THE CHALLENGE

The sea is rising and will cover millions of acres of coastal land in the coming decades. Also, coastal storms are increasingly erratic and violent, threatening lives and property on the coasts. 

Communities are implementing a wide range of adaptation measures, including seawalls, wider canals, and raised buildings, but many of these are only temporary stop-gaps with challenging financial and ecological implications. In some places, managed retreat, or climigration, should be an option people are talking about, but very few communities dare to raise it as a possibility because:

  • Managed retreat involves sensitive decisions about residents' homes and ways of life, and traverses challenging private property issues,
  • Resources don’t exist to adequately support the cost of relocating communities,
  • It is a complex problem that requires people with diverse perspectives to come together to design solutions, and
  • It is difficult to determine when the costs of remaining in place exceed the costs of moving.

In the meantime, seas continue to rise. Storms like Katrina and Sandy will happen again. Managed retreat is not the best choice everywhere, but planning for climigration in the right places at the right time will prevent decision making in times of crisis and avoidable disaster-induced displacement.