Let Nature Be the Guide to Shore Up Our Coasts

We’ve been reading it in the news a lot lately: Louisiana and Florida are the states with most susceptible coasts — but “not in Washington’s backyard. ...” Well, not so fast.

Living here, we know exactly why people are drawn to coastal areas. For many, like the Duwamish, Makah and Snoqualmie populations, these gorgeous natural places have been home for generations, offering a strong foundation of culture and economic identity and activity. Others are attracted to coasts’ rich natural resources, access to fresh seafood, recreation and job opportunities.

The sunrise paints the waters off Barnum's Point on Camano Island (Photo © Benj Drummond)

In all cases, the stunning views remind us every single day of how lucky we are to live here. There is much to maintain in the glorious nature that surrounds our coasts. But with our cities among the country’s fastest-growing, demands on Washington’s natural spaces are only increasing.

Helping Nature Help Us

Nature has an uncanny ability to bounce back when left to its own devices. But as our human population increases, our impact on nature may actually surpass its ability to adapt. Today we face, and must quickly address, some very big issues resulting from our impact on our environment.

The Seattle waterfront (Photo © Joel Rogers)

This will take a concerted effort among a diverse but hopefully motivated population. While intrigue and interest abound with innovations in energy, economics, transportation and health and social systems, some of the most elegant, easy and cost-effective solutions already exist — in, and with, nature.

On Our Coasts, Resilience Can Resolve Hazards

Washington has more than 2,300 miles of coastline that sustain communities, livelihoods, recreation and diverse ecosystems. Though robust, our coasts are especially vulnerable to climate-change impacts, including flooding, sea-level rise, increased erosion and others. Through the Coastal Resilience initiative, ideas and perspectives from a variety of sectors and stakeholders are helping communities understand their vulnerabilities to climate-change hazards, and helping them reduce risks and evaluate nature’s ability to protect.

“I am a conservation scientist and if you had told me four years ago that my team would have more engineers and economists than ecologists, I would have laughed. But effective conservation requires more than just biology, and today these cross-cutting teams are essential to saving habitats.”
— Mike Beck, lead marine scientist for The Nature Conservancy.

Coastal resilience focuses on solutions that directly involve nature. These include building swales to collect stormwater runoff, restoring wetlands and seagrasses to protect shorelines and habitats and working with communities on shoreline-development plans to prepare for changing coastlines. Additionally, watersheds are a comprehensive, connected system, and coastal concerns stretch back to rivers and floodplains. For example, we are working in the Snoqualmie River Fall City Corridor to restore up to 105 acres of degraded floodplain to improve habitat, protect farmland and reduce flooding.

Aerial view of Barnum Point on Camano Island (Photo © Benj Drummond)

Our seas are rising, and they will continue to do so — this is fact, no longer theory. Fortunately, our coastlines have mastered adaptation through the millennia. If we can look to their examples, we can learn how to harness and empower the protective instincts of nature to preserve Washington’s communities, wildlife and our extraordinary shores.

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