Rising waters are usually followed by an eroding sand beach. This is the case at the eastern Maryland and Virginia coasts. More specifically, Wallops Island and the Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge in Virginia, and the Assateague Island National Seashore, off the coast of Maryland, are the present cases with sand beaches.
As a birder, I’ve been to those islands many times, experiencing wonderful spring songbird migrations and walked those eroding beaches. From Wallops Island, NASA missions have documented the most dramatic evidence of a warming planet over the past two decades: melting of polar ice, a force contributing to a global rise in ocean levels.
Rising ocean levels are causing the Wallops Flight Facility’s billion-dollar space-launch complex, which occupies a barrier island, to be drowning under the impact of worsening storms and flooding. But it doesn’t end there — NASA’s response, rather than move, has been to add more than $100 million in new structures and spend $43 million more to fortify the shoreline with sand; nearly a third of that new sand has since been washed away.
On a narrow inlet to the north, the town of Chincoteague — gateway to Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge, a birder’s paradise, and famous for its wild horses — the sea is robbing the town of its beach, disappearing at an average rate of up to 22 feet a year. The wildlife refuge is also facing a losing battle against rising seas.
Some are skeptical that climate change and its effects have anything to do with the erosion of the beach. And some are not convinced it requires the drastic change that some people think it does; the sea keeps eating the shore, and the government keeps spending to fix the damage. Interactive tide-gauge analysis shows higher seas, and more flooding all along the ragged shore of Chesapeake. Some do not yet believe it’s happening, but I’ve been there, seen it firsthand — and it is happening.
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