Three years ago Thursday , Hurricane Sandy devastated communities along the Atlantic Coast with record storm surge, fierce winds and torrential rain. Earlier this month Hurricane Joaquin again reminded us of nature's power, inundating much of the Atlantic Seaboard with heavy rains and chest-deep floodwaters and setting historic records in the Carolinas.
In this age of uncertainty we have come to expect the unexpected. The science tells us that climate change will cause hurricanes and tropical storms to become more intense — lasting longer, unleashing stronger winds and causing more damage to coastal ecosystems and communities. As we know too well, these storms threaten lives and result in millions of dollars in property damage. They also expose the vulnerability of beaches, sand dunes and coastal marshes that not only provide habitat for fish and wildlife but also protect local communities from flooding.
The question is: What can we do to help these coastal areas stand stronger against the storm?
Federal funding for Hurricane Sandy recovery has spurred an unprecedented effort to strengthen natural defenses along the Atlantic Coast to protect communities and wildlife against future storms. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and other Department of the Interior agencies are investing $787 million in hundreds of projects to clean up and repair damaged refuges and parks; restore coastal marshes, wetlands and shoreline; connect and open waterways to improve flood control; and increase our scientific understanding of how these natural areas are changing and how we can best respond.
These investments support the goal of President Barack Obama's Climate Action Plan to make communities more resilient to increasingly intense storms predicted with a changing climate. They also create jobs and provide opportunities for fishing, hiking, wildlife watching and other recreational opportunities.
In Maryland, the Fish and Wildlife Service is investing more than $13 million in six projects to remove two dams, opening 54 miles of waterways in rivers and tributaries for fish passage; protect and/or restore 4,200 acres of quality high tide marsh; and construct 24,950 feet of living shoreline. This includes a $9 million project under way to construct 20,950 feet of living shoreline to protect marshes at Fog Point, a coastal section of Maryland's Glenn Martin National Wildlife Refuge in Smith Island. The rock and sand structure will help protect more than 1,000 acres of interior tidal high marsh, sheltered water, submerged aquatic vegetation and clam beds against the effects of future storms. It also enhances the natural defenses of saltwater habitats important to the island's soft crab fishery, a natural resource local Smith Island residents depend on for their livelihoods.
More than a half century ago, Rachel Carson, one of our greatest conservation heroes, characterized conservation as "dynamic, changing as conditions change, seeking always to become more effective." Looking toward the future and the uncertainties of a changing climate, communities, government and nonprofit organizations are working together like never before to better understand and adapt to changing conditions. Clearly it will take time and careful planning before we see a return on many of these investments. But I am confident the long-term benefits of building a stronger coast will far outweigh initial costs when it comes to protecting communities, sustaining wildlife and lessening the financial impact of damages resulting from future intense storms. To that end, we are establishing systems to carefully monitor and evaluate our progress to ensure this work is effective and lasting. The nature we care about and the public we serve deserve no less.
Wendi Weber is Northeast Regional Director for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Her email is firstname.lastname@example.org.