Rio Grande do Sul is the southernmost state in Brazil. Open sandy beaches dominate the 630-km long shoreline that is 76% still undeveloped. Less than 5% of the state's population (totalling 9.7 million people) live in coastal cities. However, the coastal population is growing faster than the state's average since 1990. Although intense erosion is widely accepted along the beaches of Conceição lighthouse and Hermenegildo, the extent of erosion along the Rio Grande do Sul shoreline is still a controversial issue. Discussions arise from the contrasting results presented by studies addressing coastal erosion in Rio Grande do Sul. Recent DGPS monitoring indicates that about 80% of the Rio Grande do Sul shoreline is eroding; wave refraction studies indicate that it is mainly stable, and long-term coastal evolution modelling reveals a predominantly prograding shore for the last 5 ka. This work critically evaluates published data on long- and short-term causes of coastal erosion in Rio Grande do Sul, in an attempt to highlight the unanswered questions that could minimize the debate. The analysis includes sea-level rise, concentration of wave energy due to large-scale coastal topography, sand deficit as the long-term causes of erosion, storm surges, concentration of wave energy due to small-scale submerged features, interference in the longshore sediment transport, and human activities as the short-term causes. Discrepancies in shoreline change results are a matter of the temporal scale in question and what are the causes that play a significant role in it. For coastal management purposes short-time events represent a far greater hazard than long-term trends. It is therefore reasonable to state that in order to support decision-making mechanisms in Rio Grande do Sul a better understanding of the relationship of storms, sand budget, and beach erosion is necessary.