Category Archives: Articles & Dossiers

The Real Threat Of Rising Sea Levels

South Nags, NC. Photograph: © Orrin Pilkey / PSDS

By Orrin H. Pilkey, James B. Duke Professor Emeritus of Geology at Duke University.

More than a dozen science panels from coastal states around the country have projected a likely sea level rise of about 1 meter or more by 2100. But an increasingly effective sea level rise denier industry in this state, led by the NC-20 lobbying group and aided by the state legislature, has effectively blocked informing the public concerning the science of sea level rise.

A bill requiring that the future relationship between sea level rise and time be a straight line is becoming the butt of jokes around the globe. According to the UK’s Guardian newspaper, North Carolina is trying to wish away the sea level rise. Says Scott Huler in a Scientific American blog post, “North Carolina makes SLR illegal.”

Failed septic systems due to beach erosion at the Outer Banks of North Carolina. Captions and Photo source: ©© Soil Science

In the process of contradicting the scientific opinions of marine scientists around the country, NC-20 is imperiling the public. Projecting the future sea level rise may be complex, but we should heed or at least be allowed to listen to the warnings emanating from the many scientific studies. The general trend is very clear and very ominous.

It’s sort of like hurricane warnings. Although it’s difficult to predict the track and likely landfall more than a few days out, if a major hurricane is lurking off your coast, you had best make preparations now. If you wait until you know the precise spot of landfall, it may be too late to get out of harm’s way.

It is important that North Carolinians understand why scientists expect sea level rise to accelerate this century. The cause will largely be the melting of the world’s ice, contained in ice sheets (Greenland and Antarctica) and mountain glaciers.

The margins of both Greenland and the West Antarctic Ice Sheets are melting at a rapid rate. Beginning in 2010, the much larger East Antarctic Ice sheet showed a first-time (in the last two centuries) net loss of ice to the ocean. Future melting of Greenland ice will be more or less proportional to atmospheric temperature changes. The future of Antarctic ice melt, however, is more complex.

For example, an important cause of sea level rise (one that is difficult to predict) will be the behavior of the more than 50 floating ice shelves, large and small, that surround the edge of the Antarctic continent. These 200-to-400-meter-thick slabs of ice are holding back glaciers that move toward the sea from the continent’s interior. Recent studies show that most are thinning because warming ocean waters are melting their undersides and a warming atmosphere is melting their surfaces.

It is certain that some will break up, allowing the held-back glaciers to accelerate their flow to the sea. In 2002, the Larsen B ice shelf broke up, causing local glaciers to move seaward, but the sea level rise effect was negligible because that particular ice shelf was small.

The future of the Ronne-Filchner (California-size) and Ross (Texas-size) Ice Shelves is particularly troubling. Their break-up will have an immediate and large effect on sea level rise. A recent study by a British/German science team summarized in suggests that the Ronne-Filchner Ice Shelf is becoming unstable because of thinning.

In the last few weeks, two other important studies of Antarctica have highlighted the potential sea level rise effect of melting. The first, by a University of Texas and British scientific team, based on satellite measurements and geophysical surveys, suggests that portions of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet are likely to increase their rate of melting soon. The second, from the British Antarctic Survey, notes that recently warming ocean water temperatures around the margin of West Antarctica (caused by changing ocean currents due to climate change) are primarily responsible for much of the melting ice currently occurring in West Antarctica.

Taken together, the evidence clearly supports the soundness of the North Carolina science panels’ projection of a minimal 1 meter sea level rise by 2100.

Now it’s time for the state government to back its scientific community and let the people know about the future facing their coast.

Rows of houses with overlapping sandbag walls create huge problems. The walls do as much damage to the beach as hardened seawalls. Removing the sandbags from one property potentially damages all of the others. Caption and photograph courtesy of: © Gary Lazorick

Learn More, News Observer

Sea Level Rise And The Worlds beaches, by Orrin Pilkey

A Rising Tide Of Willful Ignorance

A Rising Tide of Willful Ignorance

Galileo before the Holy Office, a 19th century painting by Joseph-Nicolas Robert-Fleury. Photo source: Wikipedia


Legislative proposal would actually tell scientists which data they can and can’t consider on rising sea levels.

Since as far back as the Scopes Trial (and probably even Galileo), the debate over science has been at the crux of numerous political and cultural conflicts between progressives and conservatives.

For a variety of reasons: fear, greed, ignorance and religious orthodoxy to name just a few, many (but certainly not all) conservatives have frequently resisted science and the advances it has brought about in comprehending the universe and our place in it…

Read Full Article, NC Policy Watch by Rob Schofield

North Carolina’s Climate Change Follies, Forbes

NC Bill Would Requires Coastal Communities to Ignore Climate Change Science, ThinkProgress

North Carolina Tries To Wish Away Sea Level Rise, Guardian UK
Some lawmakers will go to great lengths to deny the reality of climate change. But this week, North Carolina lawmakers reached new heights of denial, proposing a new law that would require estimates of sea level rise to be based only on historical data—not on all the evidence that demonstrates that the seas are rising much faster now thanks to global warming.

Climate scientists say they have solved riddle of rising sea, AFP

Galileo Galilei showing the Doge of Venice how to use the telescope, Villa Andrea Ponti. Fresco, 1848. Photo source: Wikipedia

Marshes Hold Clues of Ancient Hurricanes

Sunset over marshes, in Corolla, North Carolina. Photo source: ©© Sugarliding


Friday marks the beginning of the 2012 Atlantic hurricane season. Cue the groans, the crossed fingers and the hope that mad rushes for plywood and batteries will wait for another year. Many of you are probably wondering what’s the chance that you will get hit this year.

As residents of Eastern North Carolina know well, hurricanes are not idle threats. According to the National Climatic Data Center, tropical storm and hurricane strikes are the single most common causes of billion-dollar natural disasters in the United States, accounting for nearly $260 billion in damages between 1980 and 2005, or more than half of the combined losses from all U.S. natural disasters. And since 1851, 18 percent of all hurricane strikes on the United States occurred in North Carolina.

Part of the frustration with hurricanes—and one reason why they are so destructive—is that hurricane strikes are anything but predictable. Along the North Carolina coast, the total number of storm that make landfall varies enormously from year to year…

Read Full Article, by Jesse Farmer, Coastal Review Online

The Rugged, by Johnny Abegg

By © Johnny Abegg

Pure Man and Woman to me exists in the face of adversity, in the essence of nature and wild places. It nurtures the animal within. The South West National