) In the case of Furadouro, the Township of Ovar and the Tourism Commission--influenced by national policies concerning coastal areas--were its main builders. Their objective was to create a modern urban area--based on the idea of bringing progress and civilisation to a marginal territory--developing it as a seaside resort, like the neighboring town of Espinho, calling more visitors to Furadouro, increasing local economy revenues and improving its inhabitants' living standards. The members of both institutions were mainly influential men from Ovar, from powerful local families, with business and other investments in Furadouro, where they also went as sunbathers. So there was a mix of political, economic, social and even moral and philanthropic interests in their intervention on that beach. (51)

As new actors were taking control of this territory, traditional populations--fishermen--were losing it. Their ways of life, type of houses, uses, traditions and knowledge changed or disappeared. As fishing turned into a secondary activity and tourism developed in the village, the fishing communities were progressively moved to the peripheries so that the central area of the beach could be used by the beachgoers. Settled here when the use of the land was free, building their palheiros where they understood best, these communities were pushed both by nature (sea invasions) and by political, economic and social constraints to specific areas. Their typical houses--associated with misery and old traditions--disappeared as new neighbourhoods were built by local authorities and the government, according to the (social, hygienic and control) policies of Estado Novo (the dictatorship that ruled Portugal between 1933 and 1974).

Unlike the previous stages, in which national government influence in this marginal area was weak, in this period central governance decisions had a relevant role in at least one major issue: the protection of Furadouro. The high cost of hard engineering protection structures could only be supported by the state, but national authorities did nothing to protect the village until the end of the 1950s. Three reasons explained this late intervention. First, in this decade--for reasons that we will see later--coastal erosion problems increased significantly, putting the village in great danger. Second, when the sea was only destroying palheiros it was considered that Furadouro wasn't worth--economically and socially speaking--the investment in defensive structures. Third, in the 1940s and 1950s, with the urban development of the beach, the increasing number of beachgoers and the interests of the local elites at stake, there was much more to lose. When the land and the buildings on it became valuable, a citizens' petition, articles in newspapers and the intercession of influential people close to ministers obtained from the government the much desired protection of Furadouro. (52)

Knowing that urban growth was taking place at the same time as Furadouro was being destroyed by overwashes, one has to ask: didn't the people and the government realise the risks of building in such an exposed area? Historical data shows that they did, but they kept building anyway. For instance, a technical report from the Urban Services of Aveiro (the district capital), clearly against the building of the Esplanada because the enterprise was condemned to failure, was ignored and put aside as 'inopportune' by the Tourism Commission. (53) We attribute this attitude to the general lack of knowledge about natural processes and the causes of coastal erosion and to an overconfidence in hard engineering structures as being capable of solving the problem. This last reason is particularly evident in the next phase.

Fourth period: challenges of coastal management

The 1970s onwards represent a new period in the life of Furadouro. In the 1960s fishing activities were still the major occupation of its inhabitants. But the xavega was in decay, as more modern and profitable techniques were developed. (54) The absence of a harbour and the necessity of mooring boats on the beach--which was getting smaller and rocky because of the rip-rap and the groynes (55)--made impossible the adoption of new boats and other improvements. So in the 1980s the tertiary sector linked to tourism and summer business had become the main motor of the local economy. (56) Along the years, many fishermen migrated to other places (Tejo and Matosinhos), to other types of fishing (mainly to trawlers and Terra Nova cod fishing) or even to other countries to work in building. In 2005 there were only three xavega fishing crews in Furadouro, employing 43 workers. (57) Nevertheless, in the last decade of the twentieth century the village had a significant population and urban increase, as it turned into a dormitory for people working in Ovar and a second home area. The 2001 national statistics (Censos) pointed to the existence of 2,057 inhabitants and 2,631 homes, of which 28.84 per cent were primary residences and 71.16 per cent second homes. According to a recent study, 61.44per cent of Furadouro's buildings are in a risk area. (58)

In fact, in the winter of 1971, despite the measures of the Township of Ovar, the sea again damaged part of the Marginal Avenue and some buildings nearby. In Parliament, a deputy asked for government intervention in the case of Furadouro: it was necessary to do something that could effectively protect the village and its population. The cost of protection was considered a price to pay for progress. By then, the Maritime Services had prepared a project for a major engineering intervention at Furadouro: a 1,275-metre seawall along the front of the urban area and three groynes of 200 metres each. The works had the double purpose of protecting the seafront of the village and enlarging the beach in order to allow its touristic use for bathing. The project was approved by higher authorities, based on the justification that coastal erosion had done significant damage in Furadouro and was seriously threatening that seaside resort. The works took place between 1971 and 1974. (59) But since the sea keeps heavily damaging these structures, over the years they have had to be rebuilt and reinforced several times, at high public financial cost.

