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Opinion: Take critical steps to make us 'stronger than the storm'

A house on the Jersey Shore stands devastated

A house on the Jersey Shore stands devastated by Superstorm Sandy in Union Beach, N.J. (Nov. 2, 2012) Photo Credit: Getty Images

We live and work on the Jersey Shore within a five-minute walk of crowded beaches. We, like residents of Long Island, have experienced the allure of coastal living and witnessed the prosperity it brings to our region and country. We have also seen the dangers -- we know neighbors still suffering from superstorm Sandy's wrath -- as we brace for the 2013 hurricane season. Seven months after Sandy drowned lower Manhattan and smashed into New York and New Jersey shoreline neighborhoods, the aftershocks still reverberate through both states.

If anything positive has come in the aftermath of Sandy, it is that our regional leaders from both sides of the political aisle have recognized the urgency of protecting our coastal communities -- not only to protect people and property, but also to safeguard the region's coast-dependent economies.

Govs. Andrew M. Cuomo and Chris Christie understand their states cannot afford heavy human and economic losses every time storms like Sandy come ashore. Sandy destroyed more than 4,200 jobs and created more than $50 billion in damage. Similarly, Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced a $20-billon plan to protect critical city infrastructure from storms and flooding while guaranteeing a continual draw to the tidewater regions of New York's boroughs. A new report from the bipartisan Joint Ocean Commission Initiative, a private organization that advocates for sustainable oceans policy, urges President Barack Obama and Congress to follow their lead.

Many fear that climate change is rapidly progressing and Sandy is prime evidence. Others are less sure. We can agree, at least, to try to understand the connection between our oceans and climate by measuring it comprehensively. Some of the best techniques to study the ocean started right here in our region, with observatories first tested by Rutgers University off our coast. Ocean observation was a central theme when we both served on the landmark U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy; it is still critical to understanding climate.

Our coasts are not only home for millions of Americans, but they also support vital economic growth and job creation. The United States controls the largest exclusive economic zone in the world, and coastal counties generate one-third of the United States' gross domestic product. Important industries such as fisheries, tourism, oil and gas, shipping and transportation rely on our oceans. Coastal tourism and recreation supports 1.7 million jobs; we cannot afford to lose them by not planning to account for nature.

The Joint Initiative's report, "Charting the Course: Securing the future of America's Oceans," urges regional and local leaders, including Christie, Cuomo and Bloomberg, to set an example for rebuilding communities with resilience in mind. More than 100 leaders contributed to the report, representing ocean and coastal-related industries; environmental advocacy groups; science and education organizations; and local, state and federal governments.

Our nation is at a critical juncture. We must collect the data we need to understand the changes in our oceans and the risks for which we need to prepare. Any changes to boost our resiliency cannot be made in isolation -- better collaboration between state and federal policy-makers is key to making progress. One example of this cooperation already in action is the Hurricane Sandy Rebuilding Task Force, chaired by U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan.

We urge the redevelopment decision-makers to review the Joint Initiative's recommendations. Let's follow the lead of Cuomo, Christie and Bloomberg in creating newly resilient communities and preserving the very reasons we moved to the shore in the first place.

Lillian Borrone is a member of the Joint Ocean Commission Initiative Leadership Council and former assistant executive director of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. Retired Navy Vice Adm. Paul Gaffney is a member of the Joint Ocean Commission Initiative Leadership Council and president of Monmouth University.