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Changing Tides: Seaboard Should Prepare for Sea-Level Rise

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Sea levels are expected to rise another foot by 2050, causing flooding and loss of wildlife habitat.(fws.gov)
Sea levels are expected to rise another foot by 2050, causing flooding and loss of wildlife habitat.(fws.gov)
September 16, 2016

BALTIMORE – Climate change already has had an impact on wildlife and communities along the Chesapeake Bay and on the East Coast, according to a new report, and it will only get worse unless there are cuts in carbon emissions. The National Wildlife Federation research called Changing Tides looks at wildlife and recreation economies on the eastern seaboard.

Jana Davis, executive director of Chesapeake Bay Trust, said sea levels have risen about a foot in the last one hundred years, and they're expected to rise at a rate twice as fast in the next few decades.

"When you think about low-lying areas like Baltimore, Annapolis, Virginia Beach, other areas, that's a huge threat to infrastructure as well as ecosystems," she explained. "A lot of wetlands are vulnerable to sea-level rise and are threatened, their very existence."

Davis said Maryland has been very proactive to curb climate change, but she said it's a global issue. She said if every government were to put laws into place like Maryland has to curb greenhouse-gas emissions, then the world would be on the way to solving the problem.

Davis said we need to plan ahead for a rise in sea levels of another foot by 2050. That means development projects will have to take into account potential flooding problems. She said we also need to prepare for more severe weather and the impacts that will have.

"With climate change scenarios, we're going to have even more storm water, more pollution going into the bay," she said. "So we're going to have to design storm water facilities to handle bigger rainfall events. There's going to be more episodes of heavy rain but also more periods of drought probably in our area that's going to affect agriculture."

Davis said a lot of hard work put into restoring the bay's oyster beds could be reversed as climate change makes the oceans more acidic, which oysters may not be able to handle.

On a federal level, Davis said whoever the next president is will have to deal with the issue of rising seas.

"Moving key pieces of infrastructure, sewer lines for example, that are low lying, increased sea levels at ports, handling bridges," she added. "Are they going to be high enough? So I think any government and any administration as it comes in is going to have to deal with many of these aspects."

Veronica Carter, Public News Service - MD