Scientific studies on erosion in the coastal stretch between Douro and Aveiro have shown a mean retreat rate of 0.6 metres/year, between 1947 and 1958, in a twelve kilometre area around Furadouro. In the period 1958-1980 the mean retreat rate reached 2.1 metres/year, but this value should be analysed carefully because it was influenced by the construction of the hard engineering works in front of the village in 1972/1973. In fact, aerial photography analysis has shown some accretion (1.3 m/y) at the north of the groynes and a retreat rate of 4.8 m/y to the south of those structures (in this coast littoral drift runs North to South). (60) In a more localised analysis, Angelo determined mean retreat rates of 3.6 and 2.6 metres/year, between 1947-1954 and 1954-1990, in the North of Furadouro; 2.8 and eight metres/year, between 1954-1990 and 1984-1990, at Furadouro beach (in front of the village); and four metres/year, between 1984-1990, to the South. (61) All these data point to an increase of coastal erosion during the twentieth century and its propagation downdrift, that is to the South, especially after the construction of the coastal defences of Furadouro in 1958 and 1971s. (62) Between 1994 and 2011, despite the longitudinal rip-rap, the number of overtopping events rose. Emergency interventions are usual in this stretch, which means that this is still a highly vulnerable beach. In the winters of 2010 and 2014, storms caused significant damage in the front area of the village (63) (Figures 4 and 5). 'Considering the expected modifications of the coastal erosion drivers induced by climate changes', a study was made, in 2013, 'to define their potential effects, trying to anticipate hydro/morphody namics changes in coastal areas'. (64) According to this, sea-level rise, the increase of storminess and rotations in the wave regime 'will increase coastal flooding of low-plains, houses and infrastructures, causing economic damage and eventual patrimonial, cultural and ecological losses'. The study mentioned 'applies numerical models to predict shoreline evolution, in a medium-long term perspective, contributing to establish trends and foresee shoreline position scenarios'. These projections, up to 2040, 2070 and 2100, point to an erosion trend with heavy loss of territory in the stretch Esmoriz--Mira (including Furadouro), in all the considered scenarios.

In the years that followed the end of the dictatorship and the establishment of the democratic regime (April 1974) Portuguese society changed greatly. The regulation of workers' rights allowed them to have more free time and paid vacations. The development of the national economy improved citizens' living conditions; better roads and transport made some areas more accessible; and a significant part of the population moved to coastal zones. Urbanisation spread and grew all along the Portuguese coast, in many cases due to the second home phenomenon. Furadouro was no exception. This is why nowadays two thirds of its buildings are second homes, empty for most of the year. People's metabolic needs also changed. Fishing is not relevant any more. Pleasure and rest during the summer holidays are the reasons that drive people to this beach. Its inhabitants work mainly in the service sector or in the nearby city, Ovar. Since many of these new actors came from other regions they did not know the characteristics of the territory where they settled. They were unaware of its risks. In the same way, local authorities with planning responsibilities, as well as property developers, thinking only of profit, acted as if the coastline were stable, and allowed urban growth in a danger area. The groynes built in the 1970s made people believe they were safe. Urban land use increased, contributing significantly to coastal artificialisation and to the growth of its vulnerability to extreme weather events.

Today, the maritime front of the village is still its hot spot. The seaside esplanade and avenue is Furadouro's postcard view, the place where all visitors go. Local authorities keep investing in the aesthetic and functional aspects of this particular area. However, the main concern about this avenue is still its protection. Hard engineering structures are there to 'hold the line' and keep the sea away. Nevertheless, during the winter, waves frequently cause severe damage. For the inhabitants of Furadouro--especially the ones living there all year--coastline changes are now impossible to ignore. In a survey made in 2006, most said they would accept relocation in case of danger, but the majority also said they feel secure near the sea, because of the defensive structures. The 150 interviewed were mainly the retired, housewives and the unemployed. The ones who did work were civil, commercial and other service workers. Only eight were fishermen or connected to fishing activities. Eighty-one per cent of the total said they were available to participate in the decision-making process concerning coastal management, but just forty per cent knew about the existence of a Management Plan for this coast. The interviewees justified their previous non-participation with the lack of information about the public consultation period. (65)

