PODCAST: As rising seas change coastlines, officials say the only way forward is to adapt
HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Rising seas mean changing coastlines.
The state says sea levels are rising faster — at a rate of about 1 inch every four years.
While an inch may not seem like much, it can add up. Scientists project that Hawaii could see at least 6 to 8 inches of sea level rise by 2050, but they warn the number could be much higher.
This can have dire impact on infrastructure and communities.
Chronic flooding will lead to an additional 25,800 acres of land becoming unusable and 6,500 structures are projected to be at risk due to sea level rise, according to the state.
In addition, about 38 miles of major roads, 550 cultural sites and at least $19 billion in assets are vulnerable.
Alexander Yee is the city’s Coastal and Water Program Manager. He recently sat down with HNN in the sixth episode of “Repairing Earth” and said the problem is widespread.
“It’s all over the island. It impacts everything from Waikiki and town to east Honolulu. It’s literally all parts of the island and on all islands,” Yee said.
So far, the state reports that 13 miles of beaches across the state are already gone, which includes 10% of Oahu’s beaches. Furthermore, 70% of beaches around the state are currently threatened by coastal erosion.
As the impacts of sea level rise become imminent, the city has already set parameters for new construction.
For example, anything that is built on Oahu must take into account 3.2 feet of sea level rise.
But Yee believes the threshold should actually be much higher.
“Sea level rise is happening faster than we thought. So even in considering these numbers, I think it’s important to recognize that they’re probably baselines,” Yee explained.
“We shouldn’t think that just because we’re safe from 3.2 feet or because we think that it’s not going to happen until 2100, that we’re safe. I think it’s important to just be proactive and to be flexible.”
The impacts of sea level rise are already being seen.
Earlier this year, a home on Oahu’s North Shore collapsed into the ocean after waves ate away at the coastline for years.
The city has even had to remove infrastructure at various beaches across the island due to coastal erosion.
Showers have been taken out at Mauna Lahilahi Beach Park in Waianae, road supports removed from Kualoa Beach Park, a lifeguard tower at Queen’s Beach in Waikiki and sea walls and a comfort station at Haleiwa Beach Park.
And while it’s impossible to stop nature, the only way to prepare for the future is to adapt.
That’s why the city has already begun equipping lifeguard towers with skis in the chance that they could potentially become inundated in some areas.
Furthermore, community groups across the islands are also working on their own mitigation efforts and research to prepare for coastlines being eaten away by the tide.
This includes a group of Waianae High School students who are gathering data on how the beach is affecting Farrington Highway.
“I would argue that in Hawaii, nobody wants to see the loss of all of our beaches, not just because they are so important to our way of life, not just because they contain critical habitat for native species, but because they are our public trust,” Yee said.
“The decisions that we make now determine whether or not we have beaches for our kids and their keiki. And that’s something that I want to do everything that I can to make sure we have.”
Click here to listen to more of the Repairing Earth podcast
For more on the conversation, listen to Episode 6 of Repairing Earth, “Episode 6: Adapting to a More Inundated Future,” on the HNN website or anywhere you get your podcasts.
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