The eastern indigo snake, native to the United States, can reach nine feet. The apex predator has striking black-blue scales and is as smooth as a stair rail. It is non-deadly and, at least in terms of its diet, enjoys socializing with other snakes, especially venomous ones. It was frequently seen as a daylight hunter in Florida, Georgia, southern Alabama, and southeast Mississippi. But by 1978, their numbers had severely decreased due to hostility from people, automobiles, and the ongoing destruction of their habitat. The eastern indigo was one of the first species to be protected under the Federal Endangered Species Act.

Eastern indigos have been significantly absent from TNC’s Apalachicola Bluffs and Ravines Preserve (ABRP) since their last sighting in 1982 before reintroduced. The species, an apex predator that consumes other species that would otherwise go unchecked, particularly snakes, is essential to maintaining the ecological equilibrium. The imbalance has probably hurt many endemic species at ABRP, especially songbirds.

The release of the first 12 zoo-raised eastern indigos at ABRP in 2017 marked a significant turning point for a partnership that had been in the works for 35 years and involved TNC, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC), the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Welaka National Fish Hatchery, The Orianne Society, the Joseph W. Jones Ecological Research Center, Southern C.

Reintroduction of 26 More Eastern Indigo Snakes

Since the reintroduction program started, 107 snakes have been released, an increase of 26 this year from the previous year’s total. This year’s snakes are two years old and were raised at the Orianne Center for Indigo Conservation at the Central Florida Zoo, the world’s premier comprehensive-based conservation organization devoted to the captive breeding and reintroducing the eastern indigo snake. It is not surprising that Apalachicola Bluffs and Ravines Preserve, a part of TNC’s Center for Conservation Initiatives, is the only location in Florida designated for indigo reintroduction at the moment because it serves as a living laboratory for the advancement of restoration techniques and land management excellence, dedicated to the restoration of natural communities, the preservation of biodiversity, and education and training. These snakes will be followed and observed in the hopes that reproduction will soon occur at the preserve.

Reintroduction of twelve Eastern Indigo Snakes

Twelve more snakes were released in 2021, bringing the total number since the reintroduction’s start to 81. The 12 snakes released at ABRP at age two were hatched and raised by OCIC. Four girls and eight males, all born in 2019, were nurtured at the OCIC for a year before being moved to the Welaka National Fish Hatchery for an additional year of rearing before being released. The Central Florida Zoo’s veterinary staff has implanted passive integrated transponders (PIT-tags) into the snakes to enable identification when they are encountered after release.

Indigo Snakes’ Ideal Protected Habitat

The location for the eastern indigo snake’s reintroduction was not randomly picked—it was the Apalachicola Bluffs and Ravines Preserve. The preserve, which began with an area of property known poetically as the Garden of Eden, is now one of Florida conservation’s greatest success stories. An extensive forest system that formerly flourished throughout the state, north to Virginia, and west to Southern Texas, but is now reduced to just 5% of its original map, has been entirely restored after 35 years of restoration work by TNC and its partners.

A team of researchers in the Keys, led by Bergh, gathered high-resolution elevation data for Big Pine Key and the best elevation data available for the remaining Keys. They then combined this information with the various sea-level rise projections created by the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and others to determine how much or how little room there may be for adaptation to rising seas.

The findings were unexpected: even the most conservative projection of a seven-inch rise in sea level by 2100 will result in significant changes in plant and animal habitats.

A more thorough analysis of the data, undertaken by Florida International University, reveals that the land at risk of flooding from a five-foot increase in sea level has a property worth nearly $27 billion, affecting 56,000 people and 76,000 acres.
Bergh references several studies, including the tidal gauge at Key West, which has one of the longest-running records of its sort in the United States.

Future Projection

Then there is the “2022 Sea-Level Rise Technical Report” from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which states that “Sea level along the U.S. coastline is projected to rise, on average, 10 – 12 inches (0.25 – 0.30 metres) in the next 30 years (2020 – 2050), which will be as much as the rise measured over the last 100 years (1920 – 2020).”
What can be done about this challenging situation right now?