In Portugal--recalling several decades of dictatorship maybe--state administration is still very centralised and hierarchic, so there are many (formal and informal) barriers to public participation and decisions are made based on general convictions and specific interests more than on scientific studies and open dialogue with social groups. In many cases, public consultation is done solely because of legal obligation, since decisions have already been taken and public opinion has little or no consequence. Citizens' participation is also hampered because many are not familiar with coastal management issues. Others, like fishermen, have deep knowledge about the sea and the coast, but are put aside. Recent studies show that they are conscious (they always were) about coastline shifts, identifying easily both natural and human causes of coastal erosion. However, fishermen are hardly ever heard in the process of decisionmaking about coastal management. The low income of their activity, their low position in the social scale and their empirical knowledge (in contrast to the technical and formal knowledge of engineers) explain why their opinions are usually neglected in the decision process. (66)

In recent years, the protection of Furadouro has been prevalent in local governance issues, determining the relationship between the population and the authorities and between authorities themselves. The timings, the cost of rebuilding and reinforcing the engineering structures and the uncertainties about this strategy have been the cause of a certain friction between local and central powers. Meanwhile, other voices say that the hard structures solution is obsolete and call for the adoption of other measures. (67)

The fourth phase of the socio-ecological evolution of Furadouro is determined by national political, social and economic events. Rural exodus, better living conditions, profit revenues from real estate construction and the firm belief in defensive hard engineering structures explained the growth of Furadouro's urban area and the second-home phenomenon. Practices concerning housing, communications, transport, basic sanitation, business activities and sea protection explain arrangements like buildings, roads, car parking lots, water and sewage infrastructures, groynes and seawalls. Human and natural features are highly connected, as one transformed the other and vice-versa. For instance, the need for protection and its material consequence, groynes, are only there because more people settled this beach, craving to be close to the sea. But by putting houses so close to the coastline they caused profound changes to it, building a new hybrid environment, where human and nature sit side by side, raising unwelcome side-effects that make people fear the ocean and build protection against it, accelerating and taking coastal erosion problems downdrift to other coastal villages to the south and leaving a heavy burden legacy to future generations. Old actors--like fishermen--disappeared as new ones took their places. Retired people and workers from Ovar are now the inhabitants of Furadouro, but most of its houses are empty for a large part of the year. Township and state governance face serious challenges concerning coastal management and have hard decisions to make. On the one hand, there is the desire to develop Furadouro, to improve its living and touristic conditions, to answer its inhabitants' expectations about the future of their property, jobs and ways of life. On the other, the situation of this specific site--a coast in erosion; the increasing risks to this vulnerable area--a consequence of the last decades' urban growth; the pressure to protect people and real estate from the ocean and the knowledge that this may not be possible in the long-run, since the available financial resources may not be enough to keep the sea away.


We have seen previously that erosion is a natural phenomenon. But in the case of Furadouro several local and non-local human activities have contributed to its increase.

The biggest sediment supplier to the Furadouro coastal stretch is the Douro River. Until the end of the eighteenth century, few works had been done in the mouth of this river. After this period, the need to improve the navigation channel to facilitate transport and commercial activities was responsible for several arrangements. In 1790, almost at the same time as Furadouro was developing as a fishing camp, a guidance wall began to be built between Cantareira and the Felgueiras rocks. The purpose was the regularisation of the right margin of Douro, the reduction of the sand split at its mouth, the improvement of the navigation channel and the deepening of the river bottom. In 1821 another wall started to be built on the left margin. These works were interrupted several times: the invasion of Napoleon's troops, institutional and financial crises and a civil war postponed their conclusion until the second half of the nineteenth century. Between 1860 and 1869 many underwater rocks in the mouth of the river, considered a danger to navigation, were destroyed. The right bank was finally regularised and dredging was done between 1886 and 1904 to reduce the silting of the river bar (Figure 6). (68) The first 'sea invasions' at Espinho and Furadouro occurred while these works were being carried out so there is a strong hypothesis of correlation between the two events.

