Thursday, December 27, 2012

Planners wary of coastal sea rise in St. Augustine area

Peter Guinta in the Florida Times-Union: Scientists studying the effect of higher sea levels on the 100,000-acre Matanzas Basin — which runs from Anastasia Island to Crescent Beach — say that rising waters will turn coastal marshes into open water and coastal forests into marshes. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers projections point to a potential 3- to 7-inch sea level rise along St. Johns County’s coast over several decades.

Kathryn Frank, assistant professor at the Department of Urban and Regional Planning at the University of Florida, said coastal marshes are an important wildlife habitat that should be preserved. “Higher sea levels come from global warming,” she said, explaining that rising average temperatures heat up and thus expand sea water. The higher temps also melt ice and glaciers on land masses such as Greenland and the Antarctic. That ice melt then runs into the sea.

“We’re land-use planners who focus on preserving ecosystems and habitats,” Frank said. Teams of scientists are working for UF and the Guana Tolomato Matanzas National Estuarine Research Reserve on this project, which began in November 2011 and runs to October 2014.

A workshop Dec. 6 at Flagler College, “Planning for Sea Level Rise in the Matanzas Basin,” was designed to inform the public that rapid sea level rise can mean flooding, coastal erosion, saltwater intrusion into the water supply, storm surges moving farther inland and habitat and species changes in the Matanzas Basin.

Michael Shirley of the Guana reserve said his agency has tracked sea levels for quite a while. “We have many salt marshes [along our coast], [which are] some of the most sensitive habitats to sea level rise,” he said. “Salt marshes are important to our coastal economy, affecting ecotourism, fishing, absorbing the impact of storms, helping to detoxify runoff. They act as a water filter by absorbing nutrients. They are the canary in the coal mine for sea level rise.”...

Matanzas River near Fort Matanzas, in St. Johns County, Florida, shot by Ebyabe, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

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