Sailed off to Antigua, It took her three days on a boat
Looking for some peace and quiet, Maybe keep her dreams afloat
But now she feels like A remora, With the school still close at hand
Just behind the reef are the big white teeth, Of the sharks that can swim on the land
“Fins” by Jimmy Buffett
It’s like that old joke and question: Why did the chicken cross the road?
We all know the answer: to get to the other side.
The fun and games aside, the real question is why and how is a shark swimming over a paved road on a perfect day here in sunny South Florida and what does that mean to the future of our economy, to millions of people who live and work here and to perhaps trillions of dollars of real estate?
The picture you are looking at was taken September 26th, 2019 on Sugarloaf Key in the Lower Keys, less than 20 miles from Key West and less than 5 miles from my home on No Name Key. That’s salt water from the ocean covering much of the road at high tide. That should not, of course, be happening. When the road was built salt water never, ever rose to such a level as now happens more and more frequently.
Oh, and despite tons of hurricanes in the tropics this summer, there was not a storm in sight. Just a lovely sunny day in paradise that provides you with a picture of what South Florida’s future will look like as seas rise higher and higher. Today South Florida suffers from sunny day flooding six days a year. By 2045, we could see 380 sunny day flooding events per year, sometimes twice per day.
How much water covered the road you ask?
Well, it was enough salt water that the man who took this picture said,
“an 18 [inch] nurse shark swam across the road. Then realized water got much deeper and backed out and turned around.” – Walker M. Sr. (What’s Up Florida Keys? Facebook Group)
And while that might sound silly to some, it should strike us as alarming.
No, not the shark itself. Sharks are amazing creatures and the juvenilles like the one he saw are adorable. Just like the one I encountered this past summer while on board the R/V Garvin conducting research with the Field School in Biscayne Bay.
What is alarming, or should be, is that we all know that sharks and other marine life are not supposed to be able to swim above and over our paved roads. Sadly, that is South Florida’s fate unless our society acts quickly and rids itself from the use of fossil fuels like coal and gasoline.
Sure, we can all stand around and act like this is normal. We can, and I suspect likely will, spend hundreds of billions of dollars on raising roads and sidewalks, using eminent domain laws to take property that can no longer be accessed or used and on and on under the flags of mitigation and resiliency. And, to be clear, we will need to work to mitigate the damage that our society’s use of carbon has already instilled into our atmosphere and oceans, an impact that science tells us will cause seas to rise at least two to three feet over the next few decades.
BUT unless and until we remove carbon emitting products from our daily lives (coal, gasoline and so forth) and rapidly shift to sustainable solutions, then this problem will only get worse and worse. And one day soon we will not be able to get to Sugarloaf Key. Or Miami Beach. Or the Everglades. Or the City of Miami. Or fill in the blank with your favorite place.
The politics of the past, protecting those that make, use and distribute fossil fuel oriented products (car makers, oil companies and public utilities) will only fatten the businesses and politicians wallets while the rest of us suffer. And when the suffering nears its end millions will be forced elsewhere and the sharks and pretty much everything else in the ocean that’s not been killed by then will swim freely everywhere.