Category Archives: #SaveMiami

Can the Florida Keys be Saved from Sea Level Rise?


After a glorious week here on No Name Key in the beautiful Florida Keys, I’m heading home and wondering whether the key deer and the other inhabitants, animals and humans of Monroe County will be able to live here towards the end of my life.

Much of the Keys sit at, near or even below current sea levels and over the last 10 or so years have increasingly been subjected to extensive flooding that will soon become more and more routine. It’s been well publicized that some communities in Key Largo, for example, have suffered flooding for nearly three months straight. News that the streets and bars in Key West are flooding have become commonplace. And, sadly, the problem is only going to get worse.

As I have noted in previous blogs, scientists predict that the number of “sunny day flooding” events will increase from the current 6 times per year to an estimated 80 times per year by 2030 and to 380 times per year by 2045, thus more than once a day as high and low tides fluctuate twice per day.

“If we asked for what we actually needed, we’d be in the billions of dollars.”
Helene Wetherington, Monroe County Head of Disaster Recovery

It’s no wonder that the leaders of Monroe County have asked the State of Florida Department of Economic Opportunity for 150 million dollars to begin to address the problem: money that would be used to start to raise all sorts of things, such as roads. And while 150 million dollars sounds like an enormous sum of money, mitigating the problem will likely cost “billions” so says Helene Wetherington the Head of Disaster Recovery for Monroe County. You can read about Monroe County’s request and their perspective on this growing problem by clicking here.

And while I am headed back to Miami to finish this semester’s exams, I can’t help but wonder why Florida’s leaders or, for that matter, America’s are not doing more to rid our society of the fossil fuels that are contributing to so much of our climate crisis. Whether it’s hundreds of millions, billions or even trillions of dollars that must be spent to try and save some semblance of our current way of life here in South Florida, it would be so much less expensive if we would just get serious about solving the core problem before it’s too late.

Giving Thanks

I suppose as a college student on her Thanksgiving holiday break I could be excused for wanting to sleep in a bit late today. Catch up on the “Z’s”, rest and all of that.

And, yet, I woke up just after 5:00 AM today and sure am thankful that I could not go back to sleep.

No Name Key was cool and quiet in the pre-dawn darkness. With a cup of coffee and my phone in hand I enjoyed the early morning from our back porch overlooking the mirror-like calm waters of the Gulf of Mexico as the sun’s first light edged above the horizon. And what a sunrise it was! Filled with bright red, orange and yellow pasted against the black, blue and purple of the eroding night sky above and water below. No matter the reason for waking so early, I am most certainly thankful to have witnessed today’s Thanksgiving sunrise.

And I am thankful for the peace and quiet here on No Name. There are many reasons to protect places like No Name, a Federal wildlife refuge, and to keep them different from the developed places that increasingly surround us and the quiet is one of them. The frequent silence here is incredible and as dawn broke, it was only interrupted by the sound of the breeze blowing through the palm, mahogany and mangrove tree leaves. Literally not one other sound but the breeze blowing through the trees for nearly an hour.

I am also thankful to have seen No Name’s nature vividly come alive right before my eyes as that sun crept even higher. The first sign of life was a Key Deer walking quietly along the peninsula that is part of our property. My view was her reflection in the still water through a window-like opening in the mangrove trees. No sooner than I saw her reflection I could see the rest of her family, a buck and a doe, farther up the peninsula where they had spent the night under a star filled sky. I sure am thankful that we have laws protecting animals such as the Key Deer and the places that they live in like No Name.

As those deer disappeared in the distance I began to hear the unmistakable sound of a bird’s claws walking on the porch’s metal roof above me. I’ve heard that “tip-tap” many times before and knew it was the turkey vulture that so often is perched there so as to keep watch over the land below and anything that might move along it that qualifies as prey. Not long after hearing his claw steps he was airborne right in front of me, swooping back and forth perhaps 20 feet away. It was an incredible sight, his flight one way and back the other, but also an equally incredible sound as each turn led to a deep audible “swooping” as his wings caught the air while turning in the opposite direction. To have dawn’s silence broken by the sound of his flight, much less to see it up close, was a humbling reminder of nature’s perfection.

And perfectly fitting for a Thanksgiving morning is what led that bird to so elegantly swing back and forth; his unmistakable hunt for food. As the sun light became brighter I could see that the turkey vulture had spied his morning meal: a dead raccoon floating at the water’s edge under the mangrove branches.

It was a remarkable sight, the type of thing one could never fully experience buried in our phone or computer-driven virtual worlds. And as that thought sank in, another turkey vulture joined the meal. And then another and another and another yet again. By then the birds had dragged their meal up the bank and onto land to enjoy their feast together in a circle of life display that was simply perfect on Thanksgiving.

And that’s when the American alligator showed up to begin its Thanksgiving.

No Name is filled with many magical creatures including the American crocodile and its “cousin” the American alligator. This one in particular is a juvenile, about 4 feet long, and lives under our mangroves on the peninsula. I see it virtually every day in the early morning light and just before dark as it patrols the waters next to our home in search of food. And this morning it found a bounty worthy, well, of Thanksgiving. The turkey vultures, as numerous as they now were, did not have a chance against the young gator as she crawled up the bank and pulled what was now her meal into the murky water as you can see in the video below.

So many things to be thankful for again this year, and that starts with our amazing natural environment. From the peace and lively nature that is No Name Key, from my family and me, to you and yours, here’s to hoping that your Thanksgiving is filled with friends and family. Happy Thanksgiving.

Why Did The Shark Cross The Road?

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?

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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.

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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.

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