All along the ragged shore of Chesapeake Bay and the Atlantic coast of the Delmarva Peninsula, north into New England and south into Florida, along the Gulf Coast and parts of the West Coast, people, businesses and governments are confronting rising seas not as a future possibility. For them, the ocean’s rise is a troubling everyday reality.
In cities like Norfolk, Va., and Annapolis, Md., coastal flooding has become more frequent. Beyond the cities, seawater and tidal marsh have consumed farmland and several once-inhabited islands. Here in Accomack County alone, encroaching seawater is converting an estimated 50 acres of farmland into wetlands each year, according to a 2009 Environmental Protection Agency study.
Officials have added more than $100 million in new structures over the past five years and spent $43 million more to fortify the shoreline with sand. Nearly a third of that new sand has since been washed away.
“It breaks my heart to think about it,” said Grayson Chesser, a decoy carver whose ancestors arrived in the Chesapeake Bay area four centuries ago.
He lives outside Saxis, a town that’s losing ground to the water. Some nearby villages have disappeared altogether.
“You’ve got to deal with the fact that it’s happening,” he said. “And what are you going to do with those of us on the edge?”
It’s a question the U.S. government is dodging. More than 300 counties claim a piece of more than 86,000 miles of tidal coastline in the United States, yet no clear national policy determines which locations receive help to protect their shorelines. That has left communities fighting for attention and resources, lest they be abandoned to the sea, as is playing out in Chincoteague.
“If we can’t make a decision about rising sea level in a parking lot, we’re in trouble as a nation,” said Louis Hinds, former manager of Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge.
Tidal waters worldwide have climbed an average of 8 inches over the past century, according to the 2014 National Climate Assessment. The two main causes are the volume of water added to oceans from glacial melt and the expansion of that water from rising sea temperatures. – Reuters reports