Nightly News   |  April 29, 2013

As coastline erodes, is beach living sustainable?

Along America’s coast, extreme erosion is replacing homes and parking lots with dunes and beach. By the end of the century it’s predicted the sea level will rise three feet, which could redraw Florida’s coastline and swamp the Jersey Shore. NBC’s Anne Thompson reports.

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>>> as we mark this six-month anniversary of hurricane sandy, millions of people living on both coasts have been left to wonder if they are looking at a new normal in years to come. it's a big question that could redraw maps and lives for decades. our report tonight from our chief environmental affairs correspondent anne thompson .

>> reporter: the views from melinda crafting's cape cod home are breathtaking from every angle.

>> watch out for the first step.

>> reporter: her decks and land destroyed by two storms that pounded the coast. in just 15 years her property has gone from a one-acre rectangle to a sliver, making her house uninhabitable.

>> i knew as soon as i saw it like this that whole part of my life was over.

>> reporter: all along america's coast people are discovering beach living may not be sustainable. holly beach , louisiana, was flattened by hurricane rita in 2005 . here even the weakest hurricane can cause erosion along the ghoul of coast, the strongest wiped out the town and this vacation rental business. instead of rebuilding homes, he invested in trailers.

>> after the storm passed i could bring them back and set them up. maybe a few days' time and i'm back in business.

>> reporter: in california, pacifica fought a losing battle against the ocean for decades. now it is pulling back in a $4 million managed retreat. moving homes and parking lots away from the water's edge and replacing them with nature's defense system -- dunes and beach.

>> can you imagine california without beaches? it's one of the largest economic drivers in the state.

>> reporter: going to the beach is part of the american dream . but the three feet of sea level rise predicted by the end of the century could swamp the jersey shore and redraw the coastline of florida. more immediate is the one-two punch of rising seas and storm surge . scientists estimate some $500 billion of residential real estate will be at risk for severe coastal flooding by 2030 .

>> we have always been able to depend upon a constant shoreline. it's going to be a hard lesson to learn. this is a new planet we are living on.

>> reporter: forcing those who live at the water's edge to adapt to a changing coastline. anne thompson , nbc news, wellesley, massachusetts.