TNC places a lot of emphasis on using “green infrastructure” to reduce erosion and flooding.

According to Bergh, “coral reefs, mangroves, beaches, and marshes help preserve the islands and our towns at a fraction of the cost of seawalls, breakwaters, and engineered stormwater management systems with extra benefits for fishing, diving, and our tourism sector in general.” “We need to acknowledge the worth of these natural features and keep protecting and restoring them, and in certain circumstances, even start actively producing them, so they can support us.”

With the aid of this new tool, people will be better able to comprehend the individual and cumulative effects of sea level rise and storm surge in the Keys by viewing it on a map.

TNC used the most refined available elevation data and other exciting factors like protected species ranges, infrastructure sites, and vital facilities like hospitals for the future scenarios mapper. Users can replicate a simulated surge from a hurricane like Hurricane Wilma, a rise in sea level of one to four feet, or a mix of the hill and surge. The tool can be utilized to create workable plans.

“We can proceed from the outstanding overall plans created to date into the specifics and determine exactly which road segments or which area of Key deer habitat requires assistance, how much that assistance will cost, and how we are going to pay for it,” adds Bergh.

Time to make a move truck call?

Bergh, who resides on Big Pine Key with his family, responds, “Well, not reasonably. “Hope, not fear, is the focus of these investigations. Experience has demonstrated that we can recover from hurricanes with careful preparation, qualified emergency managers, proactive elected officials, and knowledgeable citizens who know what to do and when to do it to stay safe and recover swiftly.

The goal is to raise awareness of the scale of the problem and motivate people to take action. At the same time, there is still time, and reduce global greenhouse gas emissions and deforestation to limit the amount of sea-level rise. Additionally, it is essential to create and implement local plans to aid in the resistance and adaptation of nature and people to sea-level heights.

climate change effects

Life on Earth is already beginning to alter due to climate change. Seasons are changing, temperatures are rising, and sea levels are rising worldwide.

Global sea levels have risen by around 8 inches since 1880 due to climate change, and a recent study shows that sea levels have increased at a rate of 0.14 inches per year since the 1990s. One of the main effects of climate change on our coastal towns and communities is more frequent storms that might cause substantial damage to our growing infrastructure. Sea level rise significantly increases the risk of floods for coastal cities.

Developing Resistance

Climate resilience refers to a system’s capacity to withstand the stresses brought on by climate change and continue functioning while adapting and becoming better equipped to cope with further climate impacts.

The tenth annual Southeast Florida Regional Climate Leadership Summit took place in front of a crowd of more than 700 industry, government, NGO, and academic climate thought leaders close to the front lines of sea level rise and climate change consequences along Miami’s well-known beaches.

Rod Braun, climate program manager and summit participant said: “The Florida Department of Environmental Protection has announced the funding of two coastal resilience demonstration projects in Miami that we helped to coordinate.” It’s an excellent illustration of numerous organizations working together to advance nature-centered programs, according to Braun.

The Summit proved that combating climate change has a strong business rationale and is sensible from an economic standpoint. Local and regional support for climate efforts is picking up steam. Following the Southeast Florida Climate Compact’s lead, several areas of Florida are starting to put similar initiatives specific to their communities into action. Climate alliances and compacts are now being created for Southwest Florida and Tampa Bay counties. As more of Florida invests in adaptation and mitigation techniques, collective efforts to combat climate change will gain strength.

With more frequent and stronger storms, higher roads to prevent floods, and a decrease in carbon emissions, controlling threats to urban centers is a priority as the Conservancy, and other climate leaders actively seek to build resiliency to current and future impacts. Supporting increased solar energy, promoting green infrastructure—trees and rooftops—and advocating for affordable housing to cut down on long commutes are all on the agenda.

