Six Estuaries Across the Country First to Be Climate Ready

WASHINGTON, DC, June 19, 2008 (ENS) – Charlotte Harbor on Florida’s Gulf Coast has been selected as one of the first six estuaries to be case studies for local action to protect sensitive coastal ecosystems and economies from the effects of climate change.

The estuaries were chosen by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency as the first step in the agency’s new Climate Ready Estuaries effort to build local ability to adapt to climate change.

Estuaries – where rivers meet the sea – are likely to experience some of the most severe effects of climate change.

“EPA’s Climate Ready Estuaries work will help coastal communities understand and adapt to climate change,” said EPA Assistant Administrator for Water Benjamin Grumbles. “Our aim is to build capacity for local decision makers and resource managers to help take pro-active, practical steps for bays at risk.”

Within the United States, the Southeast is considered to be the area most susceptible to climate change, while the Charlotte Harbor Estuary is particularly susceptible to potential sea level rise associated with climate change.

Josephine Custa sweeps in front of her
Charlotte Harbor business in
the wake of Hurricane Charley.
August 29, 2004. (Photo by
George Armstrong courtesy FEMA)

Charlotte Harbor’s vulnerability to severe seasonal storms was demonstrated on August 13, 2004, when Hurricane Charley first made mainland landfall at the mouth of the harbor.

The national effort includes two levels of support – a toolkit of information and technical assistance available to all National Estuary Programs, NEPs, and other coastal managers, and targeted financial support to several NEP pilots.

The funds will be used to develop and demonstrate ways to identify vulnerabilities, develop adaptation strategies, and implement those strategies.

Upon completion of these adaptation strategies, the EPA will recognize individual National Estuary Programsand other coastal communities as “climate ready,” encouraging the coastal leaders to implement climate adaptation and gain local and national, public and private partners to support their prescribed actions.

The other five pilots include New Hampshire Estuaries Project, Massachusetts Bays Estuary Program, Partnership for Delaware Bay, the Albemarle-Pamlico Sound National Estuary, and the San Francisco Estuary Project.

Each estuary program will receive technical assistance to assess and reduce its vulnerability to climate change.

The Charlotte Harbor Aquatic Preserves provide many types of recreational and commercial uses for permanent and part-time residents and visiting tourists. The area’s economy depends upon its nearness to the ocean, offering recreational and commercial boating and fishing, single and multi-family structures, swimming, commercial uses such as docks and boat slips associated with restaurants, marinas and resorts, and miscellaneous utility uses.

The two southern preserves in particular lie adjacent to many beautiful and highly utilized parks and beaches including Cayo Costa State Park and the J.N. “Ding” Darling Wildlife Refuge on Sanibel Island, famous worldwide for the number and beauty of the seashells that wash up on its beaches.

The pilot estuary project in Florida will engage residents from Sanibel Island to prepare to adapt to climate change and mitigate adverse impacts.

The programs will apply analyses and tools to help them make decisions to protect their communities and build knowledge to help other communities adapt to a changing climate.

Communities with plans approved by their local stakeholders will be designated as Climate Ready Estuaries by the EPA.

Lessons learned from the pilots will be used to provide information and leadership to other coastal communities. Under the Climate Ready Estuaries framework, EPA will use the 28 National Estuary Programs, Internet resources and other means identified through the initial pilots to support local efforts in all of the nation’s coastal communities to effectively plan and adapt to climate change.

The Climate Ready Estuaries program is one of more than 40 specific actions to respond to the water-related impacts of climate change that are described in a draft strategy developed by the National Water Program to help water resource managers adapt their programs to a changing climate.

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