The text on this site is presented as an archival version of the script of "Ocean Planet," a 1995 Smithsonian Institution traveling exhibition. The content reflects the state of knowledge at the time of the exhibition, and has not been updated.

Congested Coastlines

Almost half of all construction in the U.S. during the 1970s and 1980s took place in coastal areas. §

America's coastal population will grow to more than 127 million people by 2010--an increase of more than 60 percent in only fifty years §.

Coastal development harms natural coastal ecosystems and produces pollution that endangers marine wildlife.

Barrier-island development crowds New Jersey's Island Beach State Park
Coastal development does have down sides: more and more roads, water, and sewer facilities must be built, all of which are susceptible to storm damage. Shoreline erosion often follows, lowering water quality and reducing wildlife habitats.
photo © Robert Perron

Close-up View

Barrier beaches take a beating

On much of the U.S.'s Atlantic and Gulf coasts, barrier beaches shield the mainland from storms, rising sea level, and erosion. These flood-prone and easily eroded barriers have become some of the country's most valuable real estate. § To protect developed barrier beaches, we build seawalls and jetties, and haul in more sand, but these solutions are expensive and usually temporary, and often worsen erosion problems §.

A nor'easter tore through barrier-island housing
Westhampton Beach, New York, 1992
Since 1982, federal subsidies, including federal flood insurance and grants for infrastructure, have been prohibited by law on designated barrier islands and beaches §.
photo © Robert Perron

Key Biscayne, Florida, then and now

A photograph taken in the 1950s or 1960s shows a bare beach, but the man holding the photograph stands on the last vacant lot in the same area, in March1984.
photo © José Azel/Aurora

Rescue Attempt

Action Plan Cleans Up Mediterranean

By the mid-1970s the heavily populated coastline of the Mediterranean Sea was a mess: tar balls washed up on beaches, and raw sewage contaminated coastal waters. §.

In 1975, eighteen countries bordering the sea adopted the United Nations-sponsored Mediterranean Action Plan to reduce land-based sources of pollution throughout the region. §.

Mediterranean watershed

More Information:

Ocean Planet Exhibition Floorplan

gene carl feldman ( (301) 286-9428
Judith Gradwohl, Smithsonian Institution (Curator/Ocean Planet)