You don’t have to travel far from the sprawling convention center that’s staging the UN climate talks in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, to see what’s at stake. This coastal resort town is fringed by an ecosystem seemingly facing worldwide cataclysm from global heating – coral reefs.
As negotiators haggle over an agreement that may or may not maintain a goal to restrain global temperature rise to 1.5C above pre-industrial levels, the nearby corals face a more brutally unyielding scenario.
Even if the 1.5C limit is kept, more than 90% of worldwide reefs will be destroyed by severe aquatic heatwaves with the more likely temperature increase of 2C, meaning all coral formations will face their doom. We face the “stark reality that there is no safe limit of global warming for coral reefs” as Adele Dixon, a researcher at University of Leeds’ School of Biology, put it after unveiling this grim research earlier this year.
A coalition of coral conservation groups have used the Cop27 summit in Egypt to express alarm over “catastrophic losses” in coral cover – half the world’s reefs are thought to have died in the past three decades – and call for radical action in a decade they call “the last chance for a turning point in favour of coral reef survival”. Governments must speed up efforts to expand marine protected areas, cut water pollution and restore corals, the coalition has demanded.
Cottages have been tumbling into the ocean for as long as humans have been building along the Outer Banks. The difference now is that they appear to be falling in at a faster rate, and scores of homes are now at risk.
Areas of the Outer Banks have retreated over 200 feet in the last two decades and are currently losing about 13 feet a year.
Despite these risks, developers continue to add billions of dollars of real estate, from Corolla in the north to Ocracoke Village in the south, making the Outer Banks the fastest-growing section of the North Carolina coast. Property values have also soared to at an all-time high. Dare County, which includes thousands of beach homes, recently valued all of its property at nearly $18 billion. While the value of ocean property in smaller Currituck County has ballooned to almost $5 billion.
“It’s as if no one cares,” says Danny Couch, a Dare County Commissioner, real estate agent and sometimes tour guide. “A lot of people have so much money they don’t care about the risk.”
In the last decade alone, DOT has spent nearly $80 million dollars to keep hazard-prone NC 12 open for the year-round residents of the lower Outer Banks. That includes rebuilding the S-Curves three different times, but doesn’t include the cost of three new bridges needed to traverse inlets opened by storms or to bypass the rapidly eroding shoreline. Together, the bridges push the cost of maintaining NC 12 to about a half-billion dollars.