Indianapolis Edition

Gary Griggs on What We Must Do to Save Our Coasts

While Gary Griggs has lived near the coast of California most of his life, visits to the coasts of 46 nations helped shape his latest book, Coasts in Crisis: A Global Challenge. The distinguished professor of Earth sciences at the University of California, Santa Cruz, writes on how coral reefs provide shelter, food and breeding grounds for about one-third of the world’s species of marine fish, as well as coastal protection from major weather events. Most coral reefs are now besieged by pollution, overfishing, sedimentation, coastal construction, tourism and global warming.

Approximately 3 billion people—nearly half our planet’s total population—live in coastal areas. He cites that hurricanes have caused more U.S. fatalities than any other natural hazard, and the driving forces behind rising sea levels will increase future vulnerabilities unless effective actions are taken now.

Griggs, who also wrote Introduction to California’s Beaches and Coast and Living with the Changing California Coast and co-wrote The Edge, today recaps the history and assesses the current status of coasts worldwide. He suggests ways in which current negative trends might be reversed or improved.

How can we better deal with rising sea levels?

There are now about 200 million people living within three feet of high tide. Both mitigation and adaptation will be required. We need to do everything possible to cut back on greenhouse gas emissions, but that’s not going to stop rising sea levels anytime soon. We need to start adapting right away.

We can elevate structures, but that’s limited. Historically, we’ve used armoring, including seawalls, levees and rock revetments, which work for awhile, but have endpoints. Ultimately, it’s going to take relocation, or what we call “planned retreat”, moving back when the sea nears our front yard. The more we reduce or mitigate the emission of greenhouse gases, the less adaptation will be needed to cope with climate change.  

Why are coral reefs so vital to the global ecosystem?

In the tropical latitudes, coral reef ecosystems have formed the basic biological, geological, economic and cultural framework of area coastlines and island nations for centuries. Today, fisheries and tourism anchor those economies. Millions of people depend on these local ecosystems for their protein supply.

About 50 percent of coral reefs are in poor or fair condition, and most are in decline. Whether from pollution, dredging, filling or overfishing, virtually all of those reefs are under significant threat.

Have researchers seen any overfished species rebound?

A 2013 report by the Natural Resources Defense Council found that about two-thirds of U.S. commercial fish species that had been seriously depleted had made significant recoveries—28 of 44 fish stocks, including Atlantic bluefish, flounder and black sea bass—primarily due to better management practices. We now have fisheries restrictions and marine-protected areas in place. To realize some long-term success, we need to limit fisheries in certain areas and for certain species.

California’s Monterey Bay Aquarium publishes a Seafood Watch Consumer Guide card specific to regions; it color codes which species are safe to eat and which ones no longer can provide a sustainable harvest, so we know which ones to ask for at grocers and restaurants.

What might mitigate the environmental impact of what you term “coastal megacities”?

Eight of the largest metropolitan areas worldwide—Shanghai, Mumbai, Karachi, Tokyo, Dhaka, Jakarta, New York/New Jersey and Los Angeles—are along shorelines. Coasts in Crisis looks at the hazards of hurricanes, cyclones, typhoons and tsunamis that their residents are exposed to—along with long-term sea level rise.

These incredible concentrations of people not only fish heavily, they discharge large volumes of waste and wastewater. You can’t put 10 million people on a shoreline and not expect impacts. We need to get all of these discharges cleaned up and under control. Shorelines are very delicate biological environments.

We also must get global population under control to make a much softer footprint on the planet. It would take four planet Earths to support the present global population if everyone indulged in America’s current consumption habits (FootprintNetwork.org).

Sustainability is what we must work toward, whether it’s food, water or energy. Currently, we’re mining the planet for all its resources, which can’t go on for much longer. We need to recognize this and return to equilibrium with what the planet can supply.


Freelance writer and editor Randy Kambic, in Estero, FL, is a frequent contributor to Natural Awakenings.


This article appears in the July 2018 issue of Natural Awakenings.

Edit ModuleShow Tags

More from Natural Awakenings

Eskenazi Health Joins with Indy Urban Acres to Open Local Farm

There’s a new acre-and-a-half farm on the north side of Indy, established by Eskenazi Health and Indy Urban Acres, to provide fresh, healthy options for area food pantries, and address food insecurity.

Letter from Publisher

This month we focus on wholesome nutrition, highlighting farmers rooted in health plus antiinflammatory diets filled with good-for-you foods. Most Natural Awakening readers are concerned with where our food comes from, how it’s grown and feeling it’s a healthy addition to our diet.

Farming for Life

All over the country people are picking up their rakes and shovels and becoming part of the movement to bring nutrient-dense local produce back into their communities.

Daylily Sale at Hamilton County Fairgrounds

The Hamilton County Master Gardener Association (HCMGA), the first of its kind in the state, has offered more than just gardening education since it was formed in 1985. The HCMGA promotes the art, science and pleasure of gardening in the community.

Studio Introduces New Form of Yoga to Community

The Yoga Trapeze has arrived in Metro Indy. Known to yogis worldwide as the ultimate inversion tool, 12 trapezes were introduced in mid-June at Peace Through Yoga’s Franklin studio.

Add your comment: