August 28, 2012
Contact: Ken or Kate Gooderham, ASBPA executive directors -- (239) 489-2616
Harry Simmons, ASBPA president -- (910) 200-7867
Let nature take its course?
Anyone who works in the coastal field – or, frankly, in any endeavor touched by the vagaries of natural disaster – has heard this phrase more often than they could count: Why should we take any action to restore this beach? Nature always wins, we should just let nature take its course.”
Let’s put aside for a moment why that’s not always a sound policy along the coast and consider the ramifications if we accepted that tenet in the face of any natural disaster … or even a simple natural process.
A hurricane inundates your coastal city? That’s only nature taking its course, so don’t rebuild those building or replace that infrastructure… in fact, just start moving people away from the coast altogether.
A tornado wipes your town off the map? That’s what you get for living in Tornado Alley. Don’t rebuild – relocate!
A blizzard brings an entire region to a frozen halt, stopping traffic and downing power lines? That’s what you get for living where it’s cold… so move south!
A drought turns your farmland to dust and your rivers to dry beds? That’s what you get for living where it’s dry… so move away.
A flood inundates your riverfront town and thousands of acres downstream? Well, you knew all that snow would melt or all that rain would fall… so why do you live there?
A forest fire threatens your homes and businesses? Well, forests need to burn to clear out the underbrush, and lightning is a natural fire starter, after all. So you’d better not rebuild there, either.
You get the point. If we let nature “take its course” at will, there’s always some place that’s too hot, too cold, too wet, too dry, too stormy or too something. Where are we all supposed to live where nature won’t take its course?
Going back to the coastal environment, what happens when we let nature take its course? For now, let’s put aside the issue of infrastructure and property protection… that deserves its own article, frankly.
Your beach is eroding, and you (individually and collectively) decide to do nothing. What’s the impact of letting nature take its course here?
Well, you’ll have less beach as the sand slides offshore or downstream. If people come to the beach, they’ll have less space to recreate. Less space also affects those critters who rely on the beach to nest or rest… turtles and birds, to start. Hope there’s another beach nearby with enough room to accommodate them.
That sand that’s gone from your beach… it may have gone away, but it isn’t gone. It’s just somewhere other than on your dry beach. Maybe it’s offshore in a growing sand bar… or drawn further out to cover up some hard bottom or reef area for a while. Perhaps it was pushed down the beach to replace sand that eroded there. Near an inlet? Then it could be shoaling either inside or outside that pass, where the meandering channel either becomes a navigational nightmare for boaters or pushes the sand out of the active beach system altogether.
Speaking of boaters, there’s a recreational impact to “letting nature take its course.” Boat channels move, surf breaks can break down, swimming conditions can become more limited (changing offshore bars) or more hazardous (if rip currents result). Favorite fishing spots can lose their allure when shifting sands cover up habitat. A lot of this can be temporary, but permanent change can (and does) occur.
Often, when you hear the phrase “let nature take its course,” what the speaker really means is: “You have to live with nature’s consequences… but don’t make me live by the same rules. Let’s use the excuse of harmful natural action (of a lesser or greater magnitude) to undo a human activity I don’t happen to agree with.”
Because if they really thought that we should always take its course, then they want us to stand idly by in the face of any natural activity (disastrous or otherwise) --not react or rebuild, but simply retreat. But, in face of every hurricane, tornado, blizzard, drought or flood… where do we retreat to where nature won’t take its course?
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ABOUT ASBPA: Founded in 1926, the ASBPA promotes the integration of science, policies and actions that maintain, protect and enhance the coasts of America. For more information on ASBPA, go to www.asbpa.org, facebook or www.twitter.com/asbpa.