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VIDEO: The climate change threat to coastal towns

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Published by the Pirate FM News Team at 5:57pm 8th September 2017. (Updated at 8:51am 10th September 2017)

Rising sea levels, flooding and polluted water pose a direct threat to people living in coastal areas like Cornwall.

That is the warning from Exeter University scientists, who say action should be taken to protect our health.

In an evidence review commissioned by the Government Office of Science, the Medical School research team identified threats posed to people living in seaside towns including from climate change and rising property prices, partly fuelled by high levels of tourism.

Around 17% of the UK's population lives in coastal communities, with coastal industries making a major contribution to the UK economy.

Despite the outdoor lifestyle that coastal dwelling affords, over-development, the reduction of the fishing industry and a transient, seasonal workforce is affecting coastal communities and their schools and health services.

Tourism to coastal towns and villages generates around £17 billion a year but the report has found that the desirability of living on the coast and the popularity as a retirement destination is pricing many local people out of the housing market.

The review of evidence on the health and wellbeing of coastal communities, by a team of Medical School academics including Professor Michael Depledge, Dr Rebecca Lovell and Professor Lora Fleming, has been published on the Government Office for Science website as part of its Foresight series.

The paper also sets out the many benefits of coastal living and points out the importance of protecting coastal environments.

The team points out that action can be taken to protect health, saying: "Avoiding 'inappropriate' coastal development 'could have multiple benefits' while 'sensitive development, responding to local needs, would enhance protection of vital natural eco-systems which help defend coastal communities from extreme events'."

The threats the research team, based at the European Centre for Environment and Human Health at the University of Exeter Medical School, identify include:

· More than 11 million people live in coastal areas, but the population is older than in the general population. A sample of 274 coastal communities found 20% were 65 or over, compared to 16 per cent nationally.
· A higher proportion of residents in coastal towns rent privately live in shared houses, guest houses and hotels compared to other communities.
· An exodus of young people from seaside towns with more pensioners retiring on the coast is putting pressure on the health service and boosting house prices.
· In England and Wales, 113,000 residential properties, 9,000 commercial properties and 5,000 hectares of agricultural land are at risk of coastal erosion. The total capital value of these assets is £7.7 billion.
· Degradation of coastal wetlands and poor urban planning exacerbates the impact of coastal flooding.
· Pollution of the sea by industrial, domestic and medical chemicals poses a health threat to people living in coastal areas. Bacteria, viruses, fungi and parasites from the discharge of human sewage and animal waste can cause gastrointestinal, respiratory, and skin diseases during swimming,
· Climate change by 2080 will 'pose a significant threat', with sea level rise of up to one metre, increasing winter storms, coastal flooding, rising temperatures, further coastal erosion and the reworking of sediment.

Watch the devastation caused by flooding in a Cornish village earlier this summer...

Professor Michael Depledge, who led the study, said: "The dilemma facing governments around the world is that more and more people are choosing to live near or by the coast where outdoor lifestyles foster better health.

"Unfortunately this also exposes them to health growing threats from the sea as climate change proceeds.

"We hope that this report will aid policymakers to develop strategies to capture benefits while minimising the dangers".

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