Sea Level Rise and the Indian River Lagoon

Artist depiction of a Florida in the future. Sea level rise, public photos.
Artist depiction of a Florida in the future. Sea level rise, public photos.

I have read and listened to people speak about sea level rise before, but for some reason, this time it was different…

Last week, in Hollywood, Florida, at the sparkling ocean side resort, the Westin Diplomat, I listened to Dr Harold Wanless, Chairman of the Department of Geological Sciences, University of Miami. I experienced half denial and half fascination as he gave his unemotional, scientific presentation at the Florida League of Cities Annual Conference. The first sentence he said was “Sometime in the next 30 years, people in South Florida with 30 year mortgages will not be able to sell their homes.”

He cited Miami as the ninth most vulnerable city in the world to sea level rise and number one in exposed assets. He noted the warming and expansion of the world oceans, and the melting of Greenland and the polar glaciers. He said the oceans will rise 2-5 feet by the end of the century. Miami International Airport will be a marsh. He calmly projected that there will be forced evacuation of most barrier islands.

“Guess what?” he said. “The ocean has arrived.”

“The ocean city, Sewall’s Point. The island city that is…”I fantasized.

Dr Wanless like a mannequin continued.

The porous sand of Florida will not allow what Holland and New Orleans have done. South Florida will be under water and if not underwater the water will be so close underground that it will make maintaining roads and infrastructure almost impossible for cities…

At two feet increase, 72% of Miami’s land mass will remain above water. At six feet, 44%.

At this point I started doing the math. In years that is. I wrote down my age, 50, and all the ages of my family. In 34 years, with his prediction for two feet, I would be 84. Ed my husband, 92. My parents in heaven. My sister 81; my brother 78; my nieces 44; 46; 47 and 47. “I guess Ed and I can’t leave the house to the “kids…” I thought.

The whole time I was watching my real estate values go down, I was wondering about my beloved Indian River Lagoon. Can we still save her? Will the ocean reclaim her? Will she still be an estuary?  Is all our work in vain?

There were two more speakers after Dr Wanless. Attorney Thomas Ruppert and Assistant Public Works Director of the City of Ft Lauderdale, Nancy Gassman. Basically Ruppert said you can’t win and Gassman said not to panic. Cites have gone through changes before…we must believe in humankind. We will keep building; we will adapt and survive.

As someone who has given my life to the preservation of the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon, I felt like “preserve” was suddenly a word that was outdated.

I starred thinking…worrying…’

“I must rather help the lagoon “adapt” to changes the best I can. If this to be, which I do not know, but probably is… I cannot preserve her, in fact I never could, she has always been changing. Wow, this is uncomfortable. It’s like my world is upside down. How can I plan if this is to be the future? …I must stay the course; I will not abandon ship. I will keep my values…

I think I’ll go to my room and look out the window, at the ocean…when is happy hour?

I think I will begin to prepare for the storm ahead…”

–thank you to Mayor, Cindy Lerner, Village of Pinecrest and Ryan Matthews, FLC for organizing this presentation.

FLC links:
Sea Level Rise and the Impacts of Climate Change

8-15-14SeaLevelRise-Gassman (
8-15-14SeaLevelRise-Ruppert (

15 thoughts on “Sea Level Rise and the Indian River Lagoon

  1. Hey Jacqui, Think of the bright side? Mother nature gave us the lagoon and she can take it back along with some of her worst polluters…… coastal cities. The lagoon will still be shallow protected waters and Hutchinson island’s concrete buildings will make a wonderful new reef. The Bottlenose Dolphin and the rest of life in the lagoon will again have cleaner waters and be healthy! And, by all accounts of elevation, at least part of
    Sewalls Point will be ocean front property!

  2. This last rain storm (6 inches in 4 hours) we started to see the future up here in fast forward terms. My mother’s neighbor, on the bay, lost 10 feet of property, which just fell into the bay, like an underdone cake. It is odd to see such dramatic changes happen in a matter of decades. Very interesting century indeed.

  3. We are environmental stewards- not of the status quo or of a paradise lost that we are able to restore. We are stewards of the best environmental deal available. There are so many moving parts (sea level rise!) that it’s difficult to agree even on basic goals.

    Concerning the lagoon, which lagoon do we seek to stabilize- the lagoon before inlets were dredged which resulted in greater salinity or the lagoon after the Okeechobee waterway and the agricultural canals were gouged out and deepened with the resulting fresh water and nutrient loads? We’re looking at a moving target. I think we all agree that the nutrient loads need to be contained and the fresh water could be put to better use elsewhere – at this time.

