BOSTON (CBS) — It’s hard to talk about the future without talking about climate. And there’s no better visual for a changing landscape than outer Cape Cod.

“Two hundred years ago, they would have looked me straight in the eye and told me, I would be crazy to live on top of a hill or near the beach,” said Dan Saunders.

Saunders has lived almost all of his 80-plus years on Cape Cod — where property lines and parking lots are always on the move.

Ballston Beach in Truro is a prime example. In 1900 it was a sprawling complex in the dunes. Last summer, a cluster of homes hanging on. This March, another huge breach with saltwater made it all the way to Route 6. In the aftermath, another home was claimed by the sea.

Dan Saunders in Truro (WBZ-TV)

“I’m amazed at my own personal reaction which is almost like losing an old friend,” said Saunders.

Here, The ocean is about 100 yards west compared to early last century.

Down the dunes to Eastham, Mark Adams eyes another disappearing beach.

“We had to remove our changing room, restroom, stairs, septic all moved. Since 2010, we’ve rebuilt these stairs five times,” Adams said.

The National Park Service is always trying to figure out nature’s next move. And here at Nauset Light, they decided it’s time to give up on expensive stairs and take a different path.

Ballston Beach in Truro (WBZ-TV)

“It’s not a surrender, it’s retreat, but not surrender. But it also means as we understand things better, we can come up with solutions that are more sustainable.”

At the end of the last ice age, Cape Cod was a lot bigger. A glacial gift. rising seas and thousands of years of erosion have eaten up much of the land and produced the bared and bent arm of Massachusetts. As seas rise, wave action over Georges Bank increases, producing ever stronger surf to pound at the shore. Erosion is what feeds the beaches, so a loss in one spot is another’s gain.

That’s the fuel that builds the Provincetown hook, the Orleans and Chatham barrier beaches and Monomoy island? All that’s new sand that was excavated.

Dune in Truro (WBZ-TV)

The iconic profile of windswept dunes facing the ocean never really changes. The effect similar to moving a fence in your yard backward three to five feet per year. It’s a rate which should accelerate with warming and rising seas.

“People who say we’re losing our beaches…no. What’s going to be gone is the pavement. Any fixed structure that we put in this moving dynamic coastal zone is going to have to move and it won’t be the same.”

As family vacations and memories continue through the generations, don’t expect the battle of surf and sand to change. But its location — and anything in it — will.

Eric Fisher


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