Cover Story – Spring 2023
By SCCF Coastal Resilience Manager Carrie Schuman, Ph.D.
Since the Calusa Indians first inhabited Sanibel and Captiva, people have had to coexist with the modifying forces of nature. These have ranged from subtle changes imposed by tides, vegetation, and wildlife to the sometimes dramatically potent influences of storms.
For instance, a series of hurricanes in the 1920s cut new channels, including Redfish Pass, through the islands and redirected residents away from agriculture. Hurricane Charley in 2004 forced rebuilds of many homes across the islands, especially Captiva, and the replanting of more resilient native tree species in many areas.
And now, it is certain that September 2022’s Hurricane Ian will have left an especially indelible mark on our recent island history. However, while Ian has revealed some of our most immediate vulnerabilities, it has also illuminated some of our greatest current assets and opportunities.
Lessons from Ian
“If we’ve learned anything from Hurricane Ian, it’s that we must move swiftly to implement projects to make our communities more resilient to the impacts of climate change. We need to work with nature, not against her.”SCCF CEO James Evans
Intact beaches, healthy dune systems, subtropical interior wetlands, thriving stretches of mangroves, and other natural features undoubtedly decreased the damage that Ian could have imposed. Their persistence into the future will be key to helping us sustain ourselves and our prized, local wildlife.
Becoming a more resilient island community requires not just thoughtfully re-establishing ourselves post-hurricane, but also examining our needs through a long-term lens.
Rather than being an anomalous event, Ian is part of a trend of intensifying and slower-moving hurricanes that are joining other unfolding climate-driven impacts such as increased sea level rise, heavy rain events, and high-heat-index days.
“If we do nothing, the need to retreat from the islands may soon come knocking at our doors,” said Evans. “Alternately, we can explore and implement various solutions that — while unlikely to completely eliminate risk — can help to promote better outcomes, including reducing the time it takes to get back to normal.”
Solutions towards a more resilient future
Some solutions are aimed at greenhouse gas mitigation to tamp down the warming temperatures that underpin long-term climate trends. For Sanibel and Captiva, that means incorporating money-saving renewable energy and energy efficiency options, adopting electric vehicles, and relying on the powerful ability of living organisms and ecosystems to “draw down” carbon.
There are also opportunities for the adaptation to or accommodation of hurricanes and flooding across many sectors. “Retrofitting older buildings or rebuilding to stronger codes is crucial for the protection of our homes, businesses, and facilities,” said Evans.
Island transportation may need to be re-imagined — not just in response to the continual uptick of traffic, but also in the face of changing climate conditions.
Prioritizing native planting can give local wildlife a boost in their chances of recovering after extreme events. Living shorelines that incorporate both manmade and living components can provide shoreline protection along with other benefits like water filtration.
“SCCF is committed to doing our part in building this resilient future and supporting our community in making this crucial transition,” said Evans. “Our vigilance in protecting and caring for our ecosystem is our greatest hope.”
How SCCF is leading the way
- SCCF is an engaged member of SanCap Citizens for a Resilient Future – a group formed in February that is exploring resilience solutions.
- SCCF co-founded Sanibel Captiva Energy Working Group and has partnered with Solar United Neighbors to offer membership in the Lee and Collier County Solar Co-op through April.
- SCCF’s Native Landscaping & Garden Center issued a timely Post-Hurricane Ian Replanting Guide.
- SCCF created and released Rebuilding for Resilience: A Guide to Incentives which — paired with a companion workshop — highlights ways that residents and business owners can make more resilient choices while also saving money.
- SCCF is hosting Thomas T. Ankersen, emeritus director of the Center for Coastal Solutions Coastal Policy Lab at the University of Florida, as an inaugural Pfeifer fellow. He will be examining how the Sanibel Plan has performed in the wake of Hurricane Ian.
- SCCF works regularly with the Captiva Erosion Prevention District and the Captiva Community Panel to support their resilience efforts.
While we can ride the wave of action and urgency catalyzed by Ian, becoming a more resilient community will require the combination of many solutions and sustained dedication and vigilance.