If you’d like a glimpse of a very possible future, check out the maps of sea level rise in a new NPR online feature about changing shorelines in North Carolina.
The Nature Conservancy and other organizations have been working just inland from the Outer Banks – in places like the Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge – to reduce erosion from wind, waves and storm surge by restoring oyster reefs, planting salt-tolerant trees and other experimental techniques.
Similar to maps of projected sea level rise in southern Florida, the North Carolina projections of how much seas could rise in the next 50-100 years (an increase of four feet equals about 1.2 meters) show a dramatic loss of the lands jutting into the Atlantic. How quickly ice sheets in Greenland and at the poles melt depends in part on how quickly people can reduce the amount of carbon pollution entering the atmosphere, scientists say.
Clearly, people who live in the Outer Banks and along the coasts of these peninsulas are facing important decisions about how to protect their communities and property, and where to build in the future.
In a world with warmer temperatures and other climate changes, conservationists also face a big challenge in thinking ahead to what conditions will be like in even 20-30 years. This vision is necessary in order to literally build a bridge to the future for threatened wildlife and the landscapes they need for survival – in the case of the Outer Banks, making connections between the low-lying refuges where wildlife like the endangered red wolf lives, and the areas further inland where they will need to migrate as the sea gradually covers the coast.
In both North Carolina and Florida, conservation and wildlife experts have been thinking about animals like black bear that roam over large areas and need access between relatively wild, undeveloped forests and fields to carry out the business of being healthy bears (foraging for food, mating and hibernating). The goal is to plan networks of refuges and corridors that will allow wildlife to move where they need to go, around the roads and cities where people live.
As the climate changes more quickly, these kinds of connections across landscapes may become lifelines for nature and the people who depend on it.
Lisa Hayden is climate change writer for The Nature Conservancy
Photo by: The Nature Conservancy; (The Conservancy has planted more than 20,000 cypress saplings in an experiment to see if they can help create a forest which would be home to red wolves, bobcats, black bears and other animals whose habitat is quickly disappearing.)
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