The Gulf of Mexico, bay waters slowly encroach on paradise

Think of it as akin to in-season traffic, a local environmental scientist said.

Sea level rise is not unlike the number of cars building up slowly on the barrier islands as season gets underway.

“It won’t be an inundation, like we have in a storm,” Jennifer Shafer said of the rising waters encroaching on paradise. “It’s more a slow-motion creep where we begin to notice business as usual is disrupted, and it’s happening on more and more days of the year.”

Shafer, of Shafer Consulting of Sarasota, says places such as Egmont Key — named to Florida’s most endangered places list in November 2017 — and the bustling streets of Anna Maria Island and other barrier islands around the world, will soon look very different.

The “best understanding” of the science of ice melts is driving the predications, which in some cases are dire.

Though some factions dispute the possibility of or even the existence of global warming, the melting of the planet’s polar regions and northern ice sheets cannot be denied.

The National Snow and Ice Data Center, a NASA supported entity, said January statistics for the arctic ice cap set a new daily record low for coverage — 42,0000 square miles below the monthly averages of 2017.

Antarctica, likewise, hit a low that was second only to one reading since records started in 1979.

But scientists like Shafer say the worst sea level rise caused by ice melt is that of land ice, such as Greenland’s, which is thawing at a rate that is raising sea level 0.74 millimeters a year.

Andrea Dutton, assistant professor of geology at the University of Florida, told Scientific American the rate is increasing and the acceleration has doubled Greenland’s contribution to sea level rise compared to the period from 1992-2011. The water is rising slowly.

 

What can be done

Global sea level has been rising over the past century and was 2.6 inches above the average for the past two decades in 2014. It continues to increase yearly, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Levels are monitored by satellite and at tide stations, such as the local station in St. Petersburg.

Sea level rise is a circle of cause and effect — greenhouse gas emissions, warming ocean waters, the melting ice sheets, changing ocean currents due to warming. Oceans absorb more than 90 percent of the increased atmospheric heat associated with emissions from human activities, NOAA states.

Shafer said there are things we can do to mitigate sea level rise, such as the obvious cutting of green house gases. We are just beginning to explore “new science” and what we can do to save coastal cities and land masses.

Local conditions need to be addressed, Shafer said, and climate patterns such as the familiar El Nino and La Nina which occur when the Pacific current is warmer or cooler than normal, need to be recognized as contributors to precipitation, cloud patterns and local tide levels.

The city of Anna Maria has installed eight of 12 WaStop Inline Check Valves to help control tidal and coastal flooding. The valve is a hollow cone-shaped barrier with an apex facing inward and upward. When water fills the pipe, the pressure lifts the bottom of the barrier, allowing stormwater out.

WaStop valves can enhance the network of drainage ditches and swales installed along the roads on the island more than a decade ago in an attempt to control flooding.

Holmes Beach, likewise, has already installed valves and Bradenton Beach is in the planning stage for installation. The three island cities are funding the projects — without county or other government funds — according to Dean Jones, public works manager for Anna Maria.

Longboat Key announced in January that it is installing valves to mitigate north end tidal flooding and investigating other control measures. Nuisance flooding, a problem for most barrier islands, is occurring at the north end of Longboat Key at a rate between 300 percent and 900 percent more frequently than 50 years ago, according to NOAA.

All of this adds up to a lot of water than needs to be managed.

 

Why Egmont is important

Islanders can spot Egmont Key across Tampa Bay from the north end of Anna Maria. It now sits on that most endangered places list compiled by the Florida Trust for Historical Preservation.

But it’s not just because if Egmont disappears, weekend boaters will have no stop to wander the beaches or check out the old lighthouse.

Egmont Key means a lot more than leisure to some Floridians, including Paul Backhouse, director of the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum and Tribal Historic Preservation Office in Clewiston.

Backhouse knows a piece of history tied to the key — the placing of captured Seminoles during the Seminole War of the 1850s.

Captives were rounded up and carried by boat to Egmont, where there was no way to escape.

More than 100 Seminoles were placed on the island in what Backhouse likened to Alcatraz or a POW camp, and left to wait.

Some died, while some surviving tribe members were taken west to what is now Oklahoma.

Backhouse said unmarked graves are on Egmont, including that of Tigertail, who crushed up a glass bottle and ate the shards, rather than being taken West.

The Seminole tribe doesn’t want Egmont to disappear.

“If that key goes underwater, a part of our tribal history will disappear with it,” Backhouse said.

The tribe works with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to get sand replenished on the beaches of Egmont and has an ongoing project to locate the Seminole graves.

No matter the personal view on global warming, the fact that sea levels around the globe, including here on the beaches of Anna Maria and Egmont Key, are rising is undisputable.

“Acceleration is real,” Shafer said. “A fraction of an inch adds up over time.”

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