Report Warns Flooding Will Change Massachusetts South Coast By 2050 - The Fisherman

Report Warns Flooding Will Change Massachusetts South Coast By 2050

A new report from non-profit Trustees of Reservations warns that the Massachusetts shore is likely to look a lot different by the year 2050. Sea level rise is expected to cause new flooding in many South Coast communities. These warnings come with dark implications that will affect landowners, inshore ecosystems, historic sites, commercial fishing, recreational fishing and more.

According to their report, the latest of several reports issuing similar warnings across Massachusetts from the North Shore, Cape Cod and the state’s many islands, median high tides are expected to increase by 2.6 feet across the region by 2050 and may eclipse 4 feet by 2070! Their most recent report looks at the coastline from Buzzards Bay to Somerset, communities that share a shoreline with Buzzards Bay or Narragansett Bay. In addition to rising tides, the Trustees predict that the South Coast will see an increase in coastal storms and, as sea temps continue to rise, the storms will become more intense as well.

The 44-page report predicts that the Commonwealth towns that are most at risk are Wareham, Bourne, Marion and Mattapoisett. “As storms enter the bay, a ‘funnel’ effect forces more water up through the Bay and into low-lying neighborhoods and town centers,” the report explained. Over 10,000 buildings would be flooded if the region were hit by a major storm, and more than half of them would be in Wareham and Bourne! The report went on to explain that if a major hurricane were to hit Wareham in 2050, nearly 30% of the building in town would be overtaken by water.

But even day-to-day life in these shore-side towns would be changed forever if the report’s prediction prove true. New Bedford built a very effective hurricane barrier during the 1960s and it has proven itself very effective. The function of the barrier is to keep water levels in New Bedford below a certain level to protect their fishing fleet and harbor-side homes and businesses. But with a mean increase in high-tide levels, the New Bedford hurricane barrier will certainly need to be closed more often and some predict it could even need to be closed as often as twice a day. By comparison, the barrier has been closed fewer than 30 times since 2019. And towns that abut open ocean, like Westport and Dartmouth, will be subject to even greater land loss due to erosion, home devastation from wave energy and potential damage and inundation to roads and bridges as well.

Sea level rise also endangers the inshore ecosystems that serve as nursery grounds for many species of fish, support untold numbers of shellfish and protect nearshore properties from flooding. They also play a key role in curbing the advancement of climate change through a process called carbon sequestration; which basically means the plant life in the marsh captures atmospheric carbon dioxide and stores it, as carbon, in ‘carbon sinks’ beneath the marsh. The report forecasts a 23% loss of marsh habitat by 2050, which is the fastest loss prediction in the Commonwealth. Further, more erosion, more sea water encroachment and marsh loss will contribute to a decline in water quality throughout the region—this comes with devastating implications for fish, shellfish and woodland animals that call the South Coast home.

This leaves many South Coast residents with more questions than answers and, for those living along the immediate coast or in areas more prone to flooding, retreat may be their only option.