Until the twentieth century, almost all transportation of people and goods was done by sea. The two main Portuguese harbours were Lisbon and Oporto, but the latter--located in the mouth of the Douro River--had natural characteristics that jeopardised maritime and commercial traffic. Given the relevance of the town of Oporto for the national economy some improvement works were done--as we have seen--at its harbour, but these were not enough. Traffic increase and the growth of ships' tonnage made it necessary for harbours to have specific physical characteristics and equipment. After some studies, it became clear that the harbour at the Douro River mouth didn't have the conditions to ensure safe navigation and docking. The alternative was to build a new harbour nearby, at Leixoes. This artificial port was a major project at the time it was built, from 1884 to 1895. Two big jetties were built to create a sheltered bay on the exposed north-western coast of Portugal. It is believed that the works in the Douro estuary and the port of Leixoes jetties (blocking the passage of the sand carried by the rivers to the north of Douro) have caused the diminution of sediments entering the littoral drift and feeding beaches to the south. (69) This theory has been debated since the construction of the port of Leixoes and throughout the twentieth century. According to those who considered human intervention at Douro and Leixoes responsible for the erosion at Espinho and Furadouro, it was common for the sea in this coastal stretch to cause significant coastline retreat on some occasions. But this was temporary, as the sea returned the sand after a while. Before the construction of the Leixoes harbour the sea brought more sand to the beach than the amount it carried away. Afterwards, the situation changed and the tendency was for the beach to have less sand than before. Current knowledge about the negative effects of jetties make us believe that this theory is correct. (70) It is probable that the external breakwaters of the harbour were responsible for change in the longshore currents, causing the loss into deep ocean of part of the sediments that used to feed the beaches down the coast to Aveiro (Figure 7). For instance, the Leixoes jetties were expanded in the 1930s and in that same decade coastal erosion increased in Espinho and Furadouro.

In the nineteenth century, commerce and maritime transportation justified the first big projects in this coastal area: port infrastructure and river regularisation. In the twentieth century, society's metabolic needs for energy and water supply were responsible for the constructions of dams which significantly reduced the sediment input from rivers. Until the 1930s, electric power production was small and restricted to local consumption: minor power plants, industries and mills. During the Second World War, because of the scarcity of imported fuel, Portuguese authorities sought alternative sources. The 1944 law established the basis of national electricity production, its transport and distribution. The construction of big hydroelectric infrastructures began soon after the end of the conflict. In the following years several dams were built on Portuguese rivers, including the Douro and its tributaries: Picote (1958), Miranda (1960), Bemposta (1964), Vilar-Tabuaco (1965), Carrapatelo (1971), Regua (1972), Valeira (1975), Crestuma-Lever (1985).Since the Douro is an international river shared by Spain and Portugal, Spanish arrangements also have to be considered. In Spain, between 1955 and 1975, big dams were built to produce energy, irrigate farmland, provide water to the population and control floods. (71) These major projects are responsible for the retention of sediments carried by rivers and for significant changes in the regime of floods, reducing drastically the amount of sediment that reaches the coast. For instance, the Douro River in natural conditions used to carry to the sea a sediment load of 1.8 X [10.sup.6] [m.sup.3]/year; this amount was reduced to 0.25 X [10.sup.6] [m.sup.3]/year after the construction of dams and other river works. (72)

There are also the impacts of dredging and sand extraction. In the second half of the twentieth century, harbour conditions had to be further improved to allow the access and navigation of big ships. The mouth of rivers and the navigation channels are currently dredged to prevent silting. In addition, the development of construction (houses, roads, infrastructures) increased the need for sand as a raw material. Inert material extraction from rivers and beaches is a lucrative business and many excesses are committed. For forty years, near Leixoes port a sediment load of 1.5 X [10.sup.5] [m.sup.3] was dredged every year. In the Douro River, at the beginning of the 1990s, dredging was taking an amount of about 1.5 X [10.sup.6] [m.sup.3] of sediments per year. (73) In 1930-1950 there was also a change in land use in this region due to the afforestation of a part of the mountain area of the Douro catchment area. These works were part of a bigger campaign--the National Afforestation Plan--to develop forest area in Portugal. Control of soil erosion was one of its main purposes. The idea was not new, but in this period the state had something that it didn't have before: human and financial resources and the power to impose its will against those who opposed the project. (74) All these factors contributed to a drastic decrease in the amount of available sand to feed the beaches of that coastal stretch. Other circumstances may have played a role too--like storm activity and floods--but there are not enough quantitative and qualitative data to draw conclusions. Erosion in Furadouro is always connected to big storms--this is a very energetic coast--but the available information does not allow us to connect them to specific periods of climatic instability.

