Against the Tide: The Battle for America's Beaches

Against the Tide: The Battle for America's Beaches

Against the Tide: The Battle for America's Beaches

Against the Tide: The Battle for America's Beaches


Americans love to colonize their beaches. But when storms threaten, high-ticket beachfront construction invariably takes precedence over coastal environmental concerns -- we rescue the buildings, not the beaches. As Cornelia Dean explains in Against the Tide, this pattern is leading to the rapid destruction of our coast. But her eloquent account also offers sound advice for salvaging the stretches of pristine American shore that remain. The story begins with the tale of the devastating hurricane that struck Galveston, Texas, in 1900 -- the deadliest natural disaster in American history, which killed some six thousand people. Misguided residents constructed a wall to prevent another tragedy, but the barrier ruined the beach and ultimately destroyed the town's booming resort business. From harrowing accounts of natural disasters to lucid ecological explanations of natural coastal processes, from reports of human interference and construction on the shore to clear-eyed elucidation of public policy and conservation interests, this book illustrates in rich detail the conflicting interests, short-term responses, and long-range imperatives that have been the hallmarks of America's love affair with her coast. Intriguing observations about America's beaches, past and present, include discussions of Hurricane Andrew's assault on the Gulf Coast, the 1962 northeaster that ravaged one thousand miles of the Atlantic shore, the beleaguered beaches of New Jersey and North Carolina's rapidly vanishing Outer Banks, and the sand-starved coast of southern California. Dean provides dozens of examples of human attempts to tame the ocean -- as well as a wealth of lucid descriptions of the ocean's counterattack. Readers will appreciate Against the Tide's painless course in coastal processes and new perspective on the beach.


Almost twenty years ago, I fell in love with a beach, a barrier island at the mouth of a small river, on the coast of southern New England. the island lay between the crowded villages of Cape Cod and the glitz of Newport, but somehow development had passed it by.

A friend introduced me to this beach one summer day. Ignoring the state beach concession area and a town parking lot, we drove into a boatyard that occupied a patch of dry ground on the island's marshy back side. We made our way through the yard, past wooden skiffs and the occasional sloop, hauled out and lying in wooden cradles. in the water, catboats nodded at their moorings; grimy working boats were tied up at a fishing pier. We parked at the back of the yard, behind the gray plank dry dock sheds, and set out along a narrow sandy path. To the left, dunes rose behind the stunted pines and scrub oak. On the right, undulating marsh grass spread like a carpet toward the estuary glimmering in the sun. Poison ivy snatched at our bare ankles, and mosquitoes and greenflies dived at us as we struggled in the deepening sand. But when the trail finally rose to cross the dunes, we had our reward: a secluded stretch of beach where the sand was clean and soft, the air was filled with the tang of seaweed, and the water was so clear it was almost possible to count the grains of sand moving in languid currents along the bottom.

Over the years, I would learn the ways of this beach—the coming and going of the wave-tossed red seaweed, the changing currents that carried slipper shells on shore one week, quahog shells the next. One day, I saw hundreds of tiny hermit crabs, no longer than an inch or two, march in ranks around the end of the island into the marsh behind it, driven by some mysterious biological imperative.

Like all beaches, this beach was never exactly the same from one day to the next. the currents, the tides, the storms were constantly obliterating its features, only to re-create them in slightly different shapes. the . . .

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