The Wrack

The Wrack is the Wells Reserve blog, our collective logbook on the web.

Climate Change is a Beach

Posted by | July 21, 2013

a line in the sand

The following was originally published in the Biddeford-Saco Journal Tribune Sunday edition, 7/21/13.

In Maine, we’re continually blessed with nature’s beauty and its bounty. Our forests, our Gulf, and our thousands of miles of rocky and sandy coast are major drivers of our economy and the envy of the Northeast. Our summer population quadruples because, “yes, life’s good here,” thanks in large part to our environment.

But science indisputably tells us that the Maine we know is not the Maine that has always been, or will be. Even our rich cultural history is but a millisecond in our environment’s life.

If our accustomed way of life was, climatologically-speaking, born on third base, should we be blamed for thinking we’d hit a triple? What if instead of playing baseball, we’ve been surfing a wave that must, as all waves do, break?

For the 200 coastal property owners, recreational beach users, volunteer beach monitors, scientists, public officials, and concerned citizens who gathered for the 5th Maine Beaches Conference on July 12 at Southern Maine Community College, that break point is here. Last October’s Superstorm Sandy forcefully reminded the East Coast of nature’s power and our own fragility. The coast we have relied upon, it turns out, is not nearly as reliable as we thought.

The Maine Beaches Conference drove that point home for many of its attendees. A year at the Wells Reserve at Laudholm, Southern Maine’s center for coastal science, education, and stewardship, has affirmed it for me. The Maine I know, the nature I grew up with, is changing.

I, and my colleagues at the Reserve, see change every day, sometimes dramatic but ever constant. Some of that change is natural, the rhythms of life and geology. But some is obviously man-made. We study both at the Reserve. Any beachcomber old enough to remember a beach before a jetty’s installation will admit that humans, particularly the Army Corps of Engineers, can impose great and lasting effects on our environment. Is it a stretch to believe that our society may have, inadvertently or purposefully, altered our larger environment in even more profound ways?

My 2nd grade teacher said, “habitat is where you live; habit is what you’re used to.” A simple spelling lesson, with a deeper meaning. Those who confuse the two, or otherwise bury their heads in the sand, will miss out on the great shift of our lifetimes. Our environment is changing. The inconvenient but exciting truth is that we must change with it. This will strike some as a burden; it will summon others to greatness.

At the Wells Reserve at Laudholm, we’re studying what’s going on and what we can all do about it. In this column, I look forward to sharing our work with you.

 

Nik Charov is president of Laudholm Trust, the nonprofit partner of the Wells National Estuarine Research Reserve in Wells, Maine. His Sunday Journal Tribune column, “Between Two Worlds,” ventures forth from the intersection of art and science, land and sea, past and future. More at wellsreserve.org/twoworlds.

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