Previous studies (75) of this coast connect all these socio-ecological factors to coastal erosion in Espinho, a town situated around fifteen kilometres north of Furadouro. Espinho, like Furadouro, started having problems of coastal erosion in the mid-nineteenth century. But in Espinho the situation was much worse. In 1912, the engineer responsible for the construction of the town's defence system calculated that between the first 'sea invasions' in 1869 and 1912, coastline retreat had reached an average of eight metres /year. Three hundred and fifty metres of land were lost. In fact, part of the old Espinho is under water hundreds of metres away from the present coastline. The consequences were significant, since Espinho was an important fishing and canning industry town and a famous seaside resort. The first defensive system was built in 1909 and rebuilt in 1912. Between 1913 and the 1930s there were no 'sea invasions'. (76) But the problems returned (probably because of the extended jetties of Leixoes) and in the 1940s a new defensive structure was built. It consisted of a longitudinal wall and three groynes. In the 1980s another protection system was implemented and more groynes were built to the south of Espinho. (77)

As mentioned above, coastal erosion problems in Furadouro became more serious in the 1950s. A wall of rip-rap stone blocks had to be built to protect the village and later a major defensive system was erected. It has long been known that groynes trap 'sand that is moving somewhere'. 'Interruptions that build one section of beach erode another'. Human arrangements like groynes and jetties 'can affect beaches for miles along the coast'. (78) Scientists believe that coastal erosion in Espinho and Furadouro have the same causes, but Furadouro's situation got worse in the mid-twentieth century because of the construction of Espinho's defensive system located updrift. Espinho was well protected, but its groynes were responsible for beach starvation downdrift, that is, in Furadouro and other villages to the south (79).

Coastal erosion at Furadouro, however, does not depend exclusively on external causes. Human intervention in the area is also responsible for the increase in risks and vulnerabilities, by causing the decrease of sand on the beach and the destruction of its natural protection structures. In fact we can say that the third period of settlement in Furadouro represented a turning point between sustainability and vulnerability in human--nature relations on that beach. Fishermen and their families knew the shifts of that coastline and its susceptibility to storms; that is why they did not live there permanently, only settling during the summer when storms are less probable and the coast is relatively stable. Further, they built temporary houses sheltered by the dunes, they used perishable and easy-to-find materials collected in the surrounding areas. The palheiros were moveable, changing place according to a shifting environment of sand and tides. Also, they were easily rebuilt when destroyed by the sea.

The fishermen's coping strategies were based on the acceptance of the inevitability of coastline mobility and also on avoiding danger instead of facing it. This is not new; past communities survived many natural challenges with simple solutions. As Mauch wrote their 'motto was "be prepared", but more often it was "stay away from..."!' (80) This way of life disappeared slowly with the arrival of newcomers and the introduction of new practices and arrangements on the beach. As the land became valuable and regulations and interests started defining and ruling its occupancy, fishermen could no longer move the palheiros as they pleased, according to their knowledge of that changing environment. In some cases--as in 1912--they were given a specific place to stay and to build their houses. With time, long proven sustainable building techniques--the palheiros--were replaced by masonry houses. It was the beginning of a fixed settlement on the beach, since masonry houses and buildings cannot be moved. Also, the constructions of their foundations--as well as the installation of other modern commodities like water and sewage systems--implied the dislocation of large masses of sand and interfered with its natural movements. Fire, seawater and people destroyed the last remains of the typical houses of the sandy coasts of Portugal.

There is more: between 1946 and 1969, the authorities allowed the extraction of sand from the beach to be sold for construction. Although in some years the sea took large amounts of sand, in others it brought so much that it turned into a problem. There were complaints about sand invading the seaside avenue, hindering car traffic and the access to the nearby hotel. (81) The sand extraction work was done by fishermen, their wives and children, the dunes were removed with shovels, the sand was put into wooden boxes and carried to trucks. The work was hard, but it represented an extra income for these families' economies. (82) The role of sand and dunes in natural beach dynamics was not known then; sand dune mining was a legal activity, as sand was considered a resource that people could use or ignore. In 1956, the Tourism Commission ordered the removal of the remains of the dune in the north part of the village, near the hotel, with the excuse that the dune prevented visitors from seeing the sea views. (83) To build the Esplanada, all the maritime front of the village was levelled and the dunes razed. This interrupted and destroyed the natural defensive system of the beach--dune-beach-dune transfer of sediments--against overwashes and coastal erosion. Also, the sand that was taken and sold as a commodity left this littoral cell system and was lost to it. Over the years human practices and activities in Furadouro defined a fixed line--the avenue, the Esplanada, a row of buildings--in front of the sea, separating the urbanised area from the natural one. People did this without understanding that that line was an artificial creation that could not last long in such a dynamic environment as a beach.

