Every summer, families from all along the East Coast head to the beach. Quite a number make their way to New Jersey’s stretches of sand and surf. This is where they’ll spend their hard-earned dollars to buoy up coastal economies. This is where they’ll invest in experiences to a last a lifetime. I should know. I’ve lived in this great state for over 25 years and spent 10 years working for the American Littoral Society, a non-profit focused on coastal conservation.
Every summer, for many years without fail, my family would vacation along the New Jersey coast. Now I go with my children. But unlike the golden summers of my childhood, the Jersey shore they experience today is far more vulnerable.
Climate change is already impacting New Jersey. It will only get worse. All along the coast, municipalities are struggling to find ways to prepare for an increase in flooding and severe storm events. Most, if not all of them, are ill-equipped to find solutions on their own. Communities along the barrier islands of Ocean County face both ocean and back bay flooding. Residents struggle during major storms and even frequent nuisance flooding—moving cars to higher ground based on the tide, waiting out a storm and hoping you can overcome the damage, weighing the options between evacuations and battening down the hatches. These are decisions that weigh heavily on people’s minds.
Fortunately, many coastal communities including many where I live in Ocean County, NJ have had help. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has provided expertise, coordination and funding to help identify vulnerabilities and best options to become safer and more resilient.
In New Jersey, NOAA funding and expertise helps support the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection’s Coastal Management Program (which is part of NOAA’s National Coastal Management Program). The NJDEP’s Coastal Management Program works with multiple partners to assist towns that now experience frequent “nuisance flooding,” as well as those trying to plan for bigger problems that are looming on the horizon.
Working with a variety of public and private organizations, including the American Littoral Society, NJDEP has explored the immediate and secondary impacts of sea level rise and flooding. The department has helped communities identify threats and make better plans to rebound from the storms to come. It has fostered local conversations on risks and solutions, provided technical support and community education through Sea Grant New Jersey, Rutgers University and Jacques Cousteau National Estuarine Research Reserve among others.
I am extremely concerned that proposed budget cuts for NOAA would eliminate programs, grants, and research focused on coastal management, estuarine reserves and coastal resilience. All are essential to our ability areas to withstand the major storms and rising seas that will come with climate change.
Funding cuts will not only jeopardize the efforts of state government and non-governmental organizations to help coastal areas but also hinder sharing information and solutions across jurisdictional lines. Essentially, states and communities will have to deal with the future on their own.
Without NOAA, all this vital work will be considerably more difficult inside New Jersey and across other coastal states. This is why the cuts proposed by the Trump administration for the 2018 federal budget is hard to understand. The president’s spending plan would cripple NOAA and eliminate thousands of jobs by cutting funding by nearly $1 billion.
The bottom line
Assessing and preparing for the effects of rising sea level and a changing climate are critical for preserving the social, environmental, and economic value of shore communities all along the Atlantic and Pacific coasts. Our coastal communities are home to over 124 million people, support 53.6 million jobs, and contribute $7.6 trillion to the U.S. economy, accounting for 46 percent of the nation’s economic output. Congress should invest in New Jersey’s future by not gutting NOAA’s ability to serve the people at a time when so many of us are at risk of losing so much.
Helen Henderson is the Ocean Planning Manager at the American Littoral Society where she works on ocean planning, coastal programs and policy, sustainable development and resiliency, and improved stormwater practices for Barnegat Bay. Helen grew up on the south shore of Long Island, NY, and has been living at the Jersey Shore for over 25 years.