How nature can help SWFL fight back against sea-level rise
NAPLES, Fla. (WBBH) — At Clam Pass Park in Naples, the boardwalk winds through dense trees and over clear blue water in the bay. It’s a beautiful route to the beach.
But as FGCU professor Mike Savarese explains, the landscape offers much more than just a scenic walk.
“It provides ecosystem services,” Savarese said.
He’s talking specifically about the tangled mangrove forest in the park, which sits between the gulf coast and the hotel resorts in the area.
After stepping off the boardwalk, Savarese navigated through the trees, explaining how they can help protect coastal development.
“Just like the difficulty we had walking through here, water has difficulty moving through here,” he said. “That reduces the depth and the extent of the flooding. So, the flooding doesn’t make it in quite as far, it doesn’t get quite as deep.”
Out on the beach that protection is critical, especially because of an emerging concern: sea levels, slowly and over time, are rising.
“At the highest estimate, I believe it’s something like 6 and a half feet in 2100,” Savarese said of the projections. “The entire planet looks vastly different.”
That’s why Savarese and other environmental experts have developed a computer modeling tool, called ACUNE, for Collier County.
“It’s meant to be a dynamic tool to look at where the flooding is gonna occur, when the flooding is gonna occur, and how extensive and deep the flooding will be — and then use that to plan accordingly,” Savarese explained.
ACUNE also looks at storm surge, along with how dunes and mangroves can provide protection for coastal communities. The experts even use it experimentally, re-simulating Irma from 2017 to estimate the value of the vegetation across the county.
“The economic damage that Collier County would have sustained — if you took all of this away — would be 13 million dollars more,” Savarese said in the mangrove forest. “That one experiment, if you will, shows the economic value and importance of mangrove forests to protecting the urban footprint behind it.”
Savarese is working with experts from other universities, local and county leaders and officials with the South Florida Water Management District to plan for the future and the changing climate.
“By working with nature, I think what we can do is really optimize the investments needed to protect our region,” Carolina Maran, the SFWMD Resiliency Officer, told NBC2.
Rising sea levels can also threaten mangroves and impact where they thrive. The hope is that ACUNE will help leaders better understand how to maintain the natural protection before rising seas are a challenge that can’t be overcome.
“I think this is critical,” Maran said. “This is critical for the future of Florida.”
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