Shared from the 1/31/2019 Southampton Press - Eastern Edition eEdition


A Bird’s-Eye View Of The Coastline’s Challenges


Montauk’s developed ocean shoreline poses one of many planning challenges on the East End. MIKE BOTTINI

On Wednesday, January 23, LightHawk volunteer and pilot Joe Fischetti of Southold briefed his three passengers—myself, representing the Surfrider Foundation, along with Peconic Baykeeper Pete Topping, and another journalist from the North Fork—before taking off from Gabreski Airport in his four-seater Beechcraft plane, for a bird’s-eye view of a “King Tide” event on the East End.

The King Tide is one of the two highest tides predicted for a region in a year, the net result of the increased gravitational pull of the sun, moon and earth, caused by their closer proximity in their elliptical orbits.

The plan was to follow the Atlantic shoreline eastward to Montauk Point, then fly over various low-lying, floodprone areas in the Peconic Estuary, including Lazy Point, Gerard Drive, Sag Harbor, Orient, Greenport and North Sea. Flooding would be documented by photographs taken from the plane flying at an elevation of 1,000 feet and a speed of 130 to 150 knots.

LightHawk is an environmental organization with a unique environmental motto: “We fly to save the earth.” Their belief is that “seeing our world from above causes people to care about what they witness from the air and stirs them into action when they return to the ground,” a slight spin on the notion that a picture is worth a thousand words. One of their first successes was based on photos and videos of clearcut logging operations in the West in the 1980s that stirred many environmentalists, politicians and citizens into action.

From one pilot and a borrowed plan in 1979, LightHawk has grown to include more than 200 volunteer pilots across the country. Here on the East End, LightHawk has been involved in helping scientists document the extent of harmful algal blooms, survey and map eelgrass beds, census islands containing heron rookies, and inventory marine mammals to develop regional ocean management plans.

One of its current campaigns is to assist Surfrider Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to the protection of clean water and healthy beaches, in raising awareness about climate change and sea level rise among the media, decision-makers and the general public.

To that end, 20 flights took place in coastal areas on Pacific and Atlantic coasts last week during the King Tide to photograph the flooding challenges facing communities.

Among the variables that determine unusually high tide events—the position of the moon and sun relative to earth, and wind and storm surgethe latter two did not cooperate. Unlike the astronomical data, which can be found on tide tables and used to predict the times of high and low tides well in advance of any particular date, wind and storm surge often trump those predictions.

Printed in bold on one of the websites posting the times of low and high tides is the warning: “Remember that weather conditions affect tidal ranges and current speeds, sometimes very strongly.”

Still, even without the extreme high tides predicted, the aerial view of our developed coastline seemed dire, with many structures perched on low-lying ground very close to the high tide line.

Sea level rise by 2100—calculated by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to be 1.6 feet in the best case of five projected scenarios, and 8 feet in the worst—is the result of a combination of two factors: the expansion of ocean waters as they warm, and the melting of polar ice caps.

A recent article in Science states that the oceans are warming 40 percent faster on average than estimated five years ago. And with regard to melting ice caps, scientists have determined that Antarctica is melting six times faster now than it was in the 1980s. Surfrider Foundation’s State of the Beach Report found that nearly 75 percent of coastal states are not prepared for future sea level rise.

According to Surfrider Foundation’s press release: “The collaborative flights provide local communities with information about where and how to implement adaptation strategies. These include potentially relocating vulnerable infrastructure, improving building codes, increasing zoning setbacks from the coast, installing green infrastructure, and implementing ‘living shorelines’ to act as a buffer against sea level rise and help prevent coastal erosion.”

“Better understanding of what future sea level rise might look like for coastal communities is imperative,” said Surfrider’s coastal preservation manager, Stefanie Sekich-Quinn. “Over the next 30 years, nearly 300,000 homes and commercial properties in the United States, valued at over $136 billion, will be vulnerable to sea level rise. Unfortunately, more than half of coastal states nationwide have continued to build in risky, flood-prone areas over the past decade.

“We are hopeful our King Tide flights will inspire decision-makers and local communities to improve coastal management in light of future climate change impacts.”  

Sekich-Quinn also pointed out that while adaptation strategies come with a cost, so does the “do-nothing” option. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Sandy left a $65 billion tab. And a recent report by the National Institute of Building Sciences found that every $1 spent now on reducing risk from disasters saves $6 in damages later.

In addition to being a member

of the Surfrider Foundation,

Mike Bottini is the outdoors

columnist for The Press.

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