By Lise Alves, Contributing Reporter
MIAMI BEACH, FLORIDA – New research led by a biologist at the University of Central Florida shows that 75 percent of the Atlantic Coast, from North Carolina to Central Florida, will be extremely vulnerable to erosion and inundation from sea level rise by 2030, negatively impacting many coastal species’ habitats.
“Sea level rise (SLR) and disturbances from increased storm activity are expected to diminish coastal ecosystems available to nesting species by removing habitat and inundating nests during incubation,” states the study published in The Journal of Wildlife Management and led by biologist Betsy Von Holle.
According to the study, more than 1,200 miles of coastline is estimated to have an increase in coastal erosion vulnerability by 2030. The new data reflects a thirty percent increase in highly vulnerable areas in the region since 2000, when a U.S. Geological Survey’s Coastal Vulnerability Index was released.
Seventy-five percent of the coastal area from Cape Hatteras, NC, to Cape Canaveral, FL. is at high risk for erosion and flooding by rising seas and storm events, the study concludes.
That is an increase from about 45 percent of coastal area found to be at high risk in a similar study published by the U.S. Geological Survey twenty years ago. The map accompanying the study shows most of northern and central Florida’s coast as high-risk zones.
The study chose to examine the possible effects of erosion, due to sea level rising, on eleven species which call parts of the Atlantic coastline their homes: three sea turtle species, three shorebird species, and five seabird species.
“We need to know not only what areas are going to be the most affected by sea level rise, but also those species most vulnerable to sea level rise in order to figure out management plans for coastal species,” von Holle told Science Magazine. According to her when there is erosion and inundation during the reproductive seasons, ‘it has large impacts on species’.
Among the most at-risk wildlife species monitored for this study are seabirds who nest along shallow coastal areas, ‘specifically the gull-billed tern and sandwich tern’. Brown pelicans nesting areas, were not as risk-prone.
And according to scientists, while sea-level rise is a threat to coastal species, so are human-made structures, such as sea walls. Without those types of structures, say experts, coastal species could better adapt to the rising seas.
In the United States, almost forty percent of the population lives in coastal areas, where sea level plays a role in flooding, shoreline erosion, and hazards from storms, and by 2020 these numbers are expected to increase by eight percent, or almost ten million people, according to NOAA (United States National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration).