Retreat from the sea will be painful no matter how it is executed, but it will hurt most if Americans continue to try to protect all existing infrastructure until the sea destroys it and if we repeatedly rebuild in the same places.
Planning for the coming reality must be a collaborative effort of the multiple stakeholders with diverse interests in coastal values. We offer these suggestions as a starting point.
●Federal, state and local coastal policies should encourage people to develop in low-risk, environmentally robust areas, not high-risk, environmentally sensitive places.
●Planning should begin to depopulate high-risk areas now, rather than waiting for disasters to cause further loss of life and property.
●Certain things should be recognized as dependent on shorelines, such as shipping terminals, fishing ports, beach recreation, and shorebird and fish habitats. Shoreline dependence should be an important criterion as trade-offs among land uses are evaluated.
●The sea should be walled off only to protect shoreline-dependent infrastructure and only when no other protective actions are possible. Soft walls (dunes) may be necessary for short-term protection in areas where retreat is planned and ongoing.
●The coast should be recognized as a limited natural resource that provides ecological, economic, aesthetic, recreational and cultural benefits. New policies should provide a fair balance between the public and private costs of managing the coast and public and private benefits derived from this resource.
For centuries Americans have made their homes on the coast. Its lands and waters have provided food, places to live and safe harbors for the ships that serve our centers of commerce. Coastal fish and wildlife, and even storms, have inspired us. We can continue to reap these benefits from the coast, but the benefits will be greatest and the costs least if we manage ourselves wisely.