By Carrie Schuman, Ph.D., SCCF Coastal Resilience Manager
Sanibel and Captiva are subject to the wild, natural processes that make islands especially unique. As barrier islands, they are naturally susceptible to change imposed by nature’s forces such as hurricane winds and surge and the shifting of sand by ocean waves and tides. However, in the future, we can expect certain stressors to increase because of climate change. Among these are warming ocean temperatures, sea level rise contributing to high-tide flooding, forecasted increases in hurricane intensity, and potential changes to the duration of annual dry and wet periods.
These effects can reverberate throughout natural and man-made systems in a multitude of ways. For example, higher water temperatures may change the timing and length of algal blooms, which impact light and oxygen availability for other aquatic life. Local septic systems, public facilities, and residential properties can become impaired by persistent flooding or the intrusion of saltwater. Those of us who visit, work, or live here year-round or seasonally understand that these islands are a special place, and we have a collective interest in preserving our properties and way of life. Part of the pathway to doing that includes achieving coastal resilience—ensuring that the natural components of the island and our communities can withstand, adapt, and recover from disruption.
The vision for coastal resilience—and the strategies for getting there—vary and often evolve over time depending on the needs of a specific community. Nonetheless, there are common themes that arise while working towards this goal. First, we rely on science to help us predict and formally assess where and when we can expect the influence of climate-based stressors so we can make decisions about where we should direct our efforts. Future expected impacts should be taken into serious consideration when planning for current and future development and for protecting important infrastructure, including roads, bridges, water treatment plants, and local businesses. We also look towards nature for solutions to protect us into the future. Many of the natural elements present in our island ecosystem—including mangrove forests, oyster reefs, and marshes—contribute to storm and flooding protection while providing numerous additional ecological benefits. We can incorporate these types of habitats into coastline protection designs, and support policies and legislation that promote conservation and preserves the health of natural habitats.
My role in the recently created position of Coastal Resilience Manager at the Sanibel Captiva Conservation Foundation, with two-year funding support from the Captiva Erosion Prevention District, is to help guide the islands on that journey. We know that Sanibel and Captiva already benefit from past and current expertise. The work of incredibly dedicated and talented people has forged the island’s legacy, but today we are charged with creating and enacting plans to achieve resilience. I am excited to be part of advancing this effort by providing additional scientific expertise. If you see me around—at a meeting, community presentation, or just out exploring the islands—please say hello and feel free to share your ideas and questions about coastal resilience. Let’s use our collective passion and insight to address this global issue on a local level.