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Gulf of Mexico Foundation
Sea Level Rise
2009 GOMA Project

Issue Description:

There are many activities that cause stress on natural systems in the Gulf of Mexico. Among them, and one of the most damaging if not understood and taken into consideration, is global climate change-related impacts of sea level rise, storm surges and hurricanes. Other current stressors such as unsustainable development, shoreline hardening, habitat fragmentation and destruction have placed the Sea Level Rise whole of the gulf system under threat. It is fair, then, to anticipate increased stress from the effects of global climate change and therefore a substantial reduction of the system’s capacity to generate the ecological services we have grown accustomed to enjoy (fishing, coastal protection, nutrient removal, etc.). The current ecosystem services are the result of the present structure and function of the natural system of where the ecosystem service exists. Any alteration in this structure and function will alter the ecosystem service. Not all alterations are bad, but many are. If no action is taken, global climate change-related effects of sea level rise, storm surges and hurricanes will shrink and destroy areas in which the natural systems exist.

Problems:

Population has been growing all along the US coasts and the Gulf of Mexico is not the exception. This growth comes with people living in larger numbers closer and closer to the water line. As sea level increases in the coming years, many of these properties will tend to be impacted by regular storms and possibly significantly when periodic hurricanes come through the Gulf. The natural tendency for this is to protect these properties by hardening of the shoreline, building walls and levies and other “non-natural” structures. Ultimately what this will cause for the natural system is it will get squeezed between the hard structure and the rising water levels. With this squeezing deterioration of the natural protection provided by marshes, mangroves, seagrasses and other natural systems will also diminish, further enhancing the danger for coastal communities. Another large economic driver of the region is tourism which depends also on healthy coastal natural systems. If these continue to deteriorate, the attractiveness of the coast will also diminish. So understanding the potential effects of sea level rise on this scenario is very important to allow local, state, federal and private decision makers to make more informed decisions about future investments and current protection schemes.

What You Can Do:

The first thing that responsible citizens can do is to stay as informed as possible. Because science is moving forward rather rapidly on understanding potential effects of global climate change, including sea level rise, this knowledge needs to be more and more in the hands of the public to ensure that policy decisions are made considering as much as possible the available science. The best policies are usually enacted and implemented when the public is well informed and participates in the spreading of knowledge as well as participating in the process of decision making.

Current Activities:

The Gulf of Mexico Alliance’s Habitat Conservation and Restoration Team (HCRT) and the Coastal Community Resilience teams mission is to provide leadership to advance improved and increased stewardship of our coastal natural systems for the benefit of the citizens of the region. It is with this mission in mind that a joint project with The Nature Conservancy (TNC) has been started. Among the activities proposed are the following:

  • Create and coordinate a Focus Team to address sea level rise. This team would be comprised of representatives from all five Gulf of Mexico States, federal, academic and non-governmental organizations and will draw on relationships already established by the Gulf of Mexico Alliance. The Conservancy would function as facilitator for the team, and would provide technical support.
  • Using SLAMM (Sea Level Rise Affecting Marshes Model) modeling, the Alliance seeks to gain practical understanding of localized risks to the environment and to human communities that may result from sea level rise and from related hazards like storm surge, storm vulnerability and saltwater intrusion.
  • Using this assessment of risk we will develop regional management tools and/or approaches to enhance the resiliency of Gulf Coast communities through adaptation strategies that consider human and natural communities.
  • The Team will select one or more focus areas in each state and develop a process to assess the impacts of sea level rise on that area and on the opportunities for mitigation and community resilience in each. The sites will be chosen to highlight different scenarios and circumstances so that the range of results and recommendations will present overall strategies for mitigating and adapting to the impacts of sea level rise.

Contacts

Rafael Calderon
Director Gulf of Mexico Initiative
The Nature Conservancy
Rafael_calderon@tnc.org

Ryan Fikes, M.S.
Project Director, HCRT
Gulf of Mexico Foundation
ryan@gulfmex.org

James Pahl, Ph.D.
Louisiana State Lead, HCRT
Office of Coastal Protection & Restoration
james.pahl@la.gov

Greg DuCote
Louisiana Co-Lead, HCRT
LA Dept of Natural Resources
Gregory.Ducote@la.gov

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