Coastlines Recede Under Historic Lighthouses

Coastlines Recede Under Historic Lighthouses

The historic lighthouses of Massachusetts are facing the reality of sea level rise and erosion. Many have been a part of the US coastal landscape for hundreds of years, like Boston Light, which is over 300 years old. There are 700+ beacons across the US coastline, and they are essential navigational aids that help bring ships to shore. Now, a number are at risk.

Moving some of these lighthouses for preservation is a costly option currently underway. Already, the 160-year-old lighthouse on the tip of Martha’s Vineyard, Gay Head Light, was relocated 130 feet inland, away from the eroding cliff on which it sat. The price to move all 450 tons of the structure was $3 million. There are plans to move another six up and down the east coast.

ABC: Climate change putting beloved New England lighthouses at risk, April 24, 2022.

Why This Matters

Over the next 30 years, sea levels on the US coast will rise by a foot on average, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). The effects of this are already being seen throughout the world: San Francisco is sinking, Mumbai received over 3 meters of rainfall over a four-month period, and Venice could see as much as four feet of sea level rise, possibly submerging the already-sinking city.

But the problem is two-fold. Coastal waters are rising as coastlines recede from erosion due to more frequent and intense storms. Earlier this year, the UK's Environment Agency projected that about 7,000 coastal properties will be lost to erosion.

CNN: 'Mind boggling' | See how rising sea levels will affect the coasts, February 17, 2022.

ITV News: UK not prepared for coastal erosion, September 24, 2021.

Protecting America's Lighthouses

While some lighthouses are being relocated, many may be impossible to move. Other preservation strategies include shoring up the area around the lighthouses to make sure they stay above water. For example, the seaside Massachusetts town of Scituate is reinforcing the jetty that houses the Scituate Light, the 11th oldest lighthouse in America.

Film producer Liz Witham, who is now finishing a documentary about the relocation of Gay Head Light, emphasized the importance of these lighthouses to WCVB: "When you lose that history, you lose a part of yourself. As we move forward, where we build and how we take care of the things we love and care about."

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Guardian: Climate change is making floods worse - here's how, October 19, 2021.