Storms and Rising Seas Threaten Coastal Ecosystems — Here’s What We Can Do
We’ve made little progress in preparing our communities and vital ecosystems for storms and sea-level rise, but there are tools we can use if government agencies and nonprofits take action.
A century from now, the U.S. coastline will look very different from how it looks today. In the coming decades our beaches, wetlands and estuaries along the shore will be lost or degraded by a one-two punch of more severe storms and rising seas. This combination will drive communities inland and force the relocation of critical infrastructure. The consequences for fish, wildlife and ecosystems could also be devastating.
We’re already getting a glimpse of how bad things can get.
The three major storms of 2017 — Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria — caused more than 3,000 deaths and some $275 billion in damages. The longer-term ecosystem impacts of major storms like these are harder to quantify, but no less important. These include shifting of beaches and dunes, saltwater intrusion to freshwater systems, ecosystems contaminated by polluted floodwaters, and damage to habitat, oyster beds and coral. Rising sea levels are steadily pushing storm damage farther inland.