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King Tides in 2019 - An Aerial Tour

A few weeks ago, thanks to our partners at Lighthawk, Surfrider was able to document the king tides from the air and show what our coast will look like in the near future due to sea level rise. California’s 19 coastal counties make up only 22 percent of the state, but those 19 counties are home to 68 percent of our population, 80 percent of the state’s wages, and 80 percent of its GDP. So how the state prepares for sea level rise is, to put it mildly, significant.

In most of the areas, the king tide averaged a foot or so higher than normal. The ocean, however, is expected to keep on rising beyond that point  – and doing so faster than initially predicted. Just last year, multiple reports again reinforced the urgency of making changes to stave off disaster – and to adapt to the impacts already happening. Truth is, many of our beaches are likely already doomed. To save what we can, adaptation and mitigation are essential.

Those efforts can include
such measures as retrofitting roads and buildings, relocating vulnerable
infrastructure, improving building codes, increasing zoning setbacks from the
coast, installing green infrastructure and implementing ‘living shorelines.’ 

Take a tour with us. Here’s what our coast looked like a few weeks ago:

We’re starting in the southern end of the state, at Fletcher Cove in Solana Beach. Fletcher Cove is typically a popular beach destination for families, but as you can see the beach was completely flooded by the high tide. Remember, while unusual now, this is what normal will be soon.

A similar situation exists in Del Mar...

And in Encinitas…

Moving up to Capistrano Beach in South Orange County, where the legality of much of this armoring is in question. (Photo by Mark Rightmire/OC Register)

Here’s Malibu.

and the Malibu Lagoon – such a riveting intersection of nature and history and modern uses there – 

Here’s Port Hueneme. They’re planning an expansion, so it’ll be interesting to see how SLR is factored in –

Ventura getting hard hit here and, as you can see, revetments and seawalls galore – this is probably a good time to point out that waves are dependent on having beaches to interact with, so along with our beaches, an unfathomable number of surf spots, iconic and otherwise, are at risk.

Jumping up to Santa Cruz, this is the Opal Cliffs/Pleasure Point area, just south of Rockview Drive.

Pacifica, just a ways up the coast and a community already feeling the impacts of coastal erosion – 

Jumping up to California Policy Manager, Jennifer Savage's neck of the woods, that highway bisecting the photo is 101 and you can see those farmlands are already inundated with the high tides and storm surges.

And finally, we’ll end at Humboldt Bay, where highway 255 crosses over the Mad River Slough, connecting the Samoa peninsula to the city of Arcata – as you can see, the highway is at significant risk of flooding. You can also see the Lamphere Dunes in the distance, illustrating how restored dunes and wetlands can serve as a natural buffer to sea level rise.

Clearly it’s imperative that the California Coastal Commission and other state agencies require coastal communities to double down on proactively planning for sea level rise. Indeed, the Coastal Commission must stop the trend of allowing seawalls through emergency permits when the emergency has been so clearly illustrated in advance – no one should be surprised by high tides, storm surges or coastal erosion at this point. The armoring of our coast must stop. To not hold decisionmakers and coastal property owners accountable for the future is destroying our beaches, undermining our coastal economy and creating a California where the simple joy of digging your toes in the sand or taking a walk along the beach will be a lot harder to make happen because beaches will be a thing of the past. Which is so impossible to imagine – except – it’s not.

Watch Jennifer Savage present this information to the California Coastal Commission at the February 2019 hearing, here. For a national overview, check out our King Tides: Our Future Sea post by Stefanie Sekich-Quinn.