Climate Action Based on Religion

All of us are affected by climate change, regardless of our political affiliations, geographic region, or religious beliefs. Faith-based communities are particularly positioned to address climate change’s difficulties through teaching and action since they have a global presence and their messages are shared across languages. Pope Francis addressed climate change as a moral issue in his 2015 encyclical “Laudato Si: On Care for our Common Home” and urged “a new dialogue about how we are creating the future of our planet.” Since the environmental crisis we are facing and its human roots concern and touch us all, we need a discourse that involves everyone. Jewish teachings place a similar emphasis on conserving the environment and natural resources for future generations. Muslims believe that humanity is the Earth’s custodian, and the Quran encourages us to consider the environmental effects of our actions.

The two-day forum featured speakers, panel discussions, and audience interaction from members of many different faiths and reputable organizations. The presenters and panelists’ pragmatic, enthused, and motivating remarks concentrated on the various ways that the current warming climate affects our community, the significance of protecting the Earth from the perspective of multiple faiths, and initiatives being carried out in South Florida and elsewhere to engage the community in climate change action.

Participants included local officials, a Vatican expert on water and climate, the Archbishop of Miami, the Special Advisor on Climate Justice of the United Church of Christ, the senior Rabbi of Temple Solel, an Elder of the First Presbyterian Church, and numerous other religious leaders. Climate experts from the City of Miami Beach, Miami-Dade County, the University of Miami’s Rosensteil School of Marine and Atmospheric Science, and Florida International University also attended. The seminar was directed by Reverend Alfred Cioffi, a professor of biology and bioethics at St. Thomas University.

Through mission work, religious leaders already educate their flock and interact with the larger community. Examples of this work include:

  • Installing solar panels on churches and temples.
  • Setting up community carbon funds to finance clean energy.
  • Helping those displaced by floods and hurricanes.

The conference offered a chance to consider new ways to include faith-based communities in climate solutions and mitigate its effects.

The effects of climate change are a significant issue for everyone, but they are particularly urgent for the almost 14 million residents of Florida’s coastal counties. Rising sea levels and escalating storm surges put people and property at risk by threatening coastal towns with floods and erosion.

Marshes, beaches, mangrove stands, coral reefs, and oyster reefs are examples of natural infrastructure that can assist in safeguarding Florida’s coastline from such dangers.

To lessen the effects of coastal risks brought on by climate change, TNC is preserving and repairing natural infrastructure in Florida and elsewhere. These natural solutions and green and green-gray or hybrid infrastructure can safeguard people and property while offering wildlife habitat, recreational opportunities, and economic advantages. TNC is showing how local, state, and significant stakeholders can provide a win-win solution for coastal resilience on a larger scale by investing in nature-based solutions throughout Florida.

Natural Infrastructure’s Power

Climate mitigation and adaptation are two equally significant aspects of climate action. Lowering carbon emissions and switching to renewable energy sources are the main goals of climate mitigation efforts. These climate change mitigation measures will keep extremely important in reducing the rate of climate change. However, prevention alone is insufficient. Climate adaptation initiatives are essential to lessen the risks caused by sea level rise, storm surge, flooding, and coastal erosion brought on by climate change.

Typically, seawalls and breakwaters are used in coastal regions’ plans to address rising sea levels and escalating storm surges. But the cost and carbon footprint of this grey infrastructure are high. Contrarily, natural solutions offer numerous advantages, such as green, honest, and hybrid infrastructure. Hybrid infrastructure is frequently employed to deliver higher long-term resilience and more affordable results than we might get with conventional methods alone.

We now have a lot of proof that natural ecosystems can shield the coastline and, in certain situations, even lessen storm surges than grey architecture can. Scientists at TNC have shown that in some areas, a healthy coral reef may absorb 97% of the energy of a wave before it reaches the shore. Additionally, mangrove trees can lower wave height by 66% to approximately 100 meters (328 ft). According to recent research, TNC partially sponsored mangroves in Florida shielded about 625,000 people from Hurricane Irma in 2017, and averted $1.5 billion in direct flood damages.

