To preserve our beaches, North Carolina must rethink coastal real estate policies

An opinion piece on coastal development regulations.

Like many Carolinians, the ocean is in my blood. Nothing delights me more than spending a day on the sand hunting for shells, on a board out in the churning waves or in a boat exploring twisting tidal creeks, emerald green with spartina grass.

I’m not a climate scientist or geologist, but you don’t need extensive technical training to notice that things are rapidly changing on the North Carolina and South Carolina barrier islands. The high tides are getting higher. Coastal storms are getting stronger and lasting longer. Onshore flooding is becoming commonplace. And the beachfronts themselves are noticeably shifting and taking down buildings as they go.

Although the geographic changes we observe on our beaches can be concerning, they are signs of natural geological processes at the heart of our islands. By their very nature, barrier islands migrate.

This migration is best conceptualized on a geologic time scale. With their expansive beachfront “boneyards” of dead trees, Bulls Island and Capers Island in South Carolina give testament to our shifting shorelines, as do the black shells commonly found on our beaches. These artifacts gained their hue following burial in the dark sediment of salt marshes on the mainland side of the islands. As the oceanfront of these islands erode and migrate back toward the mainland, these ancient buried sediments become exposed on the ocean side of the island. Read full article.