Breach an earthwork like the one above, give back land to the sea, and you’ll get fewer floods.
After Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy, U.S. emergency managers and town planners are discussing giving back land to the ocean as a way to protect still-viable coastal communities. It’s a concept called “managed retreat,” a name that conjures loss and sometimes sparks defiance in those who live at the ocean’s door.
In the U.K. they’ve recently returned more than 450 acres to the sea by breaching an earthwork just five miles from this one at Chidham Point. The locals are excited about it. They expect the resulting salt marsh to increase tourism. Here’s how:
At Medmerry on the south coast of England, shingle(*) sea walls were supposed to protect towns and undeveloped land but in recent years have proved inadequate. Stronger storms and higher tides frequently flooded the low-lying communities, especially the caravan (campers) vacation parks. Some sections of Selsey and Bracklesham Bay are below sea level. It wasn’t working.
In 2011 the U.K.’s Environment Agency began a managed retreat project in West Sussex. They built four miles of new sea walls up to a mile inland around the developed areas. They also built drainage ditches and ponds, two parking lots for visitors, and 10km of bicycle paths and horse trails. Then they breached the earthworks and gave land back to the sea. The resulting salt marsh buffers the ocean’s rage.
It’s also great for wildlife. Even while construction was underway migrating water birds stopped by to visit the growing new salt marsh. Bird watching improved immediately and is expected to get even better in the months and years ahead. The new salt marsh will be a birding tourist destination.
Give back to the sea and get back safety and tourism. Compromise with Mother Nature is good.
Read more about this project and see a video here at the BBC News.
(photo of dike at Chidham Point, West Sussex, UK, located about 5 miles from Medmerry)
(*) The British word “shingle” means the sand, pebbles, cobbles and shell-pieces that make up the beach.