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Sands and mud are continually being transported around the world's coastal seas due to the action of tides, wind and waves. The transport of these sediments modifies the boundary between the land and the sea, changing and reshaping its form. Sometimes the nearshore bathymetry evolves slowly over long time periods, at other times more rapidly due to natural episodic events or the introduction of manmade structures at the shoreline. For over half a century we have been trying to understand the physics of sediment transport processes and formulate predictive models. Although significant progress has been made, our capability to forecast the future behaviour of the coastal zone from basic principles is still relatively poor. However, innovative acoustic techniques for studying the fundamentals of sediment movement experimentally are now providing new insights, and it is expected that such observations, coupled with developing theoretical works, will allow us to take further steps towards the goal of predicting the evolution of coastlines and coastal bathymetry. This paper presents an overview of our existing predictive capabilities, primarily in the field of non-cohesive sediment transport, and highlights how new acoustic techniques are enabling our modelling efforts to achieve greater sophistication and accuracy. The paper is aimed at coastal scientists and managers seeking to understand how detailed physical studies can contribute to the improvement of coastal area models and, hence, inform coastal zone management strategies.