O. Pilkey wrote, 'to know the beaches is to know the beaches are moving. We ignore this when we build motels, pavilions, boardwalks and even whole towns on the edge of the ocean. In our business hats we do not recognize any real estate as moveable'. According to him this problem is affecting coasts all over the world. (84) A beach is a system subject to different natural forces like the wind and the waves. During storms the beach works as a buffer zone: the big and strong waves carry away the sand and, reaching the dunes, they take some of their sand, too. When there are buildings on the beach or in the dunes, the sediment transfer between the dune and beach is disturbed and the capability of the beach to recover after a storm decreases, rendering it more vulnerable to other storms. Over time, the beach becomes narrower, jammed up against these buildings, offering no protection against sea waves, which eventually overtop the remaining sand and destroy whatever humans have built.

So, in the second half of the twentieth century, Furadouro's inhabitants became more vulnerable to coastal erosion. First, human activities--locally or far away--had interfered with natural systems, potentiating the risks. Second, with the growth of the urban area, permanent settlement and the increase in the number of inhabitants, the exposure to danger is bigger and there is much more to lose. Furthermore, frequently people who invest in coastal real estate do not want to hear about its vulnerability. They build seawalls to reassure themselves and keep the status quo, postponing the problems (in fact, increasing and spreading them). As long-term analysis shows, despite sea encroachment on the urban area, the trend was always for its reconstruction and growth.


In the twentieth century, human activities have led to two opposing realities: urban growth in risk areas and decrease of the sediment supply to the coast. Their impacts on the environment had an unwanted side-effect, the enhancement of coastal erosion. Structures like dams and harbour jetties are not going to disappear. They ensure energy, water supply and maritime transport to society. Cities, towns and villages all around the world were built near the water and people do not want to leave them to the sea. So during the last century the main strategy against sea encroachment was armouring the coastline (e.g Fortaleza, in Brazil, and the New Jersey barrier islands, in the USA). But this has unwanted side effects too. Groynes cause coastal erosion to migrate downdrift; seawalls destroy the beach where they are implanted. Moreover, 'impacts in the adjacent shorelines inevitably lead to demands for more armoring': in a long-term perspective, building, maintaining, repairing and reinforcing these structures can cost more than the worth of the property that they are protecting. (85) After the Second World War in the USA, later in other countries, new methods of solving coastal erosion problems were tried. Beach nourishment and dune replacement are now seen as 'soft measures' based on the principles of 'building with Nature' instead of fighting it. But these are also very expensive solutions and have to be regularly replaced.

Winiwarter et al. wrote that we are bound to the maintenance of our structures. In many places, like Furadouro, the inherited structures (groynes and seawalls) still determine the present scope of options when dealing with coastal zone management. Hard defensive structures are being maintained and reinforced whenever needed to 'hold the line', to protect recent second homes, empty for most of the year. One thing the combined reconstruction of past landscapes and human intervention allows us is 'to appreciate the complex, intertwined history of effects turning into causes and vice versa, and the long-term legacies of prior interventions' (86). One lesson that stands out from this integrated history of a socio-ecological site is that, if the option is to keep Furadouro (and many other towns) safe, there will never be an end to human regulation, as the sea's energy cannot be fully controlled, especially with climatic change and the rise of mean sea level. But does that mean that we are bound to hold onto a strategy that we already know is not a good one?

