The beach at Torcross, Devon, in March 2015

The impact of extreme storms and coastal erosion on the communities of Start Bay, in South Devon, has been brutally clear over recent years.

As the beaches have retreated, damage has been caused to the main road through the region – and its coastal defences – leaving villages, and those living within them, vulnerable to the elements.

A new project aims to give a voice to those local communities and landscapes, unlocking the stories of people and nature that currently calls the area home.

Waves is a sound installation developed by artistic director Kay Michael, of the international theatre company Empty Deck, and Gerd Masselink, Professor of Coastal Geomorphology at the University of Plymouth.

It features interviews with families who have lived in the villages of Start Bay through generations, and others for whom it provides a special holiday destination year after year.

It also explores how the communities of Start Bay are coming to terms with the threats posed by climate change, sea level rises and the shifts in nature seen at sea and on land.

Waves has been made possible through the Creative Associates scheme, funded by the University’s Sustainable Earth Institute and designed to uncover novel and innovative ways of communicating research.

People will be able to listen to the recordings during a free public event running from 12.30-4.30pm on Saturday 22 and Sunday 23 June in the Slapton Memorial Car Park, just off the A379 near Torcross.

Kay Michael said:

“We hope this project’s contemplation of the past and the present of Start Bay will spark conversations of what people’s hopes for the future may be, how those hopes can be manifested into a reality, and what it might mean to face the realities of a changing climate. Our hope is that stories of people and place only continue to be told, shared and documented, so that like a living memory bank, people today can actively participate in the stories that will endure into the future.”

Dale and June (SEI Waves Project)
Dan, Emily and family (SEI Waves Project)
Kay and Janine (SEI Waves Project)

Professor Masselink leads the University’s Coastal Processes Research Group, which has been assessing the impact of storms on the Start Bay area for many years.

The group has previously published research showing that communities such as Torcross have been left more vulnerable as the sediment protecting the sea wall remained depleted following previous extreme weather events. He said:

“Over the last decade, we have demonstrated that the impact of extreme storms on our coastlines is already significant but expected to become even moreso in the future. Our research in Devon and Cornwall is providing many of the answers to people’s key questions, but coastal communities and the agencies managing them need to be aware of these threats and the steps they can take to tackle them. This project adds a certain human element to the science, recognising that it is not just land and roads that risk being lost to the sea but people’s homes and livelihoods.”

After the weekend event, Waves will be permanently installed in Encounters Arts' new community arts vehicle, Chrysalis, for future visitors to listen to.

More information about the project is available on the Empty Deck website.

Coastal Processes Research Group

The Coastal Processes Research Group is an internationally recognised group of researchers, specialising in field studies of coastal processes and seeking to understand and predict the behaviour of coastal and estuarine systems. Research topics include:

  • beach morphodynamics and nearshore sediment transport
  • coastal erosion and storm impacts
  • video monitoring of coastal systems
  • coastal process modelling
  • estuarine processes and evolution.

The group operates a research-informed consultancy Coastal Marine Applied Research.

Coastal Processes Research Group Perranporth beach
Thermal image of Plymouth taken by Matthew Fox, Environmental Building Group - Special Commendation in Visions of Sustainability 2015

Sustainable Earth Institute

The Sustainable Earth Institute is about promoting a new way of thinking about the future of our world.
We bring researchers together with businesses, community groups and individuals to develop cutting-edge research and innovative approaches that build resilience to global challenges. 
We link diverse research areas across the University including science, engineering, arts, humanities, health and business.