Increased tidal flooding, beach erosion and aging sea barriers are among the climate change concerns threatening a famous coastal destination in Massachusetts, according to a report released Thursday by a leading conservation group in the state.
The "State of the Coast" report by The Trustees focuses on the threat of rising sea levels and powerful storm surges on the state's North Shore, which is home to the major fishing port of Gloucester as well as Salem, the site of the notorious colonial-era witch trials.
The organization, considered the largest private coastal landowner and conservation organization in the state, said it hopes the report helps local officials and property owners identify critically threatened areas, prioritize investments and learn from resiliency and mitigation work already underway in the region.
"North Shore communities, leaders, and coastal landowners can no longer postpone climate-facing emergency planning and decision making," Tom O'Shea, The Trustees' director of coast and natural resources, said in a statement. "Time is running out to take actions that will protect our coast."
The report said the region has more than 50 miles of seawalls and other hard coastal barriers that would cost more than $88 million to repair, but aren't adequate for the risks posed by climate change.
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It also estimates more than 600 North Shore buildings could experience daily tidal flooding by 2030 and as many as 3,100 by 2070. The most severe storms could put some $100 billion worth of coastal real estate in Essex County at risk, according to the report, which incorporates publicly available data, independent research and reports from other organizations and agencies.
The organization calls for more "sustainable and adaptive approaches" for the challenges ahead, including a "regional land protection strategy" to reduce the impact from coastal development.
The report also estimates some 400 acres of the Great Marsh, which is considered New England's largest salt marsh, could be lost by 2070 without remediation efforts. That could lead to habitat loss for plants and wildlife, weaken shoreline resistance to waves and endanger homes, businesses and roads, the report said.
Some of the region's most popular beaches have seen a dramatic loss in shoreline over the decades as well, according to the organization. Crane Beach in Ipswich, which is owned by the Trustees, has lost the equivalent of 84 football fields of sand since the 1950s because of erosion, the report said.
The organization said expanding efforts to restore beaches and sand dunes, which has been done in a number of North Shore communities, is one short term solution. It also said it is working with Ipswich officials to raise the height of the road leading to Crane Beach in order to preserve public access, among other resiliency efforts.
Massachusetts Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr, a Gloucester Republican, called the report a "comprehensive and thoughtful assessment" backed by "real-world data and scientific analysis." He said in a statement that it underscores the need for collaborative and proactive solutions.
National studies have also highlighted the climate change threats facing the region, which stretches from north of Boston up the Atlantic coast to New Hampshire.
Last year, a nationwide study by First Street Foundation singled out Salisbury as the community in Massachusetts where climate change concerns are most impacting property values. The New York-based nonprofit suggested coastal homes in the popular beach community would be worth $200,000 to $300,000 more if not for more frequent tidal flooding and increasingly damaging coastal storms.
The Trustees said it plans to release a report annually for the next four years examining a different Massachusetts coastal region in order to highlight the threat and possible solutions to climate change impacts.
The report released Thursday covers 13 North Shore communities: Swampscott, Marblehead, Salem, Beverly, Manchester-by-the-Sea, Rockport, Gloucester, Essex, Ipswich, Newbury, Rowley, Newburyport, and Salisbury.