Florida ‘Heed Global Warming Guide’

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.

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.