Sea level rise expected to impact Tampa Bay area

03/15/12 Kelly Benjamin
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Scientists predict that because of warming oceans and melting glaciers, sea levels will continue to rise, threatening coastal cities and habitats. On Wednesday environmental and planning groups held a workshop in St. Pete Beach on the coming effects of sea level rise on the Tampa Bay area.

The Florida Nature Conservancy held the meeting in conjunction with the Tampa Bay Estuary Program and the Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council. The workshop presented the findings from studies looking at the potential impacts of sea level rise on coastal wetlands, native species, and human development. John Oetting is a Conservation Planner with the Florida Natural Areas Inventory.

Overall, there are a number of coastal species in the Tampa bay area from Loggerhead turtles to shorebirds to rare plant species that all look to face significant losses due to sea level rise, Oetting says.

In addition to impacts on native animal and plant species, sea level rise is expected to cause major problems for people. Ninety-five percent of Floridians live within 35 miles of the coast and if the sea level creeps up over the coming decades as scientists predict, that poses huge potential hazards to existing developments such as sewage, septic systems, transportation, cemeteries and water supply.  But how fast is the sea level rising?

Gary Mitchum Professor at the College of Marine Science at the University of South Florida says the data show that the sea level changes rates are consistent with what we are seeing around the globe, about 1 meter over the next 100 years.

He says that although there's a fair bit of uncertainty about the rate of sea level rise, it’s more likely to be worse than scientists predict than better.

There's a chance that it will only be half that but there's also a chance that it will be twice that and that's more likely, he says.

Part of the goal of the workshop was to look at effective strategies to adapt to sea level rise. Mitchum says that’s a challenging task given that what seems logical to scientists is not always politically practical.

Despite some of the rhetoric coming from the political right and climate change deniers, Mitchum says that there is a consensus that the sea level is going to increase this century. John Oetting of the Florida Natural Areas Inventory says that one of the main issues right now is continuing research and getting that information from scientists out to the public and educating them about what is coming.

For more information about the expected impacts of sea level rise impacts in the Tampa Bay area and an interactive map featuring the sea level projections for the entire United States, check out

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