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Percé, Quebec, Takes Action to Reduce Coastal Erosion Due to Climate Change

By John Sommerville and Carolyn Mann

Percé Rock, one of the world’s largest natural stone arches, rises out of the Gulf of St. Lawrence on the eastern coastline of the Gaspé Peninsula in Quebec. It attracts 400,000 visitors each year to the Town of Percé. But, in recent years, sea-level rise and severe storms have caused coastal erosion that put the town’s scenic boardwalk and wharf at risk. And these climate change effects are projected to worsen.

Putting a price tag on erosion

A study completed in 2016 showed that, unless action was taken, the coast would erode by 15 cm per year, washing away the coastal boardwalk and costing the town an estimated $705 million over the next 50 years. The study by Quebec-based non-profit organization Ouranos and the University of Quebec in Rimouski assessed the economic impacts of erosion due to climate change.

The case was strengthened by a major storm in December 2016, which destroyed the concrete wall protecting the boardwalk and neighbouring properties, motels, restaurants and shops

photograph of storm surge at Percé's Anse du Sud coast

Major storms in 2010 and 2016 caused serious damage to Percé's Anse du Sud coast (source: Town of Percé, https://www.iclr.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/12/6-Perce.pdf).

Restoring the Percé coastline

Action was urgently needed. Researchers drew on economic, environmental and social data about the region to propose five options for coastline protection that ranged from a concrete wall to nature-based approaches such as beach replenishment. After consulting with the community, the town decided on beach replenishment, the practice of adding large quantities of sand or sediment to beaches to combat erosion and increase beach width. This option lengthened the beach using pebbles, thereby reducing wave energy on the eroding shoreline and creating space for recreation. 

The project, completed by the summer of 2018, received $17 million from the Government of Quebec, $3 million from the Government of Canada, and $1.1 million from the Town of Percé. With a pebbled beach and a new boardwalk, the coastline is now a beautiful local attraction expected to bring in an additional $68 million in tourism over the next 50 years. The project received a National Urban Design Award from the Royal Architectural Institute of Canada.

photograph of Percé’s restored and resilient shoreline

Percé's restored shoreline, which is more resilient to the effects of climate change, is expected to bring in an additional $68 million in tourism over the next 50 years (photo: Don Lemmen).

“The Ouranos study provided the Town of Percé with important knowledge of its coastal territory, coastal dynamics and the impacts of climate change,” said Lisa-Marie Gagnon, an urban planner and project manager with the Town. “This knowledge fostered the design of a better project in collaboration with the experts involved. It also provided the necessary arguments to move the project forward and coordinate all actors around the same goal,” she added. “This coordination allowed the project to be completed in a beautiful way, in record time.”

The Cost-Benefit Analysis of Coastal Adaptation Options in Percé study was funded by Natural Resources Canada’s Climate Change Adaptation Program. Since 1998, this program has been supporting the development of knowledge and tools that advance adaptation decision-making and action in Canada.

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