Natural ecosystems and nature-based solutions provide a variety of other advantages in addition to protecting coastlines, such as better water quality, recreational space, and healthier fisheries. In addition to providing essential habitat for Florida’s native flora and wildlife, trees and other green infrastructure also trap and store carbon.

the direction of coastal resilience

In less urban locations, natural infrastructure is essential for protecting coastal habitats. The science of nature-based solutions is being advanced through initiatives like our effort to restore coral reefs along Florida’s Atlantic coast and our work to restore oyster beds in the Gulf of Mexico. These initiatives also maintain vital wildlife habitats. Additionally, we are creating cutting-edge modeling tools, like the coastal defense app available on our coastal resilience website, to assist with decision-making for climate adaptation. To ensure that nature may keep creating resilient coasts, we also keep protecting more natural areas.

Along with our work locally, TNC is assuming a leading position in Florida to encourage nature-based solutions. We actively participate in the Broward, Miami-Dade, Monroe, and Palm Beach Counties’ Southeast Florida Regional Climate Change Compact, a four-county program designed to coordinate climate mitigation and adaptation efforts. We were in charge of Compact’s Shoreline Resilience Working Group throughout our engagement, which aimed to promote coastal resilience in southeast Florida and the Florida Keys by identifying and promoting healthy natural systems, engineered living shorelines, and hybrid approaches.

Together with Deltares USA, TNC in Florida is developing a set of regional resources to aid in the creation of plans for community resilience in Florida’s most climate-vulnerable regions. With the help of these plans, vulnerable communities will be safeguarded against the dangers of storm surges and sea level rise. Through this work, we’ll also locate a pipeline of environmentally friendly solutions that will yield the best financial results.

Florida’s coastline is already changing due to climate change. We must employ all the instruments at our disposal to build a more resilient coastal ecosystem for Floridians to handle current risks and prepare for the future; naturally based solutions should be at the top of that list.

Florida’s Mangroves Are Important

People value mangroves because they assist Florida’s shoreline environment remains stable and preventing erosion. Mangroves protect neighboring populated areas from corrosion and the effects of storm surges during significant weather events like hurricanes by acting as natural infrastructure.

Mangroves play a crucial role in ecology. Their extensive roots aid in tying and forming soils. Their above-ground roots increase sedimentation and water flow, lessening coastal erosion. Water quality flowing from rivers and streams into the estuary and ocean environment is improved by the intricate root systems of the mangrove trees, which filter nitrates, phosphates, and other contaminants from the water.

Massive volumes of carbon dioxide emissions and other greenhouse gases are captured by mangrove forests, which trap and store them for millennia in their carbon-rich waterlogged soils. As we deal with climate change, this is an essential ecological service. Because it is deposited underwater in coastal ecosystems, including mangrove forests, seagrass beds, and salt marshes, this buried carbon is often called “blue carbon.”

Also, mangrove forests serve as a habitat and haven for various wildlife, including birds, fish, insects, mammals, and plants. Many sport and commercial fish species, including redfish, snook, and tarpons, spawn and grow up in estuarine ecosystems’ spawning and nursery grounds with coastal mangrove shorelines and tree roots. The mangrove branches serve as bird rookeries and nesting sites for coastal wading birds, including egrets, herons, cormorants, and roseate spoonbills. Red mangrove roots are perfect for oysters in some places because they can adhere to the part of the roots that hang into the water. At some point in their life cycles, endangered species such as the smalltooth sawfish, manatee, hawksbill sea turtle, Key deer, and Florida panther depend on this environment.

People can enjoy outdoor activities like birdwatching, fishing, snorkeling, kayaking, and paddle boarding, and the therapeutic serenity and relaxation from spending quiet time in nature thanks to mangrove forests. As a nursery for commercial fish species, they also benefit local economies.

Mangrove forests face threats.

Unfortunately, several issues put mangrove ecosystems in danger. Mangrove erosion and habitat loss can be caused by human activity such as dredging, filling, water contamination from herbicides, and construction. Massive volumes of carbon dioxide are released into the atmosphere when mangrove forests are cut and destroyed, causing climate change.

