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Rising Tides Threaten Coastal Creatures

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View Nailah Morgan's blog posts
23 December 2013, 1:41 PM
Key deer, loggerhead sea turtle among 233 federally protected species at risk
Nearly all of the Florida land area where the tiny Key deer live will be submerged by this century's predicted average 3–4 feet sea level rise. (Photo by U.S. FWS)

A recent report, Deadly Waters, details a new threat to endangered species: rising sea levels. After analyzing data from scientific literature, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and National Marine Fisheries Service, scientists at the Center for Biological Diversity identified 233 federally protected species in 23 coastal states that risk habitat loss due to sea level rise.

And these species are not alone. Excessive flooding from rising sea levels combined with powerful Atlantic hurricanes, will lead to storm surges that thrust onto the coast, similar to the one that hit Atlantic City during Hurricane Sandy. Many coastal homes will be lost to rising seas. As climate change continues, coastal residents and wildlife will need to move further inland to survive threats from sea level rise.

The United States is home to more than 1,000 threatened and endangered species, and 1 out of 6 of those species rely on habitats like salt marshes and coastal forests that will be affected by rising sea levels. The state of Florida encompasses the fourth largest population of endangered species (120) and more than half are at risk from increasing sea levels, including Key deer and Loggerhead sea turtles which reside in different areas of the Florida coast.

With a small population of 800, Key deer—one of the first species to be listed as endangered—will be subject to decline at a rapid rate as nearly all of the area of the islands they inhabit rest less than three feet above sea level. The Key deer’s habitats on the Florida Keys have already been reduced. Sea level rise will continue to swallow the remaining land and resources that they rely on to survive.

Thousands of female Loggerhead sea turtles nest each year on the coasts of Florida. These turtles will lose almost half of their nesting area at the Archie Carr National Wildlife Refuge itself—home to North America’s most crowded nesting beaches—with a foot and a half sea level rise. This means that female loggerheads will have to scavenge for space as beaches shrink, digging up existing nests and spreading infection.

According to the report, scientists believe sea levels will rise an average of three to four feet this century. As a result, Key deer will lose much of their islands to water and beaches for Loggerhead sea turtles will disappear. Earthjustice relies on strong environmental laws like the Endangered Species Act to protect habitat and safeguard endangered species. As we adapt to climate change, we also work to mitigate the biggest carbon polluters by transiting away from fossil fuels.

The report recommends three key actions that could save endangered species from extinction due to rising sea levels: greenhouse emission reductions, protecting and restoring shorelines, and making room for species to move inland.

To protect endangered species—and ourselves—we cannot afford to delay action on climate change any longer.

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