The Puget Sound coastline along Seattle in Washington. Photo by Joel Rogers.
Video: Washington's coasts and sea-level rise

Climate change and our coasts

Strategies to address sea-level rise should protect the needs of nature and local communities

Washington’s coastline has called to its people for millennia. For many, like the Duwamish, Makah and Snoqualmie tribes, these gorgeous natural places provide a strong foundation of cultural and economic identity. Others are attracted to coasts’ rich natural resources, access to fresh seafood, recreation and job opportunities.

Our state’s 2,300+ miles of coastline sustain communities, livelihoods, recreation and diverse ecosystems. Though robust, our coasts are especially vulnerable to climate-change impacts, including flooding, sea-level rise, and increased erosion. Through the Conservancy’s Coastal Resilience initiative, ideas and perspectives from a variety of sectors and stakeholders are helping communities understand their vulnerabilities to climate-change hazards, reduce risks and evaluate nature’s ability to protect.

“I am a conservation scientist and if you had told me four years ago that my team would have more engineers and economists than ecologists, I would have laughed,” says Mike Beck, lead marine scientist for The Nature Conservancy. “But effective conservation requires more than just biology, and today these cross-cutting teams are essential to saving habitats.”

Strategies to address sea-level rise focus on solutions that harness nature’s innate resilience while addressing the needs of communities. These include working with communities on shoreline-development plans to prepare for changing coastlines. They also prioritize restoration of wetlands and seagrasses to protect shorelines, people and wildlife. Additionally, coastal concerns stretch back to rivers and floodplains throughout the watershed, and restoration must follow.

Our seas are rising, and they will continue to do so. Fortunately, nature has mastered adaptation through the millennia. If we can look to nature’s examples on our coastline, we can learn how to harness and empower its protective instincts to safeguard Washington’s communities, wildlife and our extraordinary shores.