March 26, 2013
Coastal Population Explodes Even With A Surge In Intense Ocean Storms
Brett Smith for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online
Massive hurricanes like Sandy, Isaac and Katrina may cost the United States billions of dollars and thousands of lives, but apparently they don´t deter people from living near these storms´ hardest hit areas.
According to a new report from National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in conjunction with the US Census Bureau, Americans are flocking to the ocean in record numbers with almost 40 percent of the US population living in coastal counties.
"The real issue is the density, the density is growing enormously," NOAA editor Kristen Crossett told NBC News.
With coastal counties accounting for less than 10 percent of the US — more of the population is fitting into a relatively small area. These slivers of land are also the hardest hit by hurricanes as well as the storm surges that precede them.
The report adds that the population densities of coastal communities are only expected to increase. If the current trends continue, the American coastal population will hit 134 million in 2020, compared to 123 million in 2010.
These figures suggest that more resources will have to be committed in the future towards damage prevention, storm rescue, and recovery.
"The costs of natural disasters are increasing exponentially," Mike Beck, lead scientist with The Nature Conservancy's Global Marine Team, told NBC News, "and we, the rest of the U.S. public, are underwriting the risks for the people who live in those areas."
"That's why, for example, the national flood insurance protection program is in as deep as debt as it is,” he noted.
For the most part, the economic realities of these coastal communities are very similar to the rest of the country, according to the report. The only income group that it slightly overrepresented is: households making over $150,000. This means that additional resources may be needed to provide for the poorest citizens living in these areas and to take care of them in the event of a natural disaster.
"The land that is cheapest in coastal counties is the stuff that is most highest risk, that is regularly flooded," Beck said. "That is where we have our poorest populations."
NOAA officials said they expect the report to advise policymakers and non-profit organizations who are responsible for making decisions that affect these coastal counties.
“People who live near the shore, and managers of these coastal communities, should be aware of how this population growth may affect their coastal areas over time,” said Holly Bamford, assistant NOAA administrator for the National Ocean Service, in a statement. “As more people move to the coast, county managers will see a dual challenge -- protecting a growing population from coastal hazards, as well as protecting coastal ecosystems from a growing population.”
For example, the Nature Conservancy could reference the report in advocating for the protection of coastal wetlands from future housing and business developments.
"You might say people love the coast almost too much," Beck said, but "we can reduce risk to people and property and our overall national budget by building more sensibly."