Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Our Fragile Home

The horrific oil disaster in the Gulf should be a wake up call for all of us who reside on a barrier island. According the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA) geologically speaking, barrier islands are young features; the vast majority are less than 7,000 years in age, and most are probably less than 3,000 years old.

Barrier islands serve two main functions. First, they protect the coastlines from severe storm damage. Second, they harbor several habitats that are refuges for wildlife. In fact, the salt marsh ecosystems of the islands and the coast help to purify runoffs from mainland streams and rivers.

Distinct habitats exist on barrier islands. Generally they include beach, dune, barrier flat, and salt marsh. On our barrier island, we have beach, dunes, dry meadow, wet meadow, maritime forest, and marsh. Each habitat supports a variety of plants, birds, and wildlife.
Our island is unique because it also supports wild horses and has 3,090 platted lots with well over one third of them developed.

What would be the consequences of a similar situation to what is happening in the Gulf to our barrier island home? The economic and environmental consequences would be devastating to say the least. Almost everyone’s livelihood is somehow connected to tourism.

We are the guardians of this fragile land. Although we cannot control what is happening in the Gulf, we can control what happens to our island home. Development is inevitable. What does not have to be inevitable is development that disregards the impact on our ecosystems and habitat. Consideration of the impacts must be first and foremost before the first grain of sand is moved. Size and location must be carefully considered. Construction and the collateral effects such as septic systems and wastewater must be held to the highest standards. Commercial development in the RO2 district should never be considered.

We cannot afford to live only in the moment. What we do today, as well as what was done in the past, affects every habitat, every bird, every wild horse, and every human for years to come. Our island home is still unique and not developed to saturation – yet. It is up to all of us to protect it.

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