Commentator: Beach & Shoreline Erosion Cannot Be Solved With Walls or Rigid Structures

A Maryland Reporter commentary (2016-06-16) by Bay Journal columnist Liza Field proposed that state and local governments revise how they handle the challenges of beach erosion caused by rising sea levels and climate change.  Field noted the significant costs endured by taxpayers to protect beach development and commented on the scale of the problem:

One new study projects that within eight decades, 13.1 million Americans could be displaced by sea-rise. The East Coast would experience the heaviest loss. If we slow climate change, the toll could drop to 4.3 million coastal dwellers. …

In the Chesapeake Bay, shorelines — entire islands — already are disappearing. Tangier Island will likely be uninhabitable in 25 years. Its residents and the Army Corps of Engineers want multi-million-dollar funding from Congress to build new protective barriers… .

Field argued that governments need to let beaches, shorelines, and barrier islands change and flow naturally rather than attempt to protect them by building walls or other rigid structures:

What’s the alternative? Instead of fighting the changing seas, these geologists urge, we humans need to change our response. [Geologist Stanley] Riggs and [Duke geologist Orrin] Pilkey have called for a retreat from all the futile development and mitigation along these fragile beaches.

For us seashore lovers, admittedly, a retreat is hard to fathom. Would it mean an end to human presence on the shore, an end to those local economies?

On the contrary, Riggs points out, it’s the only way that any economy — and the beaches themselves — can survive.

He envisions a high-tech ferry system to replace harmful and ill-fated roads, along with an eco-tourism grounded in reality and aliveness, not illusion.

Otherwise, our futile constructions, repairs and expenses amount to what geologist Pilkey regards as “beating our head against the wall.”