Hurricane Sandy confirmed what Irene and Katrina had suggested: We will retreat from the edge of the sea. We should do so in a planned, organized manner that protects citizens’ interests and the ecological, economic, recreational and aesthetic values of our coasts. This endeavor will require major changes in the way we manage coastal lands.
Coastal storms have killed thousands of people and have caused more than $250 billion in damages in the past 12 years. Costs are increasing with each storm because more and more people live, and build infrastructure, in risky places. For example, hundreds of thousands of people live on barrier islands along the East and Gulf Coasts. The nature of these low-lying sand islands is to move. Independent of hurricanes, winds, waves and currents cause barrier islands to roll toward the shore and migrate along the coast. Put another way, they naturally migrate from under buildings placed on them. The population density of U.S. coastal counties increased 28 percent from 1980 to 2003, to about 153 million. Clearly, coastal development must be rethought.