Coastal Communities in Danger

On this journey, we learned about sea level rising in coastal communities and the implications it has for our future. I’ve heard many things about this phenomena that is truly happening but never have I fully understood the serious impact it will soon have around the world or witness a degree of it first-hand. We learned about disappearing islands from Kate Llive at the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum, we also watched a National Geographic video that discussed what our coastal cities will become in the next few centuries as sea level continues to rise. It revealed some options which could possibly save these cities from being completed submerged but at a costly price. Lastly, I got to witness what sea level rise is doing at Smith Island, the only remaining inhabited island near Crisfield. All of these experiences have taught me a great deal more about what is occurring and why it is rearing its ugly face now.

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We returned to the Maritime Museum to learn why islands are disappearing due to sea level rise and how it affects the culture of that place. Our speaker, Kate, is an educator at the museum and was very knowledgeable about this. She talked about three different islands – Smith Island, Holland Island, and Lower Hoppers/Barren Island. As I’ve mentioned before, Smith Island is the only one that hasn’t completely been submerged but there is evidence that it will soon. Both Hoopers and Holland Islands had been prosperous communities before disappearing however Holland Island was recently brought back using dredgers. Though it was successful it couldn’t inhabit any humans so it was left alone to become a bird sanctuary. Kate briefly mentioned about how the marshes are often loss once an island becomes part of the sea, usually because there is a flat landscape which allows mild floods to reach further inland. After hearing what Kate had to say, I was really interested to see what Smith Island was like since it will no longer be around in the near future. There were a number of ideas and question that were brought up concerning about future disappearances of landmarks. Whether it would be worth the energy and money to keep these landmarks and islands from sinking below or to let nature take them. I believe if islands and similar landmarks are going to be submerged no matter what, to let that happen and focus instead on our coastal shorelines and communities.

The next day before leaving for Smith Island, we watched the National Geographic video called “Earth Under Water.” In this documentary, it focused on the concern of how fast will our oceans rise due to global temperatures and how much of the world countries will be affected in the coming years. It duly noted that this phenomena has happened before during the last Ice Age and now it is reoccurring. It provided three different scenarios demonstrating the kind of damage if all of Antarctica and Greenland ice sheets were to melt. The first was sea level rising up to 6 ft. by the year of 2100 and what would happened to Miami, Florida. In the second example the water had risen up to 16 ft. by 2200 and both Miami, New Orleans, and the San Francisco Bay would have been completed flooded. The worst case scenario would be if sea level rose to 50 ft by the year of 2300 and by then it would overwhelm large parts of continental Europe. Places like Denmark, the Netherlands, Germany, and France would all be flooded leaving some famous landmarks such as the London Bridge and Eiffel Tower standing alone. The reason why global temperatures are climbing so fast is because the CO2 emissions that we put into our atmosphere has tripled. If this continues, they could quadruple and that will seriously have a major impact on global temperatures and ultimately melting ice sheets. The cold hard truth is that the warmer global temperatures are by sprouting more emissions means that the sea level will rise quicker.

At the end of this video, there were several options to be considered as a solution to save the coastal communities from rising sea levels. Most of them would be on a massive scale which requires a huge labor force and money. Building stronger and more efficient levees/locks to create sea walls and dams would help prevent sea water from entering certain cities such as New Orleans, inner London, and even the Mediterranean Sea. Doing these projects may not always work out whether its because of financial difficulties, location, or just time limit. As a result, there will be some cities that can be saved by using these sea defenses and others that will be completely gone. The last and final option would be to create floating cities, this has already been done in the Netherlands but it could work in other places such as Manhattan, New York. The concept is to build on the water by using concrete sponges to construct the cities and districts. Once done, they will be living on top of the water without being damaged or flooded. It may be the solution for hundreds of coastal cities that will certainly be facing inundation of sea level rise.

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Taking into consideration of those options to save coastal communications, we headed to Smith Island. This place is slowly disappearing because obviously sea level rising but also due to erosion. At one time it had 800 people but now-a-days it only has 200 left and still counting down. Many families and individuals have a strong intrinsic feeling towards this Island because it has a unique culture and do not wish to part from it. However, they are slowly realizing that their livelihoods are in jeopardy if they do not move. The erosion is caused by watermen scrapping the seagrass beds from the bottom when collecting soft shelled crabs. Seagrass is really important because it keeps the island which is made up of sediment in place from being washed away by the waves. Most of the seagrass are no longer there making it easier for waves from hurricanes and storms to regularly flood the island and take away the sediment. It’s only a matter of time that the entire island and the three remaining cities will be gone.

Learning more about our oceans rising and flooding all coastal cities gives a new meaning to how serious our future could be. Billions of people will be displaced and thousands of dollars will be lost through real estate or infrastructure. The fact that sea level rising is happening is a scary concept but in many ways I don’t think it should have been such a surprise. It’s frustrating because we knew that this had happened before and we ignored all the signs that were pointing to the same outcome today. Simply put we have caused sea level to rise because we are sprouting so much CO2 emissions into the atmosphere. Until we reduce it, this catastrophe will only escalate. The fact of the matter is that we always believe that the problem will fix itself either through nature or technology. So we don’t put any efforts into making it better before it gets worse and then we are stuck between a rock and a hard place. Personally I wish we didn’t have to build massive dams or sea walls because I don’t think they are that sustainable and they cost so much to build. But I also am not fond of floating cities, that concept is hard to grasp. Eventually though we will have to make a big decision on who will stay afloat and who will sink to the bottom.

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