University of Delaware
delware environmental institute

Al Jazeera America: Flat and sinking, Delaware's coast battered by rising seas

Emerging from the forests and wetlands that border Delaware Bay, Bennett’s Pier Road comes to an abrupt and dramatic halt. Heading northeast toward the shore, the road gives way first to sand, then to sea. Fractured slabs like stepping-stones mark a broken path to the shoreline before disappearing beneath the encroaching waves.

The farthest reach of the road is now underwater. The broken pieces that remain are a stark reminder that Delaware’s coastline is fighting — and in many places losing — a battle with the sea.

Kate Hackett, the director of Delaware Wild Lands, a private nonprofit conservation organization, went there eight years ago, as part of a Nature Conservancy initiative to monitor the state’s famed horseshoe crab aggregations. “We came out here, to this very spot,” she said. “The dunes were probably 20 feet high, all along here, this beautiful coastal dune system, and it’s all gone now.”

A few miles south of Bennett’s Pier, the handful of residents that live on Big Stone Beach find themselves ever closer to the shore. Some homes, although elevated, now sit below the high tide line, which is fast approaching other houses on this stretch of the beach. One home on the southernmost end of the row was destroyed during Hurricane Sandy. The house next to it, closest to the shoreline, could be on increasingly uncertain ground as beach erosion continues.

Delaware, like other states on the mid-Atlantic coast, is on the front line of climate change in the U.S. Low-lying, flat and, since the loss of the last ice sheets, sinking, Delaware is vulnerable; its residents face a potent combination of rising seas, higher tides and more frequent storms that will erode and inundate the coastline.