By Lise Alves, Contributing Reporter
MIAMI BEACH, FLORIDA – Current rates of sea level rise combined with increasing climate variability could accelerate the loss of mangrove-lined coastlines, according to a new United States Geological Survey (USGS) study.
“These findings suggest that with higher and accelerating RSLR (relative sea level rise) today, enhanced climate variability could further hasten the loss of mangrove-lined coastlines,” stated the research, published in the Nature Communications journal last month.
According to scientists, mangroves are considered resilient trees, often capable of keeping pace with high and accelerating rates of sea-level rise. But changes in climate and intense weather, such as droughts and hurricanes, can cause these plant communities to shift or disappear, resulting in lasting changes to the coastlines they protect.
“This was surprising because mangroves are thought to be relatively resilient to sea level rise,” agreed Miriam Jones, a USGS geologist and lead author for the study, was quoted as saying by WGCT news media.
“A warmer climate could not only result in higher sea levels, but it could also lead to more intense droughts and storms and possibly increase the rate of mangrove loss. This is particularly true if these stresses are prolonged or repeated,” added Jones.
According to the state government, Florida has an estimated 469,000 acres of mangrove forests. They can be found as far north as Cedar Key on the Gulf Coast and Cape Canaveral on the Atlantic Coast.
Officials say that Tampa Bay is one of the locations in Florida where the largest area of mangrove destruction has occurred. According to officials Tampa Bay has lost over 44 percent of its coastal wetlands acreage; this includes both mangroves and salt marshes.
The disappearing mangroves also includes those found along the Florida Bay, a body of water that lies between the Florida Keys and the state’s southern tip, within the Everglades National Park.
“From previous studies, we know that the mangrove zone in South Florida shifted inland as sea level rose and estuaries covered what was previously mangrove forest during the late Holocene,” stated research geologist Jones.
Everglades National Park has the largest stand of protected mangrove forests in the hemisphere. Mangroves are essential to life in the Everglades. They stabilize the coastline and reduce erosion from storm surges, waves, and tides.
They provide a safe habitat for birds, reptiles, fish, and other animals seeking shelter from Everglades predators. During the dry season, birds use them as a home to feed and nest. During the wet season, they serve as a defense against the strong winds of hurricanes traveling across South Florida.
They also ‘consume’ tons of carbon from the atmosphere. At the end of 2016 scientists estimated the value of mangrove forests in the Everglades National Park and came up with a surprising value of between $2-$3.4 billion, according to daily Miami Herald.
The Everglades is now in the midst of massive billion-dollar restoration project, scheduled to last thirty years, but which scientists say could take as much as 100 years, leaving plenty of time for sea level rise to hinder restoration efforts.