Jan. 10, 2012
Contact: Ken or Kate Gooderham, ASBPA executive directors -- (239) 489-2616
Harry Simmons, ASBPA president -- (910) 200-7867
Are you ready for sea level rise?
Communities must understand, prepare for potential impact of rising tides
The issue of sea level rise (SLR) has been a popular political football for years, used as a dividing line between ideologies and a touchstone of belief for aspiring and continuing candidates. Putting aside the fun-and-games of SLR debating and debunking, those of us who live near, work with or rely on coastal communities need to answer a simple question: If sea level rises, do we understand its potential impact on our coastal resources?
Some communities have looked at that SLR potential, and it's a disconcerting sight: Millions of dollars in lost tourism revenue and similar increases in potential storm damages; coastal properties and habitats at severe risk even in minimal-rise scenarios; serious gaps in planning and policies that could endanger working coastlines and natural beaches alike.
If you're worried whether your community could be at risk, ask yourself (or your officials) the following questions:
1) What the minimum amount of sea level rise that could have a serious impact on your community? If that figure is lower than the minimum projections currently being bandied about, you may be OK. If not, you'd better look more closely at what might happen, and when.
2) What is our community's typical planning horizon, and how does that mesh with SLR projections? If you plan in years but SLR is being projected by decades, you need to include a longer ranger component into your coastal resources planning to allow for the more extended perspective of SLR projections -- and to ensure your community isn't lured into false complacency by a distant deadline.
3) How will your coastal policies respond to SLR issues? If your first response to coastal erosion is to harden your shoreline with seawalls, say, that policy will eventually mean the loss of dry beach if sea level inches upward...because you've defined the back side of your beach with a wall, giving it no place to go if the waves creep closer. However, if your coastal management strategy now includes beach restoration, that can be augmented to be a very effective first line of defense against rising seas as part of your ongoing coastal management. Finally, if retreat is your default coastal position, you need to consider the legal, financial and social impact that moving inland from rising seas will add to your community.
4) What economic effects will rising sea level have, and can you replace those lost dollars easily? Say you're a tourist town, relying on wide beaches and oceanfront resorts for your livelihood. If those beaches dwindle and those resorts are squeezed out, your economic energy will erode as well. What steps can you take to avoid that loss or, secondarily, move to another economic sources for sustenance?
5) What environmental issues need to be considered if seas rise? For many areas, it's not just a sandy shoreline but the thriving estuary behind those barrier islands that make the coast attractive. If rising tides also irrevocably alter the protected estuary, what will they mean to the fragile ecosystems contained therein?
6) How fast could your community respond in the face of rising seas? If your community plans in 10-year increments and would need at least 10 years after that to enact and implement effective policies responding to SLR, then your response time is a minimum of 20 years -- and that's assuming you could get quick consensus about an effective response.
7) What other SLR magnifiers are there which should be factored in to your planning? Would a minimal rise in sea level turn average coastal storms into major disasters? Would groundwater (and, thus, potable water for your community) be at greater risk to intrusion due to your region's geology? is your community OK with SLR, but even a minor rise in water level might endanger a key access point for your citizens? What else that matters to your community could be at greater risk if surrounding waters were even a little higher?
As with many other coastal concerns, there is no "one size fits all" answer to sea level rise. Each coast will have to fashion its unique response based on its ecology and economy, geology and geography, and many other considerations. As coastal stewards, your concern shouldn't be if sea level is rising, but can your community be ready if it does. Don't worry about which set of predictions will end up being correct, worry about how much rise might wreak havoc on your coastline.
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ABOUT ASBPA: Founded in 1926, the ASBPA promotes the integration of science, policies and actions that maintain, protect and enhance the coasts of America. For more information on ASBPA, go to www.asbpa.org, facebook or www.twitter.com/asbpa.