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Aviators help study beach erosion during ‘King Tide’

LightHawk, Surfrider partner during full moon

Pilots patrolled the Atlantic and Pacific coasts on Jan. 22 to document the “King Tide” and help communities prepare for future flooding.

LightHawk and Surfrider teamed up during the Jan. 22 full moon King tide to identify flooding threats to Atlantic and Pacific coastal areas. This photo shows coastal development in Maine. Photo courtesy of LightHawk.

The exceptionally high tides occur twice yearly due to the gravitational pull of the moon and the sun on the earth. The resulting high tides and wave action can threaten natural seashore environments and man-made structures alike.

LightHawk, an aviation-based conservation group, partnered with Surfrider Foundation, a clean water advocate, to dispatch more than 20 flights during the event. LightHawk pilots helped elected officials, subject matter experts, photographers, and reporters see and better understand how communities could proactively improve coastal management for the future, a combined news release noted.

The aerial missions surveyed the higher tides along coastlines during a celestial event that coincided with a total lunar eclipse known to astronomy buffs as a super blood wolf moon. The flights allowed stakeholders a bird's-eye view of rising tides at key areas in Maine, Massachusetts, New York, Florida, and California. Some of the wave action threatened roads, homes, businesses, and other structures.

Understanding what future sea level rise might look like was “imperative” for coastal communities, said Stefanie Sekich-Quinn, Surfrider’s coastal preservation manager. “In the next 30 years, 300,000 homes and commercial properties, valued at over $136 billion, will be vulnerable to sea level rise.” She added that “nearly half” of coastal states have continued to build in flood-prone areas over the past decade. “We are hopeful our King Tide flights will inspire decision-makers and local communities to improve coastal management in light of future climate change impacts.”

In 2018 LightHawk documented Florida algae blooms with aerial photography, transported endangered California condors, and shared life along the Colorado River with KUNC radio listeners—a few of the dozens of projects that combined aerial expertise with conservation.

Pilots with 1,000 hours can qualify to help LightHawk with a multitude of missions across the United States. The group welcomes a variety of aircraft—from single-seaters through turboprops—to help fulfill their missions.

The grassroots campaign can be traced to 1979 and currently includes nearly 300 volunteer pilots “who fly to protect land, water, and wildlife across America,” the organization noted on its website.

LightHawk joined Surfrider for Jan. 22 King tide flights to identify coastal flooding threats. This photo shows wave action near coastal development in Ventura County, California. Photo courtesy of LightHawk.
David Tulis

David Tulis

Senior Photographer
Senior Photographer David Tulis joined AOPA in 2015 and is a private pilot with single-engine land and sea ratings and a tailwheel endorsement. He is also a certificated remote pilot and co-host of the award-wining AOPA Hangar Talk podcast. David enjoys vintage aircraft ad photography.
Topics: Aviation Organizations, Public Benefit Flying

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