"This Long Island Tribe Is Dealing With the Impact of Climate Change"

"The Shinnecock are using nature-based solutions to save their ancestral lands from coastal erosion"

"Becky Genia has spent most of her 67 years on the Shinnecock Reservation, 800 acres on the far eastern side of Long Island’s Shinnecock Bay. Sandwiched between multimillion-dollar mansions and yacht clubs that serve as a playground for uber-rich New Yorkers, it may be hard to imagine a bigger threat to the tiny spit of land than encroaching development. But climate change looms even larger.

A little more than a decade ago, scientists projected that the Shinnecock Reservation would be underwater by 2050. This timeline has since moved up to reflect an accelerated change of pace. Climate models now predict that the peninsula where the reservation is situated will be underwater by 2040, with chronic floods of six feet or more by the end of the century. As sea levels have continued to rise over the years, Genia has watched storms increase in frequency and intensity, but Superstorm Sandy in 2012 is what sticks out the most. The storm devastated the peninsula, leaving its 3000-foot coastline barren and uneven. The beach turned into stagnant pools of water overrun by mosquitoes and other vectors of disease.

“Because of the winds and sea level rise, we were so flooded there were little creeks and streams everywhere,” Genia recalled. “The water came through the woods, and you could have taken a canoe from my door.”

Ultimately, Sandy turned out to be a boon for the tribe. With assistance from the US Geological Survey (USGS) and marine biologists from Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County, the tribe put together a proposal for a Hurricane Sandy relief grant. They ended up receiving a $3.8 million grant from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation’s Hurricane Sandy Coastal Resiliency Competitive Grant Program to rebuild the vanishing beach. Rather than erect seawalls or bulkheads that can lead to greater habitat loss and coastal erosion, the Shinnecock were determined to build a protective living shoreline that worked with nature instead of against it. It was the perfect opportunity to show how adapting to climate change can work in tandem with creating wildlife habitat while bolstering the community’s resilience to the effects of a warming world. "

Melba Newsome reports for Sierra magazine April 16, 2024.

Source: Sierra, 04/17/2024