Developing our ocean’s coastlines may seem like a fool-proof way to improve the economy and pull in tourist dollars — but in the long-run, we’ll pay a higher price for destroying them. Coastal counties only account for 17% of the United States, but they are home to more than half of our nation’s population. With this number of residents growing by the millions, developers are racing to keep up with demand.

Instead of preserving fragile natural habitats, we’re replacing them with homes, roads, factories, hotels, and airports. Such infrastructure requires dredging, construction of dams, dykes and piers, and the devastation can already be seen. With shorelines eroding, the destruction is killing off fish populations, and human pollution is destroying vital coral reefs.

Unprecedented coastal flooding in recent years has made us aware of the damage we’ve done, and attempts to mitigate the devastation aren’t effective or sustainable. Building seawalls, sand dunes and dumping sand on eroding beaches simply isn’t going to cut it.

34 states have adopted coastal management programs that address issues ranging from habitat protection and coastal hazards to water quality. What can you do? Ask your local representatives which laws your state has implemented and what they steps they plan to take in the immediate future.

» See How Your State is Protecting Coastlines