New strategies are needed for Furadouro and other urban areas in the same situation. In a recent report (2014) of a technical working group created by the Portuguese government, several solutions are pinpointed to mitigate the problems of the sandy west coast of Portugal. The most relevant is the recommendation to improve regulation (which already exists) on riverine and estuarine dredging and to promote the integration of the dredged sediments in littoral drift (by placing them in the submersed or emerged parts of the beaches) to feed the littoral cells and solve the chronic lack of sand. The other proposed strategies (which are not new and have been developed in other countries too) deal with human settlement and are based on three key ideas: adaptation, protection and relocation. Their implementation depends on multicriteria analysis like case-based conditions and cost-benefit assessment. In some cases, where the risks are big and the urban area is small--like Esmoriz and Cortegaca, located between Espinho and Furadouro--it is suggested that the best solution is the relocation or the planned retreat of people and property to safe areas. That's not the case with Furadouro, where protection seems to be the main option on the table. However, according to what is already being done, this solution is supported by both 'hard' and 'soft' protection measures: the maintenance of the seawall and the reinforcement of the dunes in the north, central and south parts of the village. Also, if the repositioning of the sediment cycle advised by the working group is initiated in coming years, Furadouro will benefit a lot. Last, in the report, some suggestions are made concerning adaptation in order to increase the resilience of urban centres in vulnerable areas. It is said that urban (and architectonic) solutions based on mobility, seasonality and perishable materials are best for a changing territory. Houses on wooden pilings, light and removable homes or structures on floaters are recommended. In fact, palheiros are presented as good examples of past societies' adaptation to their environment! (87)

The working group recommendations are only guidance measures for a future public strategy concerning coastal management. Their application depends on future governments' policy, interest, strategic vision and financial resources. Taking into account the challenges concerning the future of the coasts, public participation in the decision making process is the best way to guarantee the practical implementation of adopted measures.


Using the words of Winiwarter et al., 'an environmental history of the kind we aimed to write requires two quite different sets of skills'. (88) One set comprises the historian's craft, the other the geomorphologist's work. The product of this combined work is the long-term history of a socio-natural site, Furadouro. Actors, perceptions, motivations, behaviours, groynes, dams, ports, sediments, currents, waves, dunes are put together to explain impacts, reactions and transformations as consequences of the intertwined history of the human and the environment. This analysis of coastal erosion problems in a long-term perspective--monitoring change over time and identifying dynamics and transitions--can be useful for sustainability science. The knowledge of past decisions and especially of the unintended consequences of human actions can help guide future options based on that previous experience. (89)

Furadouro is an example of a general pattern of unsustainable coastal land-use. Its coastal erosion problems are very similar to many others in the Portuguese sandy west coast and along all high energy Atlantic sandy coasts of Europe. Generally, these are villages or towns of recent settlement, which started slowly at the end of the eighteenth century and reached high levels in the second half of the twentieth century. Some began as fishing camps; however beachgoing and tourism were the main motor of their growth. Their development in unstable coastal areas triggered the intensification of unwanted natural side-effects, causing the known problems. But Furadouro's history also shows that this area is the result of a mix of environmental and social conditions that are largely site-specific. In fact, social conditions seem to be the main factor contributing to the specificity of the evolution of this space, since humans' reaction to disaster is different from one place to another. For instance, Furadouro and Espinho have many aspects in common (location, origin as fishing camps, transformation into seaside resorts, coastal erosion and hard engineering structures), but the way society--public opinion, press and authorities--faced their problems was not the same.

In our analysis, we considered four stages in human--environment relations in Furadouro. The first was the period of no settlement in this area, with the exception of some seasonal presence during the summer for fishing purposes. For centuries there were no coastal erosion problems. The beach would change often in width because that is its nature, but that would not be an issue since nobody was living there.

The second stage was when the fishermen started coming on a regular basis, settling temporary fishing camps. Their houses--the palheiros--were perfectly suited to a moveable territory as they were also moveable.

The third stage began in the second half of the nineteenth century, when sea bathing habits spread among Portuguese elites, converting the beaches into attractive places. In the same period the conditions--political will, economic resources and technical capacity--gathered to improve navigation access in the Douro river's mouth and to build the Leixoes harbour. The arrival of newcomers to Furadouro changed the relation of its inhabitants with their environment. The sands once worthless became desirable and were given a price. Land parcels were defined. Regulations set the organisation of the place. New buildings appeared. The fishermen could no longer move their homes according to coastline variations. A fixed settlement replaced a moving way of life. Over the years, a stationary (and fictitious) line was established between the beach and the urban area. Coastal erosion problems started then, when the sea disrespected the boundaries created by humans and they felt the need to fight back to regain a place they thought belonged to them, but which in fact had never been theirs. Armouring the coast was the strategy adopted.

