Coastal Lands Program

New: Updated Shoreline Encroachment Information Sheet (November 2015)


Special Presentation to the Board of Land and Natural Resources:


Coastal Lands Program

The Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR), Office of Conservation and Coastal Lands (OCCL) is responsible for management of coastal resources including beaches, dunes, and rocky shorelines seaward of county jurisdictions and/or within the State Conservation District.  The Coastal Lands Program is responsible for coordinating coastal management at DLNR-OCCL and maintaining the delicate balance between conservation of coastal resources and responsible development of coastal areas.  The Program supports the complementary long-term goals of conserving coastal resources and mitigating risks from natural and human-induced hazards for coastal communities.  The Program develops and implements innovative shoreline management techniques, including alternatives for coastal erosion management through a long-standing cooperative relationship with the University of Hawaii Sea Grant College Program. 

A recent study by the U.S. Geological Survey and University of Hawaiʻi researchers, National Assessment of Shoreline Change: Historical Shoreline Change in the Hawaiian Islands, finds that the majority of beaches (70%) in Hawaiʻi are experiencing coastal erosion and many miles of beach have been severely narrowed or lost over the past century.  Degradation and loss of public beaches results in impacts to coastal ecosystems, public access, recreation, cultural practices, and Hawaii’s tourism-based economy.  “Healthy” beaches and dunes also provide a natural buffer protecting coastal development and infrastructure from erosion and coastal flooding.

The Coastal Lands Program supports sustainable alternatives for coastal erosion management including programs for beach and dune restoration and guidelines for other “soft” approaches to shoreline protection through the DLNR Coastal Erosion Management Plan (COEMAP).  The Program works closely with coastal communities, resource management and regulatory agencies, and university researchers to improve management of coastal areas through science-based decision making.  The Program also conducts public education, and outreach and distributes information and guidelines on best management practices, erosion control and construction practices for Hawaii’s coastal areas in partnership with UH Sea Grant and other organizations.  Through these programs, the OCCL seeks to promote improved collaborative management of coastal resources utilizing the best and most-current scientific information.

In 2017 the Sea Level Rise Vulnerability and Adaptation Report provided the first state-wide assessment of Hawaii’s vulnerability to sea level rise, along with recommendations to reduce exposure and to increase the state’s capacity to adapt.

An important tool for land use planning in the face of sea level rise is the on-line State of Hawaii Sea Level Rise Viewer (SLR-XA).  This is an interactive peer-reviewed mapping tool that models the sea level rise exposure area under different scenarios along the entire coast.

The Coastal Lands Program supports restoration of beach and dune ecosystems through the Small Scale Beach Nourishment (SSBN) application program.  The SSBN program is intended to provide a viable alternative to shoreline hardening through development and enhancement of beach restoration programs – encouraging landowners to consider beach restoration over hard shoreline armoring.  The SSBN program provides a streamlined application process for beach restoration projects within the DLNR under a programmatic Conservation District Use Permit and Environmental Assessment.  SSBN authorizations allow placement of compatible beach sand within the State Conservation District and may be submitted under one of two Categories:  SSBN Category I – (up to 500 cubic yards of sand), or SSBN Category II – (up to 10,000 cubic yards).  

The Coastal Lands Program also supports the State of Hawaiʻi Land Division with the Shoreline Certification Program.  The certified shoreline is defined as “the upper reaches of the wash of the waves, other than storm or seismic waves, at high tide during the season of the year in which the highest wash of the waves occur, usually evidenced by the edge of vegetation growth, or the upper limit of debris left by the wash of the waves”  (HAR §13-222).  The purpose of the certified shoreline is to provide the baseline for measuring shoreline setbacks.  The certified shoreline also establishes the jurisdictional boundary between the State Conservation District (CD) and the County Special Management Area (SMA).  The certified shoreline is also important in preserving access to Hawaii’s shorelines. In Hawaiʻi, the right of transit exists seaward of the shoreline and that area is defined as a beach transit corridor (Hawaiʻi Revised Statutes §115-5).  The shoreline certification process also assists State and County regulatory agencies in resolving shoreline issues such as encroachments, violations, unauthorized land uses, and unauthorized shoreline structures.  For additional information about the State of Hawaiʻi Shoreline Certification Program visit the Department of Accounting and General Services Shoreline Certification page.

Coastal Science and Information