The Nature Conservancy is taking a two-pronged approach to addressing global warming and sea-level rise on Long Island. Through its work to measure the anticipated sea level rise and assess whether our environment will adapt to the rising seas, the Conservancy is leading the charge in preparing for these threats.
“Scientists tell us that sea levels will rise by as much as four feet by the end of this century,” said Sarah Newkirk, coastal team leader for The Nature Conservancy on Long Island. “Long Island’s shores have some of the most highly developed lands in the coastal zone. Rising seas will impact both people and nature, causing flooding in coastal communities, heightened storm surges, and drowning of wetlands and other natural habitats.”
The first of two projects The Nature Conservancy is working on is the “Coastal Resilience Project,” led by Ms. Newkirk. It includes an online interactive map-based tool to help decision makers visualize the likely impacts of sea level rise and increased coastal hazards on both natural and human communities along the south shore of Long Island.
“This tool will give decision makers – at the town, county and state level – a scientific rationale for making the decisions to protect our coastal resources. This data can help government best determine which parcels of land should be preserved, how to manage land for resilient development, and how to prioritize which wetlands should be restored in order to add to the protection of our coastal communities,” added Newkirk.
Partners in this effort include NOAA’s Coastal Services Center, Columbia University’s Center for Climate Systems Research /Goddard Institute for Space Studies, Pace University’s Land Use Law Center, and the Association of State Floodplain Managers (ASFPM).
To hear more about the coastal resilience project, as well as other timely environmental topics, interested parties are encouraged to attend the “First New York Women’s Conference for Sustainability: Mobilizing for Climate Stability One Conversation at a Time,” being held from Friday, March 27, through Sunday, March 29 at Stony Brook’s Southampton campus. For more information, or to register for the conference, visit www.sowise.org.
The second of The Nature Conservancy’s projects to address global warming is assessing whether Long Island’s wetlands are keeping up with sea level rise.
In order to measure how wetlands are responding to sea level rise, The Nature Conservancy has joined forces with environmental partners to develop a network of measurement stations to monitor wetland elevation in and around Long Island and New York City. In select wetlands, The Nature Conservancy is installing devices to measure marsh elevation for the first time. In time, these benchmarks will provide measurements of wetland elevation changes around Long Island.
“We are trying to determine whether or not our wetlands are keeping up with sea level rise on Long Island,” said Nicole Maher, wetland specialist for The Nature Conservancy on Long Island. “Anecdotal evidence suggests that many of Long Island’s marshes are not keeping up with sea level rise and are, in fact, drowning. We rely on healthy functioning salt marshes for two reasons: 1. to protect coastal water quality, provide food and habitat for many recreationally and commercially harvested species and 2. to protect the coastline from the brunt of storms. In sum, the loss of healthy salt marshes impairs the health of the whole coastal ecosystem and all of the recreational and economic activities that depend on it, “continued Maher.
Drowning wetlands can spell trouble for a variety of reasons: wetlands help protect coastal communities against rising waters, in addition to cleaning/ filtering the water in our harbors and bays; and, wetlands are home to hundreds of important fish, shellfish, birds and other wildlife. The loss of wetland habitat on Long Island could have devastating effects.
“With knowledge of how our wetlands are responding to sea level rise, we will be better able to alleviate the threats to these systems and manage our coastal zone to facilitate wetland migration,” continued Maher.
On Long Island, The Nature Conservancy has helped to preserve more than 150,000 acres.
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.