Report: Canaveral seashore to sink by century's end

6:24 PM, Aug 30, 2012   |    comments
File photo from 2009 shows Canaveral National Seashore. A map in the report shows almost all of Canaveral seashore and Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, at just one meter above sea level, so potentially completely inundated by the end of the century. / File (Florida Today)
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Canaveral National Seashore will be almost completely under the ocean by the end of the century if greenhouse gases aren't significantly cut, according to a report released Wednesday by two environmental groups.

The groups examined global warming impacts to Canaveral and six other national seashores. In five of the seven seashores studied, at least half of the land would be inundated by an accelerating rate of sea-level rise they say could top 5 feet by the end of the century.

"The biggest threat to these seashores is that they will be largely or entirely covered by the ocean," said Stephen Saunders, president of the Rocky Mountain Climate Organization, one of the groups that published the study.

A map in the report shows almost all of Canaveral seashore and Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, at just one meter above sea level, so potentially completely inundated by the end of the century.

Only thin strips of Canaveral seashore's lands are higher than one meter. The 24-mile barrier island in some places is no more than 100 yards wide, so already very vulnerable to rising seas, the report asserts. And unlike many barrier islands that have both primary and secondary rows of dunes to guard from storm surges and overwash, Canaveral has just a single dune row.

Endangered sea turtles could lose nesting area and warmer sand could skew gender ratios to more females, the authors say.

As many as 4,000 loggerheads, 300 green sea turtles and a few leatherbacks nest at Canaveral seashore each year, the report says.

The report also details impacts of a climate change on national seashores at Cape Cod in Massachusetts; Fire Island in New York; Assateague Island in Maryland and Virginia; Cape Hatteras and Cape Lookout in North Carolina; and Cumberland Island in Georgia.

The Natural Resources Defense Council and Rocky Mountain Climate Organization conducted the study.

Saunders, former deputy assistant secretary of the U.S. Department of the Interior under President Bill Clinton, coauthored the report with Tom Easley, director of programs at Rocky Mountain Climate Organization and a former statewide programs manager at the Colorado State Parks agency and others at the two environmental groups. S. Jeffress Williams, scientist emeritus of the U.S. Geological Survey, reviewed the report.

Sea level has risen about a foot on average over the past century, Williams said, but the rate of rise has sped up the past two decades. "We can see that the rate of sea level rise has increased about 50 percent," he said.

Geological forces are causing land along the east cost of the United States to sink the same time that sea level is rising.

The authors interpreted a comparative assessment by the USGS of the relative vulnerabilities of different portions of the U.S. Atlantic Coast to sea level rise. Their analysis found that Canaveral, Assateague Island, Cape Hatteras and Cape Lookout national seashores are in a top tier of vulnerability.

The authors point to stricter limits on power plants, especially coal-fired plants, as well as vehicle emissions standards as the solutions. They say carbon dioxide emissions must be cut by about 50 percent by mid-century to save the seashores from severe erosion.

Jim Waymer, FLORIDA TODAY

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