Visitors pepper the length of Utah Beach in Normandy, France, some stopping to take photos, some gazing across the English Channel.

A passerby in a bright orange windbreaker stops to scoop a handful of sand into a plastic bag and tucks it into his bag.

“Dad always wanted to come back. He never got the chance,” said another man.

Nearby, a mother and daughter bend down and run their hands over the smooth surface of the powder, then photograph the mark they’ve left.

The beaches hallowed by the D-Day invasion on June 6, 1944 are one of the main attractions for thousands of people who visit the northern French coast to mark the 80th anniversary of liberation from the Nazis.

About 150,000 Allied troops landed or parachuted into the invasion area that day, including more than 14,000 Canadians. Of these Canadians, 381 were killed, 584 were wounded, and 131 were captured.

But those who want to pay tribute to the sacrifices made on this coastline in 1944 are doing so on borrowed time. As a result of coastal erosion, some of the D-Day beaches are disappearing.

According to 2023 report Normandy from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which is made up of regional experts and scientists.

According to the 2023 report of the Normandy Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), made up of 23 regional experts and scientists, two-thirds of Normandy’s coastline is disappearing. (Lauren Sproul/CBC)

The Normandy IPCC report, which explores the local consequences of climate change, also mentions flooding concerns. It cites a 2020 study by France’s National Bureau of Statistics (INSEE), which found that more than 122,000 residents and 54,000 jobs “are at risk from this tidal flood risk.”

There are also concerns about the future of monuments, museums and memorials that adorn the beaches where the Allies landed in 1944 during World War II. Normandy Tourism Office listings. 124 monuments across the region, most of which are close to the coast.

Struggling with solutions

Xavier Michel, assistant professor of geography at Caen-Normandie University, has led research focusing on social perceptions of D-Day sites in the context of climate change.

He found that emotional attachment to beaches was a common response.

“Some people have told us that the sentiment about this place comes from this unique place,” he said.

“It will not be possible to recreate the same, the same connection between visitors and heritage.”

A man stands on the beach.
Xavier Michel, assistant professor of geography at the University of Caen-Normandie, said his research showed that beaches create an important link between tourists and history. (Lauren Sproul/CBC)

Some possible solutions to erosion include fortifying beaches, moving museums and monuments farther from shore, and moving away altogether for residents whose well-being is threatened, Michel said.

Michel de Villaville, the mayor of Sainte-Marie-du-Mont, the small community crowned by Utah Beach, says efforts are underway to strengthen the beach. These include keeping tourists away from the dunes and planting trees. d’oyatsA type of European coastal grass that helps slow the flow of water and binds sand.

De Valvelli has deep roots in this area. His father was accidentally shot down by American paratroopers during the landing and went on to open a local D-Day museum in 1962.

“If it disappears, part of the story disappears,” he said of the beaches.

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Erosion hits D-Day beaches.

Due to erosion along the French coast, some of the beaches that were central to the D-Day landings in 1944 are disappearing — threatening a key attraction for thousands of people making the pilgrimage to the 80th anniversary this month. .

The Utah Beach Landing Museum, which appears to rise out of the sand like a World War II bunker, marks one of five landing sites along the coast and the first site of the invasion.

Sitting atop a compromised mound, surrounded by a crude wire fence designed to keep visitors out, the museum is currently protected. But an American sister site, the Pointe du Hoc Ranger Monument, stands on a rugged cliff face that has suffered numerous landslides as a result of natural erosion.

Protecting the past

The most recent landslide in November 2023 forced the closure of one of the US site’s bunkers because it fell within the required 20-meter safety zone imposed by the American Battle Monuments Commission. Scott DesJordans.

“We want to welcome visitors in the safest way possible and in a way that also ensures the preservation of this historic site,” Des Jardins said in an emailed statement to CBC.

Juno Beach Center director Nathalie Worthington says another 40 kilometers up the coast, at Juno Beach, the Canadian landing site, the threat is not so close.

“We’re lucky because the dune is growing on the ocean,” he said, pointing to a bunker that was once lapped by channel waves and is now buffered by a sandy beach.

“The risk is not as significant as other places on the coast. But we are surrounded by 300-degree water. We have an ocean, we have a harbor and we have a river.”

A statue on the beach.
Juno Beach, the site of the Canadian landings on D-Day, is not in danger, but Nathalie Worthington, director of the Juno Beach Center, said it’s only a matter of time before the center and its monuments, such as this monument by Canadian artist Colin Statue. Gibson, is flooded. (Lauren Sproul/CBC)

It’s not a question of if the Juneau Beach Center and all its monuments will flood, but when, he said.

Worthington says they are “doing their part” to fight the effects of climate change, such as reducing carbon emissions by limiting waste and promoting low-carbon transportation options for visitors.

She says the battle she describes isn’t all that different from the one fought by Allied forces on the same beach 80 years ago.

He said that the soldiers who came here in 1944, they came to fight for peace and freedom and against dictators.

“What is the biggest threat to democracy and peace in the world today if not climate change?”

French authorities are expecting up to a million people to attend D-Day celebrations across the region this week. Veterans and schoolchildren alike will gather on the shifting sands of the beaches of Normandy to honor the personal and inherited memories of June 6, 1944, a ritual that may live beyond the beaches themselves.



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