The restoration of red mangroves to the shoreline is a crucial component of our ongoing efforts to reestablish natural habitat at Blowing Rocks Preserve. Mangrove planting at our preserves is essential for preserving and restoring this priceless Florida asset. TNC continues to work for people and wildlife by protecting and restoring our significant forests from the Panhandle to the Keys.

Advantages of Mangroves

In collaboration with the University of California, Santa Cruz, and RMS, we produced a scientific study that quantified how well mangroves reduce the risk of flooding for people and property. According to the survey, mangroves serve as a powerful first line of defense for coastal communities and considerably lower yearly and catastrophic damages.

A team of scientists from the engineering, insurance, and conservation fields conducted the study Valuing The Flood Risk Reduction Benefits of Florida’s Mangroves, which concluded that mangroves in Florida prevented US $1.5 billion in direct flood damages and protected more than 500,000 people during Hurricane Irma in 2017, lowering injuries by almost 25% in counties with mangroves. Risks of flooding and storm surges to people and property are increasing due to coastal difficulties brought on by expanding populations, successful development, and climate change. Despite being a vulnerable species, mangroves significantly benefit these coastal areas regarding flood protection and risk reduction.

TNC debuted a new initiative to maintain robust snapper and grouper fisheries in Florida and the surrounding areas. To promote correct release procedures and improved data gathering, the new Deck to Depth program will foster collaboration with recreational anglers, captains, and other stakeholders throughout the Sunshine State.

Florida is the nation’s center for recreational fishing, with more activity than any other state. Its waters connect the Atlantic, Caribbean, and Gulf of Mexico, and the well-being of the local fish populations affects the regional seas, leisure, and businesses. Popular fish species need to be well-managed to support healthy ocean ecosystems.

The 55 species of snapper and grouper that are essential to Florida’s coastal ecosystems and recreational anglers are supported by TNC’s Deck to Depth program.

When a fish is dragged up to the surface from the bottom or close to the bottom of the ocean, the compressed gases in its body rapidly expand, causing barotrauma, which is analogous to the bends in human divers. If the fish is not swiftly returned to the ocean’s depths after being released by the fisherman, this could be lethal. Descending devices are used to bring caught fish back to safe depths to lessen or even reverses barotrauma’s effects.

The employment of descending devices is a practical, easy, and efficient approach for anglers to positively affect fish populations by dramatically increasing the likelihood that released fish will survive, reproduce, and support a healthy population.

According to Temperance Morgan, executive director of The Nature Conservancy in Florida, “the sustainability of our fisheries is critical not just to our marine ecosystems, but it is crucial to assuring long-term food supply and the recreational and economic well-being of Florida.” “A healthier ocean and fish populations strong enough to support both recreational and commercial fishing can ultimately result from helping the snapper and grouper species recover.”

As deep-water fish, snapper and grouper are particularly susceptible to barotrauma. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council, and the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council have all emphasized the urgent need to address the problem of barotrauma, which can cause mortality rates of up to 70% of all fish caught and improperly released for some species.

According to David Moss, fisheries manager for The Nature Conservancy in Florida, “the use of descending devices is vital to maintaining our popular snapper and grouper fisheries, and by extension, the biodiversity of our seas.” “Because I have been an ardent angler my whole life, I can think of no better group to work with to spread the word about the advantages of descending devices than the fishing community. Every fish that is successfully returned to the ocean’s depths from the deck of your boat is an additional fish that may survive to fight another day and spawn to contribute to population growth, supporting a sustainable fishery.

To promote descending devices and their use, TNC will do outreach to various industry and community partners involved in recreational fishing. This includes interacting with marine influencers who can increase the program’s reach.

TNC is asking anglers in Florida and South Carolina to participate in surveys that provide information to help steward the species, including catch-and-release practices and the current use of descending devices, the survival rates of snapper and grouper species in the discarded catch, and other elements that affect the long-term sustainability of these fisheries, in addition to providing technical guidance and encouraging the use of descending devices.