America's Threatened Coastlines

November 2, 1984

Report Outline
Living by the Sea
Coastal Management
Environmental Strains
Special Focus

Living by the Sea

Paying the Price for Getting Too Close

Living by the Sea is an ancient desire—and a modern hazard of growing proportions. Western civilization evolved on the shores of the Mediterranean Sea. Generations later and a continent away, Americans in increasing numbers are building homes, setting up businesses and vacationing along the nation's coasts. But not without paying a steep price in lives lost and property damaged.

Hurricanes in this century have killed over 13,000 people living in states along the Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic Ocean. Most died in storms that struck before 1940. Improved weather forecasting since then has provided coastal residents with advance warning. But property damage has become far costlier, as more and more development takes place on the beach. Although free of hurricanes. West Coast residents share with Easterners the menace of winter storms. High tides and pounding waves gouged out huge sections of California's scenic coastal Highway 1 in January 1983. Damage to coastal property exceeded half a billion dollars. From Cape Cod to the Carolinas, the same winter was also one of the worst on record.

Even without destructive storms, scientists believe that natural, relentless beach erosion eventually will endanger much of the development along the nation's coasts. Erosion averages two feet a year on the Atlantic Coast. Louisiana loses 40 square miles of its coastal marsh land to the Gulf of Mexico each year. On the West Coast, dams on California rivers have deprived the state's beaches of their main source of replacement sand, causing severe rates of beach erosion.

ISSUE TRACKER for Related Reports
Feb. 16, 2018  Rising Seas
Feb. 22, 2013  Coastal Development
Aug. 21, 1998  Coastal Development
Feb. 07, 1992  Threatened Coastlines
Nov. 02, 1984  America's Threatened Coastlines
Nov. 26, 1976  Coastal Zone Management
Feb. 25, 1970  Coastal Conservation
Wetlands, Everglades, and Coastal Areas