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The Ocean Foundation –www.oceanfdn.org- The Oceans and Adaptation in the Face of Climate Change – pg. 1
This briefing paper reviews adaptation to only two of the many ocean related climate change threats.They are interrelated and thus share many of the same recommended adaptation actions that aresummarized in a table on page six.
Part 1: Adaptation and Sea Level Rise
1.1. Summary of threats
Climate change effects on ocean and coastal habitat are only going to be more evident over the nextfew decades. In addition to rising global temperatures, elevated storm frequency and intensity, andchanging precipitation patterns is the inevitable impact of sea level rise. Human lifestyles will need toadapt dramatically in response to degradation of shoreline properties, rising cost of property taxes andcoastal flood insurance, changes to marine transportation systems, and alteration of coastal livelihoodsrelated to tourism, fishing and recreation.Global sea level depends primarily on three factors: the
total quantity
of water filling the oceans'basins; the
of the oceans' layers, which determines the density and volume of their waters; and
the bathymetry (shape)
of the ocean floor, which determines the water-holding capacity of the basins. A rise in global temperature can, through a variety of physical mechanisms, transfer snowand ice from land to the sea, increasing the quantity of water in the ocean basins and can raise theoceans' temperatures, causing the thermal expansion of their volumes.
Research shows that sea levelhas already risen approximately 15-20 cm worldwide in the last century, and will rise 1-3 feet more over the next century.Rising sea levels pose a variety of implications for change: coastalinundation of low lying areas, increased beach and wetland erosion,more flooding from storm surges and rainstorms, and saltwater intrusionin groundwater and upstream freshwater habitats. Specifically, sea levelrise may have the following effects on our way of life.
 Impact on Coastal Infrastructure:
As the sea rises, so do coastal realestate property insurance costs. The number of households needing topurchase flood insurance has tripled in the last couple of decades andcoastal flood insurance rates have risen dramatically since the 2005storm season, and many insurers have already withdrawn from writing new policies in coastal areas.There are corresponding effects on the regional economy. Manytourism and recreational industries depend on the shoreline for revenue generation. Damage to coastal infrastructure includingroads, bridges, docks, water supply systems and hotels may becometoo costly to repair, while changes in regional climate andprecipitation levels may soon make some existing tourist locationsunattractive to visitors altogether.
 Property Damage Due to CoastalFlooding. Source: MarinePhotobankFlooded pier in Florida. Source: MarinePhotobank
The Ocean Foundation –www.oceanfdn.org- The Oceans and Adaptation in the Face of Climate Change – pg. 2
Impact on Marine Transportation Systems:
Rising sea levels can inflict significant damage ontransportation infrastructure, such as piers, ports and marinas. A new report from the NationalResearch Council says that “…potentially the greatest impact on transportation systems will be floodingof roads, railways, transit systems, and airport runways in coastal areas because of rising sea levelsand surges brought on by more intense storms.” Already an estimated 60,000 miles of coastalhighways are exposed to periodic storm flooding.
Impact on Small and Low-lying Islands:
Some of the
most severe effects of sea level rise will be felt insmall island nations, where more than 60 percent of the population lives within 1.5km of the shore, inareas that will be greatly reduced by inundation and erosion. In addition to the physical reduction of available land is the potential reduction in freshwater availability as surface water evaporation ratesmay rise and saltwater intrusion makes groundwater undrinkable. Increased coastal flooding cantrigger a variety of health problems including increased malaria, cholera, and skin diseases as a resultof more standing water,
challenges we have already witnessed in the wake of the 2004 tsunami andthe 2008 cyclone damage in Burma. From Alaska to Vanuatu entire coastal communities are beingrelocated and small low-lying islands abandoned to inundation.
 Impact on Mangrove Stands:
Mangroves play an essential role in protecting coastlines from erosionand storms. Estimates suggest that wave energy may be reduced by 75 per cent during a wave’spassage through 200 meters of mangrove forest. Mangroves also help to filter coastal pollution,promote water quality, and serve as important breeding grounds for fish. They are also importantsources of timber and construction materials for coastal communities. Mangrove loss due to floodingfrom rapid sea level rise could be disastrous locally and economically. The goods and servicesgenerated by mangroves have been estimated at an average worth of $900,000 per square kilometer,depending on their location and uses.
