Economist says Monterey Bay Area, Nation, Ill-Prepared for Coastal Effects of Climate Change

Mar 18, 2016

A new report from the Middlebury Institute finds that marine industries like aquaculture, tourism, and offshore mineral exploration are booming as people flock to coastal cities. But overall, federal spending on the oceans, from research funding to hazard mitigation, has fallen by almost a billion dollars since 2012. Report co-author Charles Colgan, says that growth without government support means coasts aren’t preparing for climate change— a recipe for economic and environmental disaster.  


“The shoreline in California and much of the world, 75 to 100 years from now, is not going to be what you see today. It will be very different. Storms are going to become more damaging, and here in California El Nino related storms will be increased. We’re doing relatively little to prepare for that,” says Colgan, Director of Research at the Middlebury Institute's Center for the Blue Economy

Colgan says California leads the way in climate change awareness, but local efforts are hamstrung by a lack of funding. Colgan says the federal government is taking a wait-and-see approach.  

“Basically the federal government’s position right now is if you get wiped out by something like Hurricane Sandy, we’ll help you put something back, and maybe it’ll be a little bit better. But we’re not going to deal with it until you get wiped out, which sounds a little short sighted, particularly since many of the damages that will occur —and we know they’ll occur. We just don’t’ know when and how big they’ll be— can be avoided by taking action now," he says. 

Using federal information on ocean-related spending from 2010 to 2016, Colgan and fellow researchers at the Center for the Blue Economy found that the government is spending less on the oceans in general. 

“In the last few years, the total amount going to ocean-related activities has budged very little. Most of it goes to the Coast Guard. Activities related to planning, environmental management, and other things related to the ocean have fallen significantly as a share of the budget relative to where they were a decade or so ago. So one of the effects of the recession and the disagreements about federal spending has been that the federal resources that might have gone into helping us prepare for a lot of the changes that are occurring are barely enough to keep up with past problems, and not nearly enough to anticipate or deal with future problems,” he says. 

In Monterey, Colgan foresees a collision between industry and changing coastlines. But it’s hard to know exactly when the Peninsula will see those impacts, he says. It could be a decade or more, because extreme weather is hard to predict. 

“Monterey has a number of vulnerabilities. Part of the city lies right on the shoreline, particularly north of the larger of the wharfs. Cannery Row and the stretch of the coast along the northern edge of the Monterey Peninsula in Monterey and in Pacific Grove is eroding and will erode faster. And then the dunes that stretch from Monterey up to Moss Landing are undergoing erosion now which will only be accelerated. Much of that is highway one which in parts will become very much more susceptible to damage. That’s the kind of thing where we really ought to be thinking ahead to now.” 

Colgan is a co-author of the 2016 update on the State of U.S. Coastal and Ocean Economies. The full report is available online here