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Report: Rising Sea Levels Threaten Wildlife

Wetlands need to be able to migrate inland as sea levels rise. (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service/Wikimedia Commons)
Wetlands need to be able to migrate inland as sea levels rise. (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service/Wikimedia Commons)
August 31, 2016

HARRISBURG, Pa. – Rising sea levels from global climate change are threatening wildlife, recreation and economies along the America's eastern seacoast, but a new report outlines steps to reduce the impact and adapt to changes.

The National Wildlife Federation report, “Changing Tides,” says sea levels could rise more than 6 feet by the end of this century.

According to Ray Najjar, a professor of oceanography at Penn State University, the impact on coastal areas of such a rapid increase could be devastating.

"The amount of damage that we see will depend first on how much sea level rises, and then second on how well prepared we are to handle that," he states.

The report recommends steps such as reducing greenhouse gas emissions to help slow the rise in sea levels, and ways to adapt so that the impact can be minimized.

Planning for coastal infrastructure, including roads, bridges and sewage systems, needs to take rising sea levels into account.

But Najjar emphasizes there's also a need to ensure that wetlands, which are critical as natural buffers to storms and as wildlife habitat, can adapt as well.

"Zoning our shorelines in a way that allows wetlands to migrate inland is one way that we can maintain the integrity of the ecosystem or at least avoid the largest damages," he explains.

As global temperatures rise, the number of strong hurricanes, the amount of associated rainfall and the impact of storm surges also will increase.

But Najjar believes the worst is not yet inevitable. He points to other ecological crises, such as the hole in the ozone layer that have been dealt with effectively, and reversed course.

"We should be able to solve it, but it's going to take action and it's going to take a lot of work,” he stresses. “And we shouldn't be discouraged by the naysayers that say it's an unsolvable problem or too expensive to solve.”

Andrea Sears, Public News Service - PA