The Coastal Crisis: The Race Toward Restoration
With the 10th anniversary of superstorm Sandy approaching, those who live along the shoreline are reminded of the devastation that took place in late October 2012 when the category 3 hurricane moved up the northeastern coast. Prior to Sandy, beach erosion in New England and the Mid-Atlantic region averaged 1.6 feet per year, and in extreme cases, some beaches eroded more than 60 feet per year, according to the United States Geological Survey. Beach erosion is the result of a combination of factors ranging from storms, sea-level rise, public use, and available sand; sandy areas are more vulnerable than rocky coastlines. Given exposure to the increasing intensity and frequency of super storms due to climate change, oceanfront beach erosion is likely to accelerate.
If you happen to live near a beach in New England, summer is synonymous with the shore. My hometown of Weston is only a 15-minute drive to Sherwood Island and Compo beaches which border the Long Island Sound. But in late summer and early fall, my family explores the exposed coast farther north along the shores of Rhode Island. Even I have noticed that most of the beaches from Watch Hill to Narragansett have gotten smaller. Sandy beaches provide more than a refreshing respite from summer heat; they provide a natural barrier to ecosystems and inland communities. Storm surge, high winds and currents can devour susceptible low-lying land, especially dunes and beaches. According to natural resources expert Tom O’Shea who serves on the board of a nonprofit that manages Crane Beach in Ipswich, Mass., “we’ve lost the equivalent of over 84 football fields of beach just in the last 30 to 50 years.” Understanding beach morphology and expanding restoration efforts is essential to preserving the natural beauty and ecological diversity of the coastline. Coastal restoration can be prioritized based on hydrodynamic modeling which can predict catastrophic storm impact providing advance warning to the most vulnerable areas.
Clearly more research is necessary to learn how best to protect our beaches and shoreline from the devasating effects of climate change. Natural coastal features like dunes, marshes and oyster reefs are preferred over concrete barriers and manmade infrastructure. Prioritizing natural restoration has the added benefit of encouraging biodiversity; marshes and mudflats provide habitat to migrating birds, marine organisms, and vegetation. For this reason, GPS is pleased to announce that The Center for Coastal Studies (CCS) in Provincetown, MA is the recipient of a $500 Global Grant. CCS is dedicated to preserving coastal and marine habitat along the New England seaboard by providing educational resources and programs that encourage responsible use and conservation of coastal and marine ecosystems. CCS develops policy and management strategies drawn from solid scientific research, and is a member of the Cape Cod Climate Change Collaborative, a non-profit organization devoted to reduce climate change and protect the region from its potentially devastating impacts.
Chris Burrell, July 25, 2022, Chris Burrell on Morning Edition, Boston’s Local NPR GBH 89.7. www.wgbh.org.