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The Long, Slow Drowning of the New Jersey Shore
Written by <a href="index.php?option=com_comprofiler&task=userProfile&user=60492"><span class="small">Andrew S. Lewis, The New York Times</span></a>   
Sunday, 15 August 2021 12:47

Lewis writes: "Billions have been spent to protect the beachfront. But inch by inch, water is winning the war."

Bay front home in Ocean City. (photo: NYT)
Bay front home in Ocean City. (photo: NYT)

The Long, Slow Drowning of the New Jersey Shore

By Andrew S. Lewis, The New York Times

15 August 21

Billions have been spent to protect the beachfront. But inch by inch, water is winning the war.

rom a satellite’s point of view, New Jersey’s barrier islands barely register, like fine white bones pulled from a body of green, separated by a vascular tissue of wetlands and shallow bays. Twenty thousand years ago, when the Laurentide ice sheet covered much of Canada and the northern United States, the coast of what would be New Jersey reached to the edge of the continental shelf, nearly 100 miles east of the present shoreline. For the next 10,000 years, as the last ice age came to an end and the sea level rose by more than 300 feet, the New Jersey coastline moved steadily west.

This alluvial coastal plain is stratified with quartz and glauconite sands, silt, clay and at least eight different aquifers going down beyond 6,000 feet before there is any semblance of solid earth — a slab of bedrock formed between 550 million and 300 million years ago. Geologists like to say that New Jersey’s coastal plain sits “unconformably” atop this Paleozoic base. Most unstable are the handful of delicate barrier islands at its edge, which shift naturally with the push of waves and tides, currents and winds. Henry Hudson passed these ribbons of land in August 1609, days before meeting the river that would bear his name. Johannes de Laet, who chronicled Hudson’s voyage several years later, dismissed the coast as “white sandy beach and drowned land within.” Walt Whitman, a frequent visitor to New Jersey’s coast, was awed by the way shorelines breathe. He called them a “curious, lurking something.”

For millenniums before being driven out by the Dutch and English, the Jersey Shore’s original human inhabitants, known today as the Delaware, ventured from the mainland in the spring, along the creeks and thoroughfares of the back bays and onto spots like what is now called Seven Mile Island, in New Jersey’s southernmost county, Cape May. They set up their summer camps within dunes blanketed with beach grass and sand pea, amid thickets of bayberry, oak and red cedar. They spent their days harvesting fish and oysters, some of which they smoked to preserve for the winter months. The Delaware knew better than to permanently settle on such terrain. When fall arrived, they broke down their camps and retreated, traveling a north-south trail that some historians have suggested is the rough footprint of U.S. 9, now a designated coastal-evacuation route.

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