For coastal residents in New England, climate change isn’t a matter of stranded polar bears and melting ice. It’s a century-old stone pier that now sits underwater or a historic home threatened by the storm surges that move ever inland with rising seas.
The coastal resilience tool offers local leaders the opportunity to consider projections of where and how rising sea level might impact their communities as they plan for future development. The online tool uses geological, historical and ecological maps and other data to provide a picture of what our future coastline could look like. Municipal leaders in Old Saybrook and Guilford, CT, as well as several Long Island communities, are now working closely with The Nature Conservancy to use the tool, which was formally launched during a workshop in Old Lyme Wednesday afternoon.
“It’s a critical tool. When it’s something of this magnitude, it’s not something you want to be crisis managing; it’s something you’d rather be planning for. I think it would be irresponsible for any public leaders not to consider this,” said Anthony “Unk” DaRos, a selectman in Branford, CT.
It’s about resiliency. Coastlines move and change over time, and as climate change brings higher seas and more intense storms, communities need to continuously adapt. The coastal resilience tool (http://coastalresilience.org/) is a web-based tool that helps communities visualize likely impacts and plan for wise future development and emergency response.
More than 70 years ago, the Long Island Express, a hurricane named for its sheer force and unprecedented speed, slammed into the coast of Long Island with an impact that registered on seismographs in Alaska. It left 600 people dead, 8,900 homes destroyed and inflicted $4.7 billion of damage.
If a category 3 hurricane hit the coast today, the estimated cost would be $24 billion in damages and interrupted business. And according to many experts, we’re long overdue for a follow-up. Complicating matters along this heavily developed and densely populated coastline is the issue of sea level rise.
As sea level rises, coastal communities in Connecticut, Long Island and even New York City become more vulnerable to storm surge flooding. A rise of just 18 inches, combined with the storm surge from a Category 3 hurricane, would leave the entire metropolitan transportation system shut down.
“We’re anticipating dramatic changes in sea level with a rise of approximately 4 feet or more by 2100, and some coastal towns are already experiencing the impacts,” said Adam Whelchel, Ph.D, the Conservancy’s director of conservation programs in Connecticut and lead on the coastal resilience project.
But there are solutions. Allowing natural shoreline to move and protecting the salt marshes that help buffer the effects of storms can reduce harm. Communities can build critical infrastructure in areas that aren’t likely to be submerged.
“This tool will help determine which parcels of land should be preserved, how to manage land for responsible and more resilient development and how to prioritize which wetlands should be restored to protect our coastal communities,” said Nicole Maher, Ph.D, the Conservancy’s wetlands specialist for Long Island.
And community leaders can use the information from the coastal resilience tool to decide how to best protect their towns, Whelchel said.
“The choices are theirs to make, in their communities and for their communities,” he said.
The Nature Conservancy is the leading conservation organization working around the world to protect ecologically important lands and waters for nature and people. To date, the Conservancy and its more than one million members have been responsible for the protection of more than 18 million acres in the United States and have helped preserve more than 117 million acres in Latin America, the Caribbean, Asia and the Pacific. Visit The Nature Conservancy on the Web at www.nature.org/connecticut
The Nature Conservancy is a leading conservation organization working around the world to protect ecologically important lands and waters for nature and people. The Conservancy and its more than 1 million members have protected nearly 120 million acres worldwide. Visit The Nature Conservancy on the Web at www.nature.org.