    We want the best currently available environment- but larger forces are going to change what’s on offer, especially for the next generation of environmental stewards. Sooner than we like, the problems of our fresh water discharges are going to be supplanted by those of its opposite- salt water intrusion.

  4. I am a 54 year old FL resident. I have been aware for decades, sea level has been rising for thousands of years because we are in an interglacial period. Anyone that has studied archeology, basic geology and other related sciences has known this. The topic has not been discussed openly, in the press until recently. I would like to believe what state agencies say but what if they are wrong? It’s quite a question. How will increased C02s affect the equation? Time will tell. Water Management Districts have been issuing CUPs for a long time based on an inaccurate model after “finding” no harm would be done to existing users. Permits are issued that allow for tremendous amounts of pollution in the name of corporate profits. I understand the sea level has been measured to have gone up approx 8″ in the last 100 years. Surely state agencies that review permits have known about the ongoing changes while ignoring the indicators in order to allow tremendous growth along the coasts. I moved to North Central Florida from SW FL to get away from that growth. Now in NCF we are threatened with changes to Comprehensive plans to allow for new cities even though our water resources are already taxed as evidenced by declining spring flows and excess algae and increasing salinity while at the other end of the system, recharge lakes stay low with docks standing out of the water. As long as the Chamber of Commerce, the Farm Bureau, Department of Agriculture and Development related lobbyists wield such tremendous influence over our policy makers, I don’t think we will ever be able to completely believe what we are told.

    1. Karen, I really read your comment with interest. I think you are right about the problem of interest and “special interest. This is a major problem for change and moving forward. I don’t know what is truth but I do think sea level rise is truth although we don’t know how fast it will come…and we all know the destruction of our states springs and rivers is real because we can see it.i hope you will write again.

  5. I’ve done the same calculations, Jacqui. I am 58 and my husband is 63. Should we sell our house now, while waterfront property values remain stupidly high? (And would that be immoral, to take advantage of someone who is not paying attention?) Or should we just remain in our home as the seas rise, accepting that we will lose it all one day, whether it is a hurricane or the inevitable demise of waterfront values (flood insurance, anyone)?

    And to your larger point, are all of our efforts to save Florida’s waterways in vain? Just recently I have accepted that weather – climate change – is Mother Nature’s weapon. She may be slow and sedate, but she is serious. She has the power to wipe humankind off the face of the earth if that’s what it takes to defeat our horrendous neglect. Accordingly, I am also, like you, very worried for our nieces and nephews.

    Meanwhile, the next Republican Speaker of the Florida House is in the pocket of Big Sugar. And he’s from Merritt Island. Holy crap. I’m sorry to say, but your Lagoon and my Bay don’t stand a chance to receive the life-saving legislation they need. Even if Floridians elect a Democratic Governor, none of our politicians are capable of enlightened reasoning. It will take massive public investment in renewables and conservation in order to save Florida (and along with Florida, the planet). What do you suppose the chances of THAT are?

    What you and I, proud natives of Florida, once had, is gone for good. I look back, and I think about the profound gift that I took for granted for too long.

    1. Dear Sweet Pea Jones,

      Thank you for you very enlightened comment! As all of my family lives here, I will stay….My husband owned a house on the Indian River before we married; I did not want to stay mostly because of his “former life” there, so we bought another house together that is on the high west ridge in Sewall’s Point– one house from the river.

      As beautiful as the sunsets and the river can be at times, I am glad we do not live on the river. It would stress me out more than I already am if I had to see it from my kitchen! Not to mention being on the front lines in a storm and changing sea.

      Nonetheless, sometimes I drive by the other house and think, “Am I an idiot?” What a view….

      Yes, we just may have been the last generation to roam free in the complete beauty of this place, this jungle state…..I am so grateful, and therefore, even if many of our Florida legislators are just thinking of the present, I will think of the future, even if it is a scary one, and do all I can to honor Mother Nature before she has a well deserved tantrum…it is a strange time/ a strange paradime. That is for sure.

      I bet your house is beautiful on Tampa Bay. Life is short. Enjoy it? 🙂 Or maybe Montana with that big beautiful sky…?

      Really enjoyed your comment. Good luck and thanks.

Leave a Reply