Head inland young man

If you believe the reports about sea-level rise along the Delaware coast over the next 75 to 100 years, you should start buying property in Georgetown, because that could become the next beachfront community.

Although that’s a bit exaggerated, sea-level rise is a problem that has the eyes and ears of scientists, environmentalists and policy makers. Sea-level rise predictions over the next century range from inches to several feet, with most studies falling in the 1- to 3-foot range in an area just a few feet above sea level.

Reports and studies focused on the area around Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuge paint a dismal picture without some drastic action. Under the best-case scenario with minimal sea-level rise, a large portion of the more than 6,500 acres of fragile saltwater and freshwater marshes would be under water. You can guess the worst-case scenario.

Under that scenario Prime Hook Refuge would practically cease to exist as we know it today.

You have to consider that most of the refuge is about 3 feet above sea level, and the marshes are actually losing ground instead of building up. It doesn’t take a scientist or expert to figure out that an increase of 2 to 3 feet in the level of the Delaware Bay on an area that is 3 feet above sea level is a recipe for disaster.

The effects would not only be felt along the bay beaches but also the ocean beaches where tourism dollars are vital fuel to move the state’s economy.

Prime Hook provides both salt and freshwater marsh ecosystems, a rare combination that does not occur in many places. It’s also a key stop on the Atlantic Flyway.

Because saltwater marshes are more resilient, some are advocating that the refuge be allowed to become totally saltwater. Currently, refuge officials manage sections of the refuge with a series of water-control devices, dikes and canals to maintain the freshwater marshes.

Others advocate beach and dune replenishment as a way to provide a thin line of defense for the marshes. Still others say  let nature takes it course; it’s time to retreat and plan for a different refuge landscape.

Any action taken is a shot in the dark because policy makers will be making decisions based on science that is predicting events to occur decades in the future.

Several studies are ongoing, and I’m sure more will follow.

A glimpse of the future? Flooded Prime Hook Road.

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One Response to “Head inland young man”

  1. scotty Says:

    beach and dune replenishment will have no effect whatsoever defending the marshes from sea level rise. These marshes are already connected to the Delaware Bay by the Broadkill, Cedar Creek etc. and water levels in the marsh are already rising accordingly. The fact is, artificially building the beaches and dunes is the surest way to help sea level rise destroy the marshes. The material that overwashes from the bay into the marsh during storms is precisely how the marshes build up and keep pace with sea level rise.

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