It’s too easy to take the coast (and good coastal management) for granted.
Some of this is human nature, of course. People are drawn to disaster and destruction, not so much to resilience and recovery. “Dog bites man” is not news, but “man bites dog” might be. So, too, it is with natural disasters.
So, when coastal storms roar in, every news outlet is looking for the washed-out road and destroyed dwellings – not the resilient coastline where good management and anticipation keeps the worst of the storm at bay. The lead story is the dire destruction wrought by nature – not the wide beach, high dunes and solid building codes that kept the worst of the waves and winds well away from upland properties and infrastructure.
Think about the millions of people who flock to our nation’s coastlines every year seeking a break from their busy lives and a little time in the sand and sun. Do they worry about how that beach is maintained, the work that is put in to making the coast a healthy and happy place to play? Do they recognize that those wide beaches and lush vegetation don’t just happen, but are often the result of major public works projects and a lot of local effort and funds?
Not likely. They’re probably just looking for a good spot in the sand to enjoy a fun day at the beach. The work, planning and time it takes to make that postcard-perfect beach is the last thing on their minds – and rightly so, since they’re looking for a respite, not a reality check.
But it is important that the benefits of healthy beaches are brought to the forefront sometimes:
Public understanding builds public support. When people understand what it takes to make (and keep) a beach healthy, they’re more likely to support the planning and price tag that goes along with it.
Public support builds political support. That’s valuable since most beach management and restoration efforts eventually require political approval to move forward. If the public understands the value of a healthy coastline – and is willing to pay the price necessary to ensure that – the politicians will follow close behind.
Public and political backing means plans can be made to keep a coast healthy. Wide beaches, high dunes and sound building and land use practices don’t happen overnight, but are the result of years of public and private efforts to make a coastlines more resilient, better able to resist storm damage and recover after the winds and waves subside. When the people and the governments along the coast understand that, the long-term efforts necessary for a healthy shoreline are much more likely to happen. When it comes to the coast, an ounce of prevention is truly worth a pound of cure.
It costs millions to restore a beach with wide shores and high dunes. But it will cost billions to rebuild the upland property and infrastructure if those protective beaches and dunes are not in place when a storm strikes.
It costs thousands to preserve or restore coastal habitat, protect a unique species and provide for healthy ecosystems. But you can’t put a price on the impact that environmental degradation and species endangerment can have to a community and all the critters who live there.
And it can cost millions to keep an area’s natural coastal assets in good shape to attract new residents, visitors and businesses. But if those assets are left to languish and lose their luster, and those residents, visitors and businesses move on, the impact on the coastal economy and on the governments who benefit from its volume and vibrancy starts in the billions and goes up from there.
It’s one thing for the media, tourists and visitors to take the coast for granted. But those who live and work there, who rely on it for their livelihoods and their lives, can never underestimate the value of a healthy coast.