In Massachusetts, Coastal Residents Consider How To Adapt To Climate Change

Feb 17, 2017

Living by the ocean might sound nice, but in the era of climate change, it's a risky proposition.

As sea levels rise, coastal residents are faced with tough choices: try to fortify their homes, move to higher ground or just pull up roots and leave.

Homeowners in Nahant, Mass., are grappling with these wrenching questions. The community lies on a rocky crescent moon of land in the Atlantic Ocean just north of Boston.

For its entire history, it has been at the mercy of the ocean.

To get to the town back in the 1800s, you would cross a beautiful beach at low tide that connected it to the mainland. At high tide, you had to take a boat. These days, there's a four-lane road built on that beach, and it sits just a few feet above the water.

Climate scientists predict that devastation of these areas from storms will become more common. Higher seas mean even a less powerful storm could push the tides up over Nahant's seawalls.

That is a problem Sam Merrill spends his days grappling with. He works with a firm that helps communities protect themselves from storms.

"The unfortunate thing is what we're really facing in so many of these coastal areas is what you can rightly call an extinction threat — the extinction of a community," Merrill says. "We don't know how to deal with extinction. It's not really a conversation in our public sphere."

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