Interested citizens can see the challenges posed by sea level rise and storm surge in the Florida Keys with the help of a cool computer tool released today by The Nature Conservancy.
Hurricane Sandy demonstrated clearly how land near sea level is at serious risk from rising seas and storm surges. Here in Florida, the Florida Keys tell the story of rising seas better than most places, with 90 percent of the land mass at five feet above sea level or less. The Nature Conservancy recognizes this risk and has taken action, working with academics and federal, state, county and local government land managers, planners and elected officials on recommendations to address the problems.
In the new coastalresilience.org platform released today for the Florida Keys, all the latest information has been put together to allow anyone with access to the Internet to see it. Users select a base map or satellite photo and features of interest to see how they relate to sea level rise and a simulated storm surge using a future scenarios mapper.
“The Nature Conservancy wants nature and people to continue to coexist in the Keys for as long as possible,” says Chris Bergh, the Conservancy’s South Florida conservation director based at the organization’s office on Big Pine Key. “This tool will help us do that by making it easier to visualize the risks involved and develop concrete plans to actively reduce those risks.”
“This important tool being released from The Nature Conservancy ties in with Monroe County’s planning efforts to prepare for the potential effects of climate change,” said Monroe County Commissioner Heather Carruthers. “Even though none of the scenarios are certain, we do need to be proactive to respond to the potential impacts of sea level rise. This is also why we are working closely with the Southeast Florida Regional Compact on these similar issues. Together we must move forward to reduce our contributions to climate change by implementing sustainable practices right here in the Keys, which also makes good fiscal sense to our taxpayers.”
The Conservancy is particularly focused on making use of “green infrastructure” to minimize erosion and flooding.
“Coral reefs, mangroves, beaches and marshes help protect the islands and our communities at a fraction of the cost of seawalls, breakwaters and engineered stormwater management systems and with added benefits for fishing, diving and our tourism economy in general,” Bergh says. “We need to recognize the value of these natural features and continue to protect and restore them, and even move into actively creating them in some cases, so they can provide for us.”
Sea level has already risen nearly 9 inches over the last 100 years in the Keys, according to data collected from tide gauges. The rate of rise has accelerated in recent years and is projected to rise more rapidly in the future. Concerned by these facts, in 2007 the Conservancy initiated a research project to identify impacts of sea level rise from 7 inches to 4.6 feet on the Keys and the result was the release in June 2009 of "Initial Estimates of the Ecological and Economic Consequences of Sea Level Rise on the Florida Keys through the Year 2100."
According to a further refinement of this research led by Florida International University in 2011 using more detailed elevation data, the property at risk of inundation with five feet of sea level rise is valued at $27 billion with 56,000 residents and 76,000 acres impacted.
In 2009, the Southeast Florida Regional Climate Change Compact, consisting of Monroe, Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties, was created and has established standards of 3-7 inches of sea level rise by 2030 and 9-24 inches by 2060 for decision making in the region and completed a general plan of action for sea level rise and other climate change responses. It is holding its 4th Climate Leadership Summit in Palm Beach County in December.
For the coastalresilience.org future scenarios mapper, the Conservancy used the best available elevation data and added other features of interest, such as the ranges of protected species, infrastructure locations and critical facilities like hospitals. Users can model sea level rise of one foot to four feet, a simulated surge from a storm like Hurricane Wilma which flooded much of the Keys in 2005, or combinations of rise and surge. Practical plans can be developed with the help of the tool.
“We can move from the excellent general plans developed to date into the specifics, and identify exactly which stretches of road or which patch of Key deer habitat needs help, how much that help is going to cost, and how we are going to pay for it,” Bergh says.
“Experience has shown that we can bounce back from hurricanes with the help of good planning, professional emergency managers, proactive elected officials and informed citizens who know what to do and when to do it in order to stay safe and recover quickly,” Bergh says.
“By using our community’s storm preparedness and response experience as a blueprint and The Nature Conservancy's coastalresilience.org website and future scenarios mapper to help fill in the details, we can show the world that the Florida Keys are ready for the challenge of sea level rise.”
Learn more at www.coastalresilience.org
The Nature Conservancy is a leading conservation organization working around the world to protect ecologically important lands and waters for nature and people. The Conservancy and its more than 1 million members have protected nearly 120 million acres worldwide. Visit The Nature Conservancy on the Web at www.nature.org.