The United States, because of its size, is both blessed and cursed, with a tremendous about of coastal exposure, all along our eastern, southern, and western boundaries. The blessing, of course, lies in access to fishing waters, and to the natural beauties found all along our coastal edges. As one who simply finds sea air among the most wonderful of fragrances and the beauty of waves and the sound of surf wonderfully healing to one’s spirit, I can well understand the loyalty of those who love the ocean and want to live there. The curse, of course, is our vulnerability along those same coasts.
There seem to be so many considerations: exposure to natural disasters such as Superstorm Sandy and Hurricane Katrina, just for example; exposure to man-made disasters such as the monstrous oil spill in our southern gulf; the difficulties, even with our excellent Coast Guard, in keeping out unwanted human invaders; the deposit of ocean debris from such events as the tsunami in Japan; the normal beach erosion plus the sort that is now being experienced because of higher tides.
The fact that communities have been built along the waters’ edges in almost every area of our massive coast line means that over and over there has been destruction and rebuilding for centuries. And make no mistake, our entire society bears the brunt of helping to recover from coastal disasters and of helping to rebuild. Insurance money, tax money from all levels of government, charitable assistance: all of these must be available.
The real dilemma is whether we can keep on rebuilding and rebuilding along our
beautiful and vulnerable and huge coastlines. Certain areas such as New York City can perhaps devise systems to handle storm surges but the entire length of the East Coast and all along the Gulf Coast and all along the West Coast? The dilemma is whether or not protective wetlands should be allowed and coastal development should be re-thought and restructured so that our coasts will be protected rather than settled as they are now. Living on the edge of the water is a choice and no economy can fund that sort of choice. If we as a society really love our coastlines, we must protect them from ourselves.