Southeast Volusia Audubon Society, P.O. Box 46, New Smyrna Beach, FL 32170;

March 2016 Conservation Notes

Sea Level Rise and the Future of Florida

Florida's Flooded FutureBy mid-century, Florida barrier islands will be awash and abandoned; low lying coastal and Everglades areas will flood on a regular basis.   We will lose our freshwater resources, our infrastructure will begin to fail, and catastrophic storm surges will increase.  The fractured Greenland ice
sheet melt will accelerate exponentially. By the end of the century, large swaths of Florida will be uninhabitable.
Are we ready?  Patricia Turner
(Ed. Note. Photo caption: “Florida’s Flooded Future”
30” x 24” x 1 5/8”  Mixed media Patricia Turner) 
Click thumbnail for larger version

On Feb. 16, 2016 Stetson University hosted a Water/Climate Change Panel regarding the Paris Climate Change Accords (COP21) and recent scientific studies on the sea level rise in Florida. As Clay Henderson, attorney, environmental activist and Executive Director for Stetson’s new Institute for Water and Environmental Resilience, noted during his introductory comments: “This [sea level rise] is not a theoretical issue, this is real.” 

This panel featured well-known environmental writer Dinah Pulver; Sister Pat Seimen, a lawyer and director of the Center for Earth Jurisprudence; Chad Truxall, Executive Director of the Marine Discovery Center; and Dr. Jason Evans of the Environmental Science Department at Stetson University, a public policy expert on climate change issues in Florida.

During the panel discussion the three major themes were: 1) Sea level rise is occurring and is already affecting the natural and the built environments; 2) The rate of rise in sea level is likely exponential and the seas will continue to rise, even if the release of greenhouse gases ceases tomorrow; and 3) The responses to sea level rise in Florida involve near-term and long-term adaptive planning and, in more extreme cases, migration from the affected areas. 

World-wide, levels rose an average of 1.70 mm/year from 1870 to 2000.  However, from 1993 to the present the sea level rise has averaged 3.17 mm/year, an 86% increase in the average of the 130 years between 1870 and 2000.  In Florida, the current effects are noticeable in loss of shorebird breeding habitat; intrusion of salt water into surface waters and fresh water aquifers; changes to plant communities that are not adapted to salt water or brackish environments; and the flooding of previously dry areas during “king” tides and other tidal and wind-driven coastal events. 

In August 2015 the Guana Tolomato Matanzas (GTM) National Estuarine Research Reserve and the University of Florida released a report, “Planning for Sea Level Rise in the Matanzas Basin: Opportunities of Adaptation.” This report, which analyzed current and potential conditions around the Matanzas River, Pellicer Creek and the Atlantic Ocean from St. Augustine to Flagler Beach, looked at the local effects of projected sea level rises of from 10 inches to 8 feet by the year 2100.  [Note that the projections of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change predicted that sea levels will rise between 9.4 to 51.5 inches during the 21st century.]

Findings in this report included the loss of most of the costal lands of the GTM National Estuarine Research Reserve to sea level rise. In response to these projections, the Estuarine Reserve is working with the state to add 8,460 acres of watershed to Pellicer Creek (on the list of Florida Forever lands) to protect the surface waters of the creek against the intrusion of salt marshes into former brackish and fresh water areas.

The report also noted the central importance of land use planning in responding to the effects of rising sea levels.  For example, St. Augustine and Palm Coast have recently identified infill areas that could be developed for both housing needs for new residents and for those relocating from coastal areas that sea level rise has rendered uninhabitable.  By using existing designated areas and platting land, the two cities could meet projected residential requirements until 2060 without having to clear new land for future development.

The concept of adaptive planning is a reasonable and realistic response to sea level rise.  As Dr. Evans noted in his presentation, the municipal government of Key West has already stated that there are areas of the city they know they cannot save from salt water intrusion, no matter how much money they invest, and are planning to implement these reality-based responses when required.

In the present developing crisis the ideological wishing-away of scientific research that we have seen so much of in Florida government serves no one well.  I would hope that Governor Scott would learn from the story of King Xerxes 1 of Persia who had the sea whipped 300 times because the waves had destroyed bridges he built for his invasion of the Greeks.  Or, better, that of King Canute who listened to his flatterers ("You are so great you could command the tides of the sea to go back.") and, although he commanded the waters at the seashore to recede, the tides nevertheless came in and soaked his royal person.


And… some humor by Diane Roberts from her recent column on the Florida Legislature’s misapplication of Amendment 1 funding (The Daytona Beach News-Journal, Feb 26, 2016).  Doctor Roberts is a FSU professor, writer, NPR commentator and eighth-generation Floridian:

"The money that you plebeians [who voted 3-1 for Amendment 1] fondly imagined would be spent on springsheds and longleaf pine forests or wildlife corridors or aquifer protection will go instead to pay for sewage treatment and insurance in state agencies covering liability for Civil Rights Act violations and worker’s comp claims.  The Legislature took $174 million to pay salaries at the Department of Agriculture, the Department of Environmental Prostitution, and the Department of State. 

Florida Forever, our conservation land-buying program got $17 million—a tenth of what that bunch of state agencies received, even though there was $550 million available.

It’s as if you’re a business owner and you hire some people to clean up the office, get rid of the asbestos, eradicate the mold making everybody sneeze, pull up that crappy old carpet, get a couple of water filters, and generally make the place healthier and more pleasant.

But they defy your clear instructions and take the company card to Costco where they buy a ton of Doritos, a gallon of pickled pigs’ trotters, and six cases of Bud, and throw themselves a righteous party.

Then they say, “Sorry!  We maxed out the Visa.”

Fixing up the office will have to wait.  And is it really a big deal?  Here, have another beer."

Lamont Ingalls

Conservation Chair