Barrier islands are important and dynamic geographic features that are essential to both humans and natural ecosystems. Recently, they have been struggling to remain intact. In the past, barrier islands have stayed above water by having their sands shifted towards the mainland by ocean waves, where the elevation is higher. When people build on these islands, it blocks the natural flow of sand that keeps the island alive. On top of this, climate change has increased the rate of sea level rise, making it harder for the islands to compensate with their shifting sands, putting barrier islands at even greater risk. So, the barrier islands are in trouble, but why are they so important?
The answer is simple: the utility offered by these islands is irreplaceable. Just a few benefits that barrier islands provide are sanctuaries for shellfish, fish, and birds, wetlands that filter pollutants, food, and protection against storm surge. Additionally, if humans develop on these islands, there is a financial benefit that comes from tourism and fishing. Unfortunately, as mentioned earlier, while human development on barrier islands creates financial benefits, it detracts from ecological benefits. That is why it is critical to consider the environmental impacts of building on barrier islands in order to strike a balance between financial income and environmental preservation.
With the rise in the intensity and frequency of hurricanes and tropical storms over the past decades, it has become even more important to consider the preservation of barrier islands because of their role as a buffer against storms and erosion. When a major storm strikes the mainland, it can experience storm surge, which is a rise in sea level that results from the strong winds of the storm constantly pushing ocean water towards the mainland. If an area experiences storm surge, damaging floods can cause severe damage to life and property. Barrier islands can shield against the brunt of the winds and waves from the storm and shift in response to wave energy to stay alive to protect against other storms.
Of course, barrier islands can’t protect against all the energy from storms that are approaching the mainland, so coastal cities should always have infrastructure that can withstand flooding. However, having a first line of defense against dangerous hurricanes is unfailingly useful and preserving these islands is crucial for our coastal cities in the face of a changing climate.
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© 2018 Weather Forecaster Cole Bristow