Sea Level Rising & The Fate of Coatue

by: Brian Bushard

Hundreds of residential lots had just been cleared for sale as summer houses in Surfside, when a group of 20 New York developers looked across the harbor and saw another business opportunity.

It was the 1890s. They were looking at Coatue, the narrow barrier beach separating Nantucket Harbor from Nantucket Sound. It’s the stretch of sand keeping the bay scallop habitat in place and protecting 10 miles of harborfront properties from Brant Point to Wauwinet from the battering waves of a nor’easter.

Cottages were built on Coatue in the late 1800s, but developers’ visions of a Coney Island of Nantucket faded. Photo courtesy of Nantucket Historical Association.

Their vision was akin to the Coney Island of Nantucket: A clubhouse, shops, post office, ferry service and 141 lots for summer cottages. But decades went by and only a handful of cottages were built. The vision was abandoned.

Today the question is not whether Coatue can become Coney Island in miniature, but what would happen if it was lost to rising sea levels?

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