The Isle of Wight is home to 138,500 residents, with nearly two thirds of the population living within 2km of the coast. Coastal defences protect millions of pounds worth of assets around the Isle of Wight's coastal zone including residential properties, vital services, holiday infrastructure and important highways. The scenic 110km coastline is the longest of any Coast Protection Authority in England and Wales.
The Island is located approximately 4km from the coast of central-southern England, with six vehicle and passenger ferry routes operating frequent crossings over the Solent. Coastal tourism is a key industry for the area, with 2.57 million visitors in 2002-03.
The Isle of Wight Shoreline Management Plan (SMP) will cover the entire 110km coastline of the Isle of Wight. The neighbouring coast of Hampshire and West Sussex (between Hurst Spit and Selsey Bill) is covered by the North Solent Shoreline Management Plan www.northsolentsmp.co.uk.
The Isle of Wight coastline has been shaped by major sea level fluctuations which have occurred in response to periods of glaciation. During the last cold period of the Ice Age sea levels fell by up to 140m. At this time, the Island's chalk spine would have extended to the Isle of Purbeck in Dorset. As the ice sheets melted and sea levels rose over the period 15,000 to 5,000 years Before Present (BP), the chalk ridge was eroded and the valley behind flooded, forming the Solent and separating the Isle of Wight from the mainland.
Within its relatively small area, the Island's coast is extremely varied and dynamic. Marine erosion has continued around most of the Island to produce a near-continuous cliffline that varies greatly in terms of morphology and rates and styles of weathering and landslide activity. The south coast in particular is vulnerable to large storm events crossing the Atlantic and rates of erosion are particularly rapid along the south-west coast of the Island .
There are five estuaries located on the north and north-eastern coasts of the Island: the Western Yar; Newtown Estuary; Medina Estuary; Wootton Cr17 December, 2010nationally recognised as important for nature conservation and are included in the Solent European Marine Site.
There are distinct differences between the exposed southerly and westerly facing coasts (potentially rapid marine erosion) and the relatively sheltered north coast (modest toe erosion). Cliff erosion materials deposited on the foreshore are valuable inputs to the immediate littoral system and also contribute to beaches further downdrift. Cliff sediments provide more permanent protection of the cliff toe if they are sufficiently durable to remain on the local beach and are not removed by littoral drift. In spite of continued cliff erosion sediment inputs, local beaches are not large, suggesting that most materials continue to be removed and that the Island's beaches are open systems dependent upon continued inputs for their stability and even survival.
A number of sections of the Island's coastline have been modified by the construction and maintenance of hard coastal defences; namely Cowes, Ryde, Ventnor, Sandown Bay and in the extreme north-west. This means that in some areas natural shoreline dynamics may be altered, which has implications for future shoreline management.