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Florida Urged to Heed Global Warming Survival Guide

TALLAHASSEE, Florida, June 2, 2008 (ENS) – Environmental groups have issued a coastal, marine system global warming survival guide for Florida in an effort to prod state officials into taking action now while disaster is still manageable.

Florida has heated up by about two degrees Fahrenheit since the 1960s and scientists project that average temperatures will keep rising in the coming decades, with lows in winter increasing three to 10 degrees, and highs in summer increasing three to seven degrees.

These warmer temperatures will bring more extreme weather events, higher ocean temperatures and sea level rise, and while these prospects seem daunting, a group of nationally and internationally recognized environmental organizations has drafted a series of key steps that governments and individuals can take to minimize the dangers.

“By assembling the nation’s first comprehensive set of guidelines for dealing with the demonstrated effects of climate change on a coastal state, the Florida Coastal and Ocean Coalition has accomplished a first, said Environmental Defense Fund Climate Director Gerald Karnas.

“This is a real prescription for surviving the onrushing years of global warming. The whole world is going to be watching what is done here. This is the front line in the war on global warming,” said Karnas.


Storm damage on the Florida coast
(Photo courtesy Florida Coastal
School of Law)

The report was issued by the Florida Coastal and Ocean Coalition – a group of scientists and experts active in global warming and ocean issues in Florida as well as nationally and internationally.

The Caribbean Conservation Corporation is a member along with Environmental Defense Fund, Gulf Restoration Network, National Wildlife Federation, the Natural Resources Defense Fund, Ocean Conservancy, Reef Relief and The Surfrider Foundation.

“Warmer ocean waters kill coral and harm fish populations,” said Patty Glick, the report’s primary author and senior global warming specialist with the National Wildlife Federation. “Higher acidity inhibits corals and other marine animals from forming their protective skeletons.”

“Rising sea levels erode beaches, causing saltwater intrusion into fresh water supplies, and killing coastal marshes,” Glick said. “Extreme weather events, including floods, droughts, and tropical storms, lead to more polluted runoff into estuaries, and damage to coastal habitats and property.”

“We want our children and our grandchildren to be able to enjoy what we love about the ocean – from fishing trips to beach vacations and seafood dinners,” said Sarah Chasis, Ocean Initiative director with the Natural Resources Defense Council, NRDC, one of the authoring organizations.

“This report is a blueprint for protecting our oceans from global warming,” Chasis said. “The longer we wait the more expensive and difficult it is going to be to fix later.”

The first and most important step, the groups say, is to curb emissions, but even if humans are able to do that, the impacts that are predicted to occur still must be addressed.

Coastal and marine ecosystems can be restored so they can better cope with the stress of climate change and ocean acidification, the groups say in their survival guide.

“The thin ribbon of sand that surrounds the Florida peninsula is the most important sea turtle nesting habitat in the United States,” said Gary Appelson, Sea Turtle Survival League advocacy coordinator at the Caribbean Conservation Corporation.

Development in vulnerable areas can be halted to prepare for rising sea levels, and natural buffers must be restored and protected, the groups advise.

The guide urges governments and individuals to prepare for extreme weather events by protecting and restoring shoreline vegetation and wetlands and upgrading stormwater management.

Water use efficiency can be improved through conservation and recycling treated wastewater for irrigation and industrial use.

“Florida can and must be a leader not only in curbing the build up of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, but also in implementing smart, common-sense coastal and ocean policies that will help preserve the state’s natural coastal and ocean heritage,” biologist Dr. Sylvia Earle, a former chief scientist of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, observes in the preface to the report.

To reduce the impacts of higher ocean temperatures, the groups advise Florida and federal agencies to work together to protect and restore coastal and marine ecosystems in order to enhance their ability to deal with the additional stresses caused by climate change.

The Florida Department of Environmental Protection should evaluate and monitor the effectiveness of the state’s coastal and aquatic managed areas and coastal zone management programs in supporting biological diversity among fish and wildlife species and should develop strategies to strengthen these programs, the report recommends.

The groups advise the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission to promote the rebuilding of depleted coastal and ocean fish populations since depleted populations will have a harder time dealing with the additional stresses posed by climate change and warming waters.

“During our lifetime, acidification and warming sea temperatures could eliminate coral reefs in Florida as we know them,” warned Paul Johnson, president of Reef Relief.

Congress should enact climate adaptation legislation that would provide funding and require federal and state agencies to protect and strengthen the health of coastal and ocean ecosystems, the report recommends.

“We have a moral obligation to change our relationship with the planet,” said David White, regional director of Ocean Conservancy. “Adaptation to climate change will require significant investments in research, education, industry and government, but is within our capacity as a global society.”

To read the full report, “Preparing for a Sea Change in Florida: A Strategy to Cope with the Impacts of Global Warming on the State’s Coastal and Marine Systems,” click here [www.flcoastalandocean.org].

“This guide, put together with careful thought by an impressive coalition of conservation organizations, lays out a roadmap for state policymakers to follow in preserving heritage,” Dr. Earle wrote. “The pathway is clear; what is needed now is action.”

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