Stories in the Gulf of Mexico

Scaling Up Nature-based Solutions (SUNS)

Using Nature-Based Solutions to Build Resilience in the Florida Panhandle

Coastline of shallow water with a road alongside.
SUNS Florida coastline © Darryl Boudreau

Scaling up Nature-Based Solutions (SUNS)

SUNS is a two-year effort to identify and promote nature-based solutions for resiliency in the Florida panhandle. Nature-based solutions use nature to tackle challenges such as flood mitigation, climate change, biodiversity protection, and human health. The project brings together local stakeholders to identify the best natural solutions to the unique challenges facing Bay, Gulf, and Franklin Counties.

Hurricane Michael significantly damaged communities in the Florida panhandle when it hit the area in 2018. Those communities are now actively working to recover—and prepare for the next storm.

The Nature Conservancy, with support from Northeastern University and the United States Naval Academy, is working with the Northwest Florida Water Management District (NWFWMD),  alongside local, regional, state and federal partners on a project to promote nature-based solutions (NBS) for resiliency in the panhandle. The effort is being funded by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation’s Coastal Resilience Fund.

This project, called Scaling Up Nature Based Solutions (SUNS), will create a portfolio of NBS projects for coastal resilience in Franklin, Gulf, and Bay counties. The resulting regional resilience planning framework will guide investments in restoring and strengthening natural features, such as wetlands and oyster reefs, to reduce flood risk and conserve the exceptional natural resources of the project area.

Florida coastal shoreline with a boardwalk and trail.
Rivercamp living shoreline project. Rivercamp living shoreline project © Darryl Boudreau
Tree on a beach with exposed root system.
Florida John S. Phipps Preserve © TNC


  • March - July 2021

    Activity: Information gathering, needs assessment, data compilation | Outcome: Established stakeholder working group and identification of capacity gaps

  • July 2021 - March 2022

    Activity: Convene working group to review and select nature-based solution options in Bay, Gulf, and Franklin counties | Outcome: Draft portfolio of nature-based solution projects, maps

  • April - August 2022

    Activity: Finalize, prioritize, and share portfolio of nature-based solutions | Outcome: Prioritized portfolio of nature-based solutions

  • August 2022 - March 2023

    Activity: Working group sessions and workshops to build capacity to implement the portfolio | Outcome: Improved capacity to implement projects in the portfolio

Shoreline with vegetation and a dock in the background.
Gulf of Mexico SUNS program © Steven Scyphers/Northeastern

Project Team

  • Christine Shepard

    Chris Shepard

    The Nature Conservancy

  • The Nature Conservancy

    Anna Jane Jones

    The Nature Conservancy

  • Northwest Florida Water Management District

    Darryl Boudreau

    Northwest Florida Water Management District

  • The Nature Conservancy

    Jeff DeQuattro

    The Nature Conservancy

  • Northeastern University

    Steven Scyphers

    Northeastern University

  • Northeastern University

    Kiera O’Donnell

    Northeastern University

  • The Nature Conservancy

    Bob Bendick

    The Nature Conservancy

  • Northeastern University

    Randall Hughes

    Northeastern University

  • United States Naval Academy

    Tori Tomiczek

    United States Naval Academy

Hurricane Michael Study: Key Findings

In 2019, following Hurricane Michael, Northeastern, USNA, and TNC conducted a series of studies to assess Hurricane Michael’s impact in Bay, Gulf, and Franklin Counties. The team examined the relationship between open space and storm damage; the performance of natural versus hard infrastructure during the storm; and the resiliency of marshes. This work provided the foundation for the SUNS Project.

  • Were natural shorelines viable forms of coastal protection?
    • Overall property damage was extensive with 6% of residents describing their homes as ruined, 26% majorly damaged, and 36% moderately damaged. 

    • Armored shorelines did not provide additional storm protection and greatly increased recovery costs for waterfront residents. On average, recovery costs for vegetated shorelines were $2,937, and $14,117 for hardened shorelines. This suggests that natural and nature-based shorelines are attractive and cost-effective options for individual shoreline protection.
  • Were marshes resilient to the impacts of Hurricane Michael?
    •  Coastal marshes were largely resistant to storm impacts. Despite being subject to hurricane winds and surge, only 2% of coastal marshes in the study area were damaged.

    • Residents also generally perceived marshes as effective at protecting coastlines against storm waves and inundation.

    • However, damaged marshes were slow to recover. Only 16% of damaged marshes recovered six months after landfall.  Because marshes are important for coastal protection,  they should be proactively managed post-storm to increase recovery.
  • Did green space or open space support Hurricane Recovery?
    •  Increasing green space surrounding a home was associated with higher probability of recovery, after controlling for social and hurricane-impact factors

    • This demonstrates the importance of considering green spaces and natural and nature-based features as part of a holistic portfolio of investments for promoting resilient coastal communities.
Ocean view through sea oats and dunes with pink skies at sunrise.
SUNS Panama City Beach dune © Darryl Boudreau

Working Group

The Working Group is a group of approximately 25 people with representatives from Bay, Gulf, and Franklin Counties; municipal governments; environmental organizations; state and federal entities; and the public. The first Working Group session will review the benefits of nature-based solutions (NBS) as a resilience strategy and will be tailored to the Working Group members’ level of knowledge.  Members of the Working Group will then draw upon their own expertise,  as well as suitability maps generated by the TNC/NU/USNA teams, to help create a prioritized portfolio of NBS investments across the project area, taking into account both risk reduction and habitat benefits.

The purpose of the Working Group is to:

  • Advance resilience planning in the wake of Hurricane Michael across Bay, Gulf, and Franklin Counties by facilitating increased coordination across jurisdictions and agencies
  • Identify potential projects and opportunities for policy-change to support nature-based resilience solutions 

More specifically, the Working Group sessions will help to develop a portfolio of nature-based resilience projects by defining:

  • The types of NBS that are locally appropriate and feasible within the region 
  • Selection criteria for prioritizing NBS projects, and
  • The specific types and locations of NBS projects that should be prioritized

SUNS Meetings

Coastal area with a road along the beach.
SUNS Florida coastline © Darryl Boudreau

SUNS Map App


  • Scaling up Nature-Based Solutions

    See a one-page fact sheet for the SUNS Project. Learn more

  • Hurricane Michael Study Executive Summary

    This summary covers the various dimensions of the Hurricane Michael Study, which examined the ways nature buffered the storm’s impact in Florida’s Panhandle. Download

  • Collecting and Synthesizing Existing Data about Hurricane Michael

    In the early aftermath of Hurricane Michael in October 2018, Northeastern researched and gathered available data and reports to understand the broader landscape of impacts and ongoing assessments. Download

  • Effects of Green to Gray Space on Storm Impacts and Recovery

    This study found that during Hurricane Michael, an increased amount of green space around homes predicted a higher probability of home and mental recovery. Download

  • Storm Perceptions, Impacts, and Recovery of Coastal Households

    This study compared the performance of hardened shorelines to vegetated shorelines. While the two performed similarly in the Panhandle during Michael, vegetated shorelines offered significant savings in repair and maintenance costs. Download

  • Damage, Resilience, and Recovery of Salt Marshes

    This study found that Florida marshes were largely resistant to storm damage from Hurricane Michael—offering important implications for the roles marshes can play as coastal buffers. Download

Resources for Nature-based Solutions

  • Naturally Resilient Communities

    The Naturally Resilient Communities website provides a guide to nature-based solutions and includes case studies of successful projects from across the country Learn more

  • Promoting Nature-Based Hazard Mitigation Through FEMA Grants

    A TNC guidebook that offers a framework for identifying nature-based solution mitigation projects eligible for FEMA funding Learn more

  • Green Infrastructure and Post-Disaster Recovery

    The APA’s Green Infrastructure and Post-Disaster Recovery (Planning for Post-Disaster Recovery Briefing Paper 10) demonstrates the important role green infrastructure plays in building resilience to natural hazards Learn more

  • Engineering with Nature

    The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Engineering with Nature: An Atlas offers two volumes of projects highlighting a range of applications for nature-based engineering solutions Learn more

  • Tyndall Coastal Resilience and Sustainability Strategies

    As part of Tyndall Air Force Base’s broader coastal resilience strategy, this guide offers a framework for nature-based solutions relevant to the Florida panhandle Learn more

  • Plan4Resilience (LinkedIn)

    The Plan4Resilience is a LinkedIn group that connects professionals interested in advancing nature-based solutions and community resilience Learn more

Additional Resources

  • NOAA's Digital Coast

    Brings together the resources of the nine member-organizations in the Digital Coast

  • CRS Green Guide

    The Association for State Floodplain Manager’s Community Rating System (CRS) Green Guide highlights the elements of the CRS program that offer benefits beyond flood risk reduction

  • CRS Explorer

    TNC’s CRS Explorer allows communities to visualize and prioritize undeveloped areas in the floodplain to improve their CRS score.


For additional information, or to sign up for the SUNS newsletter, contact Anna Jane Jones, NOAA Digital Coast Fellow: