A Look at the Beauty of — and Dangers Facing — America’s Coasts

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Photos from the various sites chosen for the NOAA’s coastal resiliency grants.

By Jared Keller

On Wednesday, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced $8 million in grants for a slate of new “resiliency projects” in 11 sites across the United States.

The NOAA projects seem like regular conservation work — repairing coral reefs, marshes, floodplains, and whatnot — but they’re actually designed to protect coastal communities from the ravages of Mother Nature. In an era where superstorms like Hurricane Sandy seem increasingly common, major cities like New York are already investing in “chief resilience officers” to prepare for decades of gradual, grinding punishment wrought by climate change, but it’s smaller communities that are also at risk of ecological (and economic) losses — or worse.

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A marsh creation project stands near deteriorating wetlands on August 25th, 2015, in Plaquemines Parish, Louisiana. (Photo: Mario Tama/Getty Images)

For the NOAA, restoring that vital “natural infrastructure” is the first line of defense. “Americans who live on the coast face enormous risks when Mother Nature strikes; however, it is natural infrastructure — wetlands, marshes, floodplains, and coral reefs — that often serve as our best defense,” said NOAA Fisheries administrator Eileen Sobeck. “The selected projects will restore our natural barriers and help keep people, communities, and businesses safe.”

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Sout San Francisco Bay in 2006. (Photo: Ah Zut/Flickr)

More than half of the projects will focus on restoring floodplains, marshes, and wetlands in four states. One group, Ducks Unlimited, was awarded $1.5 million to transform more than 700 acres of old salt ponds at the southern tip of San Francisco Bay (a longtime focus of conservation efforts) into marshland meant to prevent flooding from ongoing sea-level rise. Another, the Redwood Community Action Agency, received just over $1 million for efforts to reduce flooding on critical agricultural tracts.

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A school of manini fish pass over a coral reef at Hanauma Bay on January 15th, 2005, in Honolulu, Hawaii. (Photo: Donald Miralle/Getty Images)

Two projects in Florida and Hawaii will seek to restore coastal reef formations that play a critical role in deflecting waves and debris from storm systems and sustaining “economically important fisheries.” The remaining three projects will remove man-made dams and restore crucial animal habitats. The latter are in line with the agency’s ongoing habitat restoration efforts.

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Waves break in front of a destroyed amusement park wrecked by Hurricane Sandy on October 31st, 2012, in Seaside Heights, New Jersey. (Photo: Mario Tama/Getty Images)

Sadly, it’s more than likely these may be the last of the NOAA’s noble efforts to experiment with urban and rural resiliency strategies. According to Climate Central, the Department of the Interior’s resiliency programs currently include $200 million “to help communities such as those damaged by Hurricane Sandy to shore themselves against extreme weather, sea level rise and other impacts of climate change.”

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Ryan Zinke arrives at Trump Tower on December 12th, 2016, in New York City. (Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

While President-elect Donald Trump’s pick for Interior, Montana Representative Ryan Zinke, has a relatively strong record on conservation issues (despite his controversial record on fossil fuel extraction), it’s likely he’ll be deployed by Trump to make good on his promise of an oil and gas boom. Don’t expect members of the Trump White House to pay close attention to abstract resiliency proposals, even if they are essential — especially with a cabinet so allergic to the mere notion of climate change.

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