Every element within our environment encompasses one another, all interconnected assisting each other to keep the balance. If one piece shifts or gets out of place, the whole structure can come tumbling down. That’s exactly what’s currently happening to our oceans due to climate change. The entire contiguous U.S. has experienced high rates of urban expansion, ultimately squeezing our coastlines to the very last sliver along the edge. Research patterns show that human activities and development are the main cause for the “squeeze” effect, and it has significantly affected the surrounding tidal flats and connected environments.

Tidal flats are the mud flats that are compacted along the coastline that protect the terrain from aquatic destruction such as waves, hurricanes, tsunamis, and others. These are the entities under attack by human-made threats, with over 20,000 kilometers shrunk worldwide since 1984. Unfortunately, this man-made development is irreversible. Researchers from Florida Atlantic University examined the data and exact impacts that these developments have had on the tidal flats across the U.S. They selected 156 out of the 226 seaside counties to look upon, these counties having direct connection with the sea and sharing tidal flats greater than 1% as of the 1985 data. Taking mapping data from 1985 to 2015, they were able to find the correlation between tidal flat loss and urban expansion, sitting at 40%. Flats surrounding urban areas were also seen to show more significant degradation and these patterns persist closer to new urban development.

The Atlantic Coast shows higher urbanization and degradation rates, with counties in Virginia, South Carolina, New York, North Carolina, and Florida making up the top eight. Popular cities across the east coastline, such as Boston, also show significant loss; but interestingly enough, New York City, Miami, and Seattle have gone under high urban expansion but do not overlap with the flat loss in those regions. This shows that these three cities have relied heavily on other land resources over the last three decades, and tidal flats are not of use.

"Findings from our study provide important implications for coastal land use and planning to sustain tidal flats. Our study provides worthwhile data for scientists and lawmakers alike that will contribute to helping to develop policy and programs that address how massive urban expansion has tremendously undermined the environment of tidal flats along the U.S. coast," stated Senior Author and Associate Professor at the Charles E. Schmidt College of Science, Weibo Liu, Ph.D.

To conclude, the researchers provided two important key takeaways. First, local officials should ensure that water channels are unobstructed as these are critical for sediment and deposition transportation. And working in tandem, officials should also leave sufficient space for tidal flat migration, and take hydrodynamical factors into account as the sea levels continue to rise.