The fourth stage, from the last decades of the twentieth century to today, has been marked by coastal management problems caused by human constructions of the last century and their unwanted side-effects. Dams, harbour jetties, dredging, inert extraction and flood control works are responsible for the decrease in sediment supply to this coast. At the same time the growth of cities and villages--like Espinho and Furadouro--in high risk coastal areas and the construction of hard engineering structures to protect them have contributed to the spread of erosion to other regions. Their legacy is a heavy issue. In fact, erosion is now a bigger problem than in the nineteenth century or the beginning of the twentieth century. As people believed themselves to be protected by seawalls and groynes, they built even closer to the sea. The increasing exposure--more houses, more people--to coastal risks has made these communities more vulnerable than before.

Furadouro is a good example of Pilkey's principle about coastal erosion: 'no people, no problems'. We have presented the working hypothesis that in the twentieth century two opposing realities joined to potentiate the effects of erosion: urban growth in risk areas and sediment supply reduction to the coast. Furadouro's case proves it. Historical and geomorphological data crossing allow us to build the contexts of human interactions with ecosystems and to have a long-term perspective on the effects of those interactions.


Joana Gaspar de Freitas's research is supported by National Funds through FCT, Science and Technology Foundation, under the project PEst-OE/ELT/UI0657/2015 and the Post-Doctoral Fellowship, SFRH/BPD/70384/2010.

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(74.) M.C. Radich and A.A.M. Alves, Dois seculos da floresta em Portugal (Lisboa: CELPA--Associacao da Industria Papeleira, 2000), pp. 138-139.

(75.) Dias, Ferreira and Pereira, Estudo sintetico de diagnostico, pp.18, 60, 62; Freitas and Dias, 'O caso de Espinho (Portugal)'.

(76.) M. Faria e Maia, Memoria sobre as obras de defesa da povoacao de Espinho (Lisboa: Typographia de Antonio Maria Antunes, 1912); F. Perdigao, 'Defesa da costa maritima de Espinho', I Congresso Nacional de Engenharia (Porto: Oficinas do Comercio do Porto, 1931), pp. 17-28; A. Teixeira, 'As invasoes do mar em Espinho atraves dos tempos', Espinho. Boletim Cultural III (7) (1980): 236-246.

(77.) I.B.M. Oliveira and L. Martins, 'Obras de defesa e reconstrucao das praias de Espinho', Recursos Hidricos 12 (1991): 71-76.

(78.) Kaufman and Pilkey, The Beaches are Moving, pp. 194-195.

(79.) Dias, Ferreira and Pereira, Estudo sintetico de diagnostico, pp. 58-62.

(80.) C. Mauch, Notes from Greenhouse. Making the Case for Environmental History (Munich: RCC, 2013), p. 25.

(81.) Junta de Turismo do Furadouro, Livro de Actas, 7 Jan. 1954 to 17 May 1956, fl. 52; Livro de Actas, 4 Jun. 1956 to 31 Dec. 1958, fl. 10, 16; Livro de Actas, 6 Aug. 1965 to 4 Oct. 1967, fl. 95-95v.

(82.) Lamy and Rodrigues, Furadouro uma terra com passado, p. 55; M. Ribeiro, 'Recolha de areia. Elementos para o estudo da Ergologia e Tecno-economia do Litoral Portugues', Arquivo do Distrito de Aveiro 132 (1967): 283-292; Marques, Pescadores do Furadouro pp. 28-29.

(83.) Junta de Turismo do Furadouro, Livro de Actas, 4 Jun. 1956 to 31 Dec. 1958, fl. 16.

(84.) Kaufman and Pilkey, The Beaches Are Moving, p. 13; Pilkey and Dixon, The Corps and the Shore, p. 34.

(85.) Pilkey and Dixon, The Corps and the Shore, pp. 51-53.

(86.) Winiwater, Schmid and Dressel, 'Looking at half a millennium of co-existence', 115, 114.

(87.) Grupo de Trabalho do Litoral, Gestao da Zona Costeira. O Desafio da Mudanca (2014), 68, 123-125, 127, 138-139; Agencia Portuguesa do Ambiente, Proteccao do litoral: intervencoes concluidas e em execucao (2015).

(88.) Winiwater, Schmid and Dressel, 'Looking at half a millennium of co-existence', 115.

(89.) Haberl, Winiwarter, Andersson, Ayres et al., 'From LTER to LTSER'.
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Title Annotation:Research Articles
Author:De Freitas, Joana Gaspar; Dias, Joao Alveirinho
Publication:Environment and History
Article Type:Report
Geographic Code:4EUPR
Date:May 1, 2017
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