Coastline And Wetlands

Rising sea levels and the accompanying problems are major concerns, as every part of Delaware is within 20 mi. (32 km.) or less of the Atlantic Ocean or the Delaware Bay. Sea level is already rising by 12 in. (30 cm.) per century in some parts of the state, and beach erosion is a growing problem along the state's 381 mi. (613 km.) of shoreline. Delaware made early efforts to respond to the problems of global warming. Legislation to protect shore areas was passed as early as the 1970s, and in 2000, a State Climate Action Plan that placed the state in line with the Kyoto Protocol called for a 7 percent decrease in greenhouse gas emissions from a 1990 baseline. However, amendments weakened coastline protection, and the state has been slow to act upon the recommendations of the Climate Action Plan.

Delaware limits construction on its coastline, and it has spent millions in federal and state funds restoring beaches that have eroded. But shoreline erosion continues, and researchers believe it will only intensify as sea levels rise from global warming. Sand replenishment will become a never-ending and increasingly expensive project. Delaware Bay, the large semi-enclosed inlet of the Atlantic Ocean at the mouth of the Delaware River, is a major spawning ground for horseshoe crabs and the site of the second largest concentration of migratory shorebirds in the western hemisphere, with approximately 1.5 million shorebirds passing through the bay area each spring. The area also supports a number of endangered and threatened species including the bald eagle, the peregrine falcon, and the short-eared owl. Changes to habitat wrought by global warming threaten all these species.

Rises in sea level have already changed the composition of salt marshes and decreased the number of ducks and geese. Between the 1880s and the 1980s, Delaware lost more than 50 percent of its wetlands. The Clean Water Act, combined with the state legislature's measures to protect the wetlands, decreased the rate of loss, but development pressures continue, and rising sea levels could pose an even greater threat to this resource.

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