Sea level rise, warming waters and changes in storm patterns area are affecting coastal areas. From the peaceful beach city of St. Mary’s, GA, to the metropolitan mecca of Miami, FL, these coastal communities have one thing in common: they are all seeing effects from the changing ocean. Southeast coastal communities from North Carolina down to Florida have partnered to build understanding of the roles that natural ecosystems have in regards to coastal resilience and planning. Project partners in these four states are conducting in-the-water shoreline erosion control projects to research protection of coastal marshes, barrier islands, coral reefs, floodplains and other habitats critical to natural resilience.
Regional Projects & Solutions
In Georgia, local, state, federal government agencies, non-profit organizations, and private citizens are assessing where people and infrastructure within coastal communities are vulnerable to coastal hazards and sea level rise and applying natural solutions such as land protection, shoreline and wetland restoration and flood risk decision support tools.
The Albemarle-Pamlico Sound region is home to more than 2.7 million people. Millions more visit the area because of its wide array of natural resources. Much of the area is low-lying, leaving coastal communities threatened by severe storms, coastal flooding, and rapid shoreline change.
South Carolina coastal communities are facing more frequent flooding from sea level rise and storm events. In response, they are identifying ways to visualize and reduce risk to their communities using natural infrastructure like coastal wetlands, beaches and dunes, living shorelines, and river floodplains.
Between 1980 and 2006, coastal southeastern counties showed the largest rate of population increase of any coastal region in the contiguous United States. As nearshore waters grow warmer, communities may shift; this is specifically true at the population-dense zones around Cape Hatteras, North Carolina and Cape Canaveral, Florida. Pressures for tourism and development often lead to destruction of coastal habitats and bring tidal flow alterations, and amplified inputs of nutrients and toxins, which impact estuarine and nearshore systems.
Barrier islands, sand shoals, and riverine deltas are geologically unstable and therefore easily impacted by human activities that diminish sand sources. Channel dredging, as is happening in the Port of Savannah, Georgia, impacts shorelines as sediments accumulate in the deepened channels rather than on the adjacent shores. Also, nearshore sand mining, which occurs in several dozen locations along the east coast, can starve beaches of their natural sand supply in an attempt to nourish other beaches. This can cause loss of some beaches, or they may become more temporary as erosion rates increase.
Although sea level rise and storm frequency are typically the primary climate change impacts associated with coastal systems, changes in water temperatures and pH will accompany them. Lower ocean pH due to elevated global CO2 concentrations, also known as ocean acidification, will inhibit processes oysters rely on for shell development. Healthy oyster reefs decrease the number of harmful algae blooms and the associated fish kills and beach closures. A majority of the coastal wetlands lost from 2004 to 2009 were attributed to effects from coastal storms, land subsidence, sea level rise, or other ocean processes.
These issues can prove disastrous for local economies and are some of the reasons coastal resilience is at the forefront of our minds and we are investing so much into finding the best all-around solutions for these issues.
Land Restoration, Community & Living Shorelines
The Southeast network is a regional solution to coordination and knowledge sharing across the four Southeast US states: North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia and Florida (including the Florida Keys). Site-based projects throughout the area are demonstrating the feasibility and effectiveness of using preserved and restored natural shorelines as part of an overall coastal adaptation package – conserving wetlands, beaches, reefs and estuaries both today and into the future in the face of change.
For the latest reports, publications and other resources on coastal resilience in the Southeast Atlantic US, visit the Coastal Resilience Resource Library on the Conservation Gateway.
Related Stories and News
• Enough Pie, a network of residents, artists, businesses and activists, committed to equitable and just growth. has assembled a team of artists, scientists, organizations and thought leaders to shine a light on rising waters through public art, parades, lectures, and events for the Awakening V: King Tide.
The Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) Climate Adaptation Fund just released a new report, 14 Solutions to Problems Climate Change Poses for Conservation, which features six previously funded projects at TNC. Check it out for inspiration!
The recently released St. Marys Flood Resiliency Project is the result of a collaborative effort to assess the coastal community’s hazards and flood vulnerability through community outreach and engagement and report on progress with their community rating system Read more…
Florida is considered one of the most vulnerable and at-risk states to sea level rise, tropical storms, and variations in precipitation levels. In fact, just weeks before Hurricane Matthew made landfall as a Category 1 Hurricane, Miami-Dade County released a...
Reducing Property Loss and Flood Insurance Premiums Through Open Space Preservation Contributed by Debbie Crane, Director of Communications for The Nature Conservancy, North Carolina When the Conservancy’s Kate Murray visited Dare County Planner Donna Creef, she came...
DOWNLOAD FULL REPORT With poorly planned coastal development comes an increase in risk due to coastal hazards and climate change. In the U.S. alone, more than half of the nation’s population lives on the coast. Since 1960, population in coastal areas has increased by...
People often talk about King Tides and climate change, but I think it’s important to point out that these tides are cyclical and predictable, and they happen all around the world. Australia, South America, everywhere, and have happened as long as there have been...
Coastal Defense App highlights protective role of coral reefs and mangroves in S.E. Florida and the Keys
Southeast Florida and the Florida Keys are among the most vulnerable regions in the world when it comes to coastal storms and sea level rise. Fortunately, the region is endowed with natural coastal defenses such as coral reefs, beaches, dunes and mangrove wetlands...