1.2. Expected Human Adaptation
Three typical human responses to sea level rise or coastal inundation are to: 1) hold back the watersusing dykes and levees, 2) elevate human structures and land surfaces, and 3) allow nature to take itscourse and respond retroactively. Humans can of course also choose to relocate to upland, inlandareas away from the shore, though climate change may make such options even less palatable.By its very nature, human adaptation will tend to vary from site to site given that projected effects of climate change will differ greatly over small geographic areas. Each community differs by way of location, political and institutional structures, cultural values, economics, and natural landscape. Themost effective adaptation strategies (ones that are implemented) are ones that have goals that respectlocal values and that come from the ground up rather than from the top down.
1.3. Management Responses to Sea Level Rise
In order to respond to the threat of sea level rise worldwide, theconservation and management community should work together with private sector stakeholders and coastal engineers to prepareadaptation strategies and mitigation plans that address thethreats. Regardless of the specific management response inconsideration, all funder strategies should include the followingstrategic elements within planning processes
: 1) Promotedecision-making processes that include transparency,information sharing and incorporation of local knowledge along
It should be noted that the Nature Conservancy is working to establish a Sea-Level Rise Learning Network to address some of these needs,beginning with its work in coastal and marine protected areas.
 Bottom Up Approaches & CommunityCollaboration in Burma. Source: MarinePhotobank.
The Ocean Foundation –www.oceanfdn.org- The Oceans and Adaptation in the Face of Climate Change – pg. 3
with technical experts, 2) Engage all stakeholders including local community representatives, cityplanners, county level officials, and coastal developers, 3) Incorporate local knowledge andunderstanding of coastal-change processes into adaptation strategies, and 4) Host workshops andeducation exchange forums to teach local communities, including shoreline stakeholders, about climatechange and impacts relevant to their community.
More specific response and adaptation strategiesmight include:
Increase Resilience of Coastal Zone With Shoreline ProtectionStrategies:
Short-sighted human response often includeserecting coastal defenses and structural barriers such as seawalls, dikes, bulkheads, and beach nourishment etc., which canhelp prevent sea level rise from inundating low-lying coastalproperty and affecting key human infrastructure. Constructingsea wall and bulkhead protection for just 25% of the length of thenortheast and mid-Atlantic coastline would cost between $300million to just under $8 billion.
In addition, the environmentalcosts of such strategies are significant, and most structuresrequire regular investment in maintenance and rebuilding, whichmakes this strategy even less viable. An alternative adaptationstrategy would be a planned retreat, in which structures are relocated inland or abandoned asshorelines retreat.
Improvements to National Marine Transportation Services:
Adaptation strategies will have to includesignificant changes in the planning, design, construction, operation, and maintenance of transportationsystems. A recent National Academies report calls for the U.S. federal government to establish aresearch program to re-evaluate existing road design standards and develop new standards for addressing climate change; the creation of an interagency working group on adaptation; changes infederal regulations regarding long-range planning guidelines and infrastructure rehabilitationrequirements; and re-evaluation of the National Flood Insurance Program and updating flood insurancerate maps with climate change in mind.
 Adaptation Strategies for Small Island Nations:
Adaptive measures for small island nations include the rehabilitation and conservation of naturalsea defenses and fish nurseries like mangroves, coastal wetlands, andcoral reefs. Adaptation will have to include consideration of relocation of vulnerable communities, redesign of infrastructure such as sewagetreatment and energy plants, and evaluation of sustainability in any newdevelopment. Increased use of renewable energy could also assist incutting energy import bills and managing the physical and economiceffects of climate change.
Integrated Coastal Habitat Protection:
Coastal planners and managersshould consider preserving existing mangroves by reducing pollutionfrom land-based sources in order to make existing mangroves morehealthy and resilient, restore lost or degraded mangrove wetlands, and set back coastal infrastructureand development to allow mangroves to spread inland.
Integrated coastal management planningshould also be applied to coral reef conservation strategies inclusive of reef resiliency mechanisms
Researchers assessing erosion impactsin a coastal wetland. Source: MarinePhotobankMangrove reforestation. Source:Marine Photobank

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