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By Theresa Pinto, Contributing Reporter

MIAMI BEACH, FLORIDA – In the San Francisco Bay Area this past week, policymakers released a 255-page plan to adapt the area to sea-level rise. More notably, the San Francisco Bay Shoreline Adaptation Atlas had an unusual subheading not often implicated in municipal master plans: Working with Nature to Plan for Sea Level Rise.

The idea for San Fransisco Bay is to absorb rising seas, rather than repel along 400 miles of shoreline, Miami, Miami Beach, Florida News
The idea for San Fransisco Bay’s 400 miles of shoreline is to absorb rising seas, rather than repel, photo by Santa Clara Valley Water District.

The plan was put together by the San Francisco Estuary Institute and the San Francisco Bay Area Planning and Urban Research Association. It will be funded by the San Francisco Bay Regional Water Quality Control Board, although no costs have been established as of yet.

The idea is to absorb rising seas, rather than repel, by dividing San Francisco Bay’s 400 miles of shoreline into thirty “Operational Landscape Units” to develop into nature-based shorelines. Under the Atlas, 18,000 acres have already been acquired for restoration and the goal is to restore 100,000 acres in total.

The Atlas uses nature-based approaches to build resiliency in hopes that this will perform better than traditional infrastructural fixes, perhaps cost less, and bring along with it multiple “co-benefits.”

Some projects are already underway, like the Giant Marsh in North Richmond, which incorporates a sloping tidal system that starts with oyster shell mounds.

“The Bay Area is ground zero for sea-level rise,” said Warner Chabot, executive director of the Estuary Institute, who predicted the atlas would become a national model.

Chabot told the San Francisco Chronicle, “We have a trifecta threat of sea level rise, groundwater rising and lowland flooding from extreme weather patterns, and that guarantees a soupy shoreline future for the Bay Area.”

Much like the San Francisco Bay, Biscayne Bay is also facing existential threats from sea-level rise. However, Miami has two priorities when it comes to building ecosystem-level resilience to sea-level rise; the restoration of the Everglades and protection of the Biscayne Bay.

From the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to the Village of Key Biscayne, many agencies are involved in both seagrass and Everglades restoration. Key Biscayne has contracted with private firm CSA Ocean Sciences Inc to restore seagrass in their part of the Bay.

The Department of Environmental Resource Management completed a study in January on seagrass die-off in order to launch restoration efforts in the Bay as part of county-wide resiliency efforts.

But none propose the nature-based efforts in the Atlas and none instill the collaborative efforts that see the Bay as one continuous ecosystem rather than several distinct municipalities.

Additionally, Florida’s limestone foundation is considerably different from what lays under the San Francisco Bay, ecologically and physically.

Maybe not so different in theory from the porous landfill that San Francisco is built on, but San Francisco can’t remove or create a “living shore” out of its seawall infrastructure, which keeps the landfill under parts of the city completely dry.

However, seawalls on Miami Beach won’t keep rising seas from coming up through porous limestone or intruding into the region’s drinking water table.

What is clear is that both cities have experienced 8 inches of sea-level rise since 1950. The Southeast Florida Sea Level Rise Workgroup forecasts 6-10 inches more for Miami Beach by 2030.

The sense of urgency in both areas is palpable, but it remains to be seen whether the trajectories each city takes in dealing with sea-level rise will be similar or vastly different.

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