Between the devil and the deep blue sea: Florida's unenviable position with respect to sea level rise

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This paper introduces and summarizes a series of articles on the potential impacts of sea level rise on Florida's natural and human communities and what might be done to reduce the severity of those impacts. Most of the papers in this special issue of Climatic Change were developed from presentations at a symposium held at Archbold Biological Station in January 2010, sponsored by the Florida Institute for Conservation Science. Symposium participants agreed that adaptation to sea level rise for the benefit of human communities should be planned in concert with adaptation to reduce vulnerability and impacts to natural communities and native species. The papers in this special issue discuss both of these categories of impacts and adaptation options. In this introductory paper, I place the subject in context by noting that that the literature in conservation biology related to climate change has been concerned largely about increasing temperatures and reduced moisture availability, rather than about sea level rise. The latter, however, is the most immediate and among the most severe impacts of global warming in low-lying regions such as Florida. I then review the content of this special issue by summarizing and interpreting the following 10 papers. I conclude with a review of the recommendations for research and policy that were developed from group discussions at the Archbold symposium. The main lesson that emerges from this volume is that sea level rise, combined with human population growth, urban development in coastal areas, and landscape fragmentation, poses an enormous threat to human and natural well-being in Florida. How Floridians respond to sea level rise will offer lessons, for better or worse, for other low-lying regions worldwide.