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Islands Cope With Encroaching Seas, Some Better Than Others

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Cape Cod Times
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Sea level rise and erosion have become defining features of coastal living in New England. Islands are particularly vulnerable.

Environmental author Bill Sargent understands the allure of coastal living as well as anyone. In fact, he says his life and career would look very different if not for the years he spent living on the water. These days, though, he lives near the coast, not on it. It's a subtle but important distinction.

Those who live on the water know the tides and seasons in a way others can't. They also know, firsthand, that sea level is rising and that storm-driven erosion threatens to demolish their homes and eradicate the very land upon which they are built.

"It's the fastest horse of the environmental apocalypse," says Sargent.

Sargent's latest book, Islands in the Storm, is based on his experiences getting to know some of the most vulnerable homeowners - those on islands along the Atlantic and Gulf shores, from Plum Island and Nantucket, to Atlantic City. He says some communities are finding ways to pull together, reduce risks and support those most impacted. But many, he says, are struggling to face the harsh reality of the system and continue to fight a losing battle. He writes:

“If a foreign nation had devastated three of our major cities we would know how to respond. It seems to be hard-wired into our primate genes. But how do you respond to something invisible that helped build our civilizations and accumulated slowly over the past three centuries? How do you beat back the rising seas, fight the forces of nature, defeat an invisible foe?”

In the long run, defeating Mother Nature is probably not possible. Sargent advocates, instead, for a more cooperative approach. And, he concedes, more of us may have to settle for life near the shifting coast, rather than on it.

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