When will the Outer Banks be underwater? Save the coast

Communities on the Outer Banks are taking steps to replace rapidly eroding beaches.

NORTH CAROLINA, USA – The soothing roar of ocean waves along the Outer Banks has attracted families here for generations.

“All my kids grew up on these beaches, my mom used to come with my grandmother, us and my great-aunt,” said Pam McFaden, of Virginia.

Times have changed for McFaden, but returning here releases a flood of memories.

“I’m still here,” McFaden expressed. “They’re on my mind here. They’ve been missing for years, but they’re still here.”

The Outer Banks are evolving as much as the lives of their visitors. The biggest change? They are shrinking.

Scientists say sea level rise is a major contributing factor.

“We are seeing a current rate of sea level rise of about 4 to 4.5 millimeters per year,” said Reide Corbett, executive director of the Coastal Studies Institute and Dean of Integrated Coastal Programs at East Carolina University.

It doesn’t seem like much, but it is, when you look at the big picture, according to Corbett.

“We have basically seen a one foot sea level rise over the last century and we expect a one foot sea level rise over the next 30 years,” Corbett explained.

Corbett said it’s a worrying problem for the Outer Banks as much of the area is only 10 feet above sea level or less.

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“If you raise sea level by a foot, you could flood a very large area of ​​the North Carolina coast,” Corbett said.

An increase in beach erosion is the other contraction factor.

“It has been erosive in the past, but it hasn’t had erosion rates as high as it has been in the past 5 or 10 years,” Corbett said. “The erosion rate in that area has increased.”

The data showed that some beaches on the Outer Banks are eroding at a rate of 10-15 feet per year.

Dare County Commissioner Danny Couch knows the risks associated with beach erosion.

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“Our beaches are the economy,” Couch said. “You better get on it or it’ll be on top of you.”

Couch represents Avon Beach, an area of ​​the Outer Banks that was in dire need of attention.

“The ocean was bathing the dunes,” Couch said. “The ocean was literally dragging the sand from the dunes into the surf zone.”

“We were starting to lose a lot of business because this is a prime location for parking to go to the beach,” said Keith Matthews, who has worked at Avon Pier for 32 years.

“There used to be 3 rows of dunes here and all that’s gone and it’s just this line now,” Matthews said. “She was walking down the driveway and into the parking lot.”

During the summer, the beach has undergone what is called the beach nourishment. The idea is simple: use giant pipes to extract sand from the ocean to create a new beach. It is effective but it is not cheap.

“We had a more than $ 20 million nourishment project here,” Couch said.

The high price paid only two and a half miles of new beach, but county leaders have said it’s worth getting tourists back.

The state’s first beach nourishment occurred 45 miles up the coast at Nags Head.

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“This beach has been fed; it will be the third time,” said Bobby Outten, manager of Dare County.

He was in office during the first nourishment in 2010. Since then, they have used the tax increase to pay for similar refurbishments up and down the coast.

Once you start, you can’t stop. The leaders said you have to redo the beach at least every five years.

The technique was also used to protect Highway 12, the only road running along the Outer Banks.

“We had to do something, the DOT wasn’t going to do it, so at Buxton we did it to protect Highway 12 and access to points to the south,” Outten said.

Parts of the 12 were in such constant danger that they built bridges around the highway.

“I would expect that over time there would be more bridges to bypass hotspots,” Outten said.

Even today it is evident that the works for the protection of Highway 12 are in progress.

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The same can be said for Rodanthe, which experts say has some of the highest erosion rates on the east coast. The problem there drew national attention in May when a house collapsed into the ocean.

Dozens of houses in Rodanthe remain at risk. They are exposed to the powerful waves and experts say it is only a matter of time before they too collapse.

But there are efforts to save them.

“We’re moving some homes away from the waterfront,” Couch said, referring to some homes being moved 45 feet inland to survive perhaps another 15 years, but ultimately delaying the inevitable.

“It’s not a good look for a national coast. It’s not a good look for an economy for that kind of stuff to fall into the ocean,” Couch said.

County leaders admit nourishment isn’t the perfect solution, but it works for now.

Visitors and locals alike appreciate the effort.

“It cost a lot of money, but we were also losing a lot of money, so we had to have it,” Matthews said. “There was no way around it. We had to have it.”

“It’s so nice that we still have the beach which I think is a good thing,” McFaden said.

“It’s expensive but worth it,” explained McFaden.

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