Commentary

The real threat to NC beaches is not sharks

Sea-level rise 2In the aftermath of the troubling shark attacks that have plagued North Carolina beaches this summer, there’s been a natural tendency to worry about the economic impact — both short and long-term — on the beach tourism economy. Bloody, weekly attacks by wild animals are not exactly what you call good publicity.

As Ned Barnett of Raleigh’s News & Observer explained over the weekend in an essay reviewing coastal expert Orrin Pilkey’s new book, “The Last Beach,” however, there’s a much bigger threat looming to the beach economy. It’s called humans.

Here’s Barnett:

“Beaches move, and with rising sea levels they are moving faster. People try to slow or halt the process by dredging up sand or erecting imposing seawalls, but those are destructive and doomed efforts. To save the beaches, we must let beaches go where and how they want.

That humans should harmonize with beaches rather than try to control them is the theme ‘The Last Beach,’ a new book by Orrin H. Pilkey and J. Andrew G. Cooper. The book looks at the embattled state of beaches around the world where foolish beachfront construction, Sisyphean beach re-nourishment efforts and pollution from sewage, garbage and oil are ruining one of the world’s idyllic wonders, the broad stretches of sand where the land meets the sea.

‘Can we imagine a world without beaches?’ the authors ask. ‘As inconceivable as it might seem, such a loss is a distinct possibility, thanks to the way we abuse the shoreline at this time of rising sea level.’”

Pilkey’s message is the same one that scientist Rob Young delivered a couple years back at an N.C. Policy Watch Crucial Conversation: Humans may be able to stave off destruction for a few more years with their dredging, beach “re-nourishment,” and sea walls, but the price will be huge. Basically, by fighting nature, we’re just making things worse.

The bottom line: It’s understandable that beachfront property owners love their little pieces of paradise and want to freeze them in time time, but such acts are not only futile; they’re helping to assure that future generations will be denied the joys of beach/ocean tourism. And that’s one very extreme and costly way to cut down on the number of shark attacks.

One Comment


  1. LayintheSmakDown

    July 6, 2015 at 1:24 pm

    This is quite the bit of alarmism. There are always going to be beaches on earth, they just may be in a slightly different position, regardless of the dredging and renourishment that takes place.

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