Editor’s Note: Today Planet Change focuses on South Florida where life for people and nature balances on lowlands amid freshwater flowing through the Everglades and on islands just above the sea. In this post, and the Monroe County video above, we learn from Nature Conservancy scientist Chris Bergh how communities in the Florida Keys are coping with a changing climate.
Here in Monroe County, Florida, boasting amazing places like the Everglades and the Florida Keys archipelago, we are waking up to the fact we’ve got to take climate change and sea level rise seriously.
The Florida Keys are home to about 73,000 people, were a tourism destination for more than 3.8 million visitors in 2010 and provide vital habitat for native plants and wildlife, some of which – like the diminutive Key deer – are found nowhere else on the planet.
The beautiful and famous coral reef offshore underpins a $2.3 billion ocean economy centered on fishing, diving, and boating. But this thriving underwater resource is highly sensitive to rising ocean temperatures and acidification, or changes in ocean chemistry that diminish the ability of corals to create their limestone skeletons.
And with more than 90 percent of the Keys’ land area less than five feet above sea level and within a mile of the shore, these islands where the Gulf of Mexico meets the Atlantic Ocean are extremely vulnerable to hurricane-driven storm surges and sea level rise driven by global warming.
Due to the Keys’ incredible diversity and abundance of wildlife on land and in the sea, The Nature Conservancy has been highly invested in conservation here since 1971, practicing everything from land acquisition and stewardship to marine protected area design and always with a keen eye on using, or developing, the best available science. As global awareness of the threats associated with climate change grew, so did our resolve to do our best to protect nature, and people who depend on natural resources in the Florida Keys – (and that includes pretty much all of us who live, work and play here!).
In 2005 The Nature Conservancy and our partners initiated the Florida Reef Resilience Program to bring scientists, reef managers and reef-dependent user groups together to develop strategies to improve the health of Florida’s reefs in the face of climate change and enhance the economic sustainability of reef-dependent commercial enterprises.
And in 2009 The Nature Conservancy published a report, “Initial Estimates of the Ecological and Economic Consequences of Sea Level Rise on the Florida Keys through the Year 2100,” with the intention of framing the issue for local decision makers and catalyzing action. In every scenario, islands such as Big Pine Key (where I live) become smaller, marine and intertidal habitat moves up the shore at the expense of upland habitat, and property values are diminished.
Monroe County’s elected officials and staff heard our call and those of other global, national, state, and local voices, forming a Climate Change Advisory Committee in January 2011. Now this group is working to gather community input to recommend county policies both to prepare for the impacts of climate change – and to reduce carbon pollution that contributes to global warming.
With a grant from the Florida Energy and Climate Commission, the county produced a video (click above to watch) outlining our sustainability efforts, and has begun energy conservation initiatives, such as retrofitting four buildings, purchasing five hybrid vehicles and funding a low‐income solar hot water heating installation program.
Those of us working on these issues in Monroe County look forward to sharing our ongoing work with our sister counties (Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach) in the Southeast Florida Regional Climate Change Compact – and other communities in the U.S. and around the world that are facing up to the challenge of climate change.
Chris Bergh is the South Florida Conservation Director for The Nature Conservancy in Florida, and is serving as Vice Chair of Monroe County’s Climate Change Advisory Committee.
Photo © Tim Calver (Scientists with Mote Marine Laboratory check up on a staghorn coral that has been transplanted to a reef east of Looe Key. Once one of the most abundant corals on Floridian reefs, staghorn coral is a threatened species after severe losses due to coral bleaching and disease.)
Inset photo © The Nature Conservancy (Key deer are a species found only on the Florida Keys).
Trackback from your site.