By: George Gann Chief Conservation Strategist for the Institute for Regional Conservation Special to the Boca and Delray newspapers
We’ve all heard it before, the terrifying predictions that come along with climate change and sea level rise, and how polar bears in the arctic will surely become extinct. Floridians, however, face a different reality that is becoming both more prevalent and more obvious—property damage—property damage that occurs when large storm surges cause massive flooding, as we have seen recently with both tropical storms and King Tides.
As reported by the Florida Oceans and Coastal Council, Florida is especially vulnerable to sea level rise as it has more than 1,200 miles of coastline, 4,500 square miles of estuaries and bays and more than 6,700 miles of coastal waters. Basically, we have a lot of water around us at any given moment, so just as water in a glass overflows with added ice cubes, so the same occurs with increased ice melting in arctic and mountain regions. The state of Florida has a maximum elevation of less than 400 feet above sea level, with most of Florida’s 18 million residents living less than 50 miles from the Atlantic Ocean or the Gulf of Mexico.
As reported by The New York Times, the BBC, Zillow, and numerous technical reports and scientific papers, sea level rise effects are not something to expect in the distant future. We can already see the damages today. The sea level in South Florida has risen about 12 inches since 1846, and is rising today at a rate of about 8 to 16 inches per century. This rise in sea level is 6 to 10 times the rate of average sea level rise 3,000 years ago. In the next 25 years the sea could be expected to rise at least another 5 inches, and by 2100 South Florida seas may be two feet higher than they were in 1990; some estimates suggest as much as six feet.
What does this all mean? Well this means that Florida, and especially South Florida, has a lot to lose.
By 2100, nearly 1 million Florida properties (or one in eight) worth a combined amount of over $400 billion would be at risk of being submerged if the higher estimates are reached. But even now, the effects of sea level rise cause a massive economic burden for property owners, especially for those in low-income communities that do not have the necessary resources to repair damages, or, even better, move away from threatened lowlands.
With so much at stake, it is important to consider ways to help the environment and minimize our personal contribution to climate change. You can volunteer with local organizations working to mitigate and adapt to sea level rise, such as The Institute for Regional Conservation, which holds regular beach restoration events aimed at making the native dune system more resilient while combating effects of erosion. You can also encourage communities and governments to thoughtfully consider the consequences of inaction, and take serious steps to face this problem head on.
About The Institute for Regional Conservation
A private non-profit organization, The Institute for Regional Conservation (IRC) is dedicated to the protection, restoration, and long-term management of biodiversity on a regional basis, and to the prevention of regional extinctions of rare plants, animals and ecosystems. Based in Florida, USA, IRC works on conservation research and action throughout South Florida, the Caribbean and beyond. Their work is premised on an innovative idea of conservation that seeks to protect and restore viable populations of all plant and animal species within a region, rather than simply focusing on charismatic animals or plants with narrow global ranges. For more information visit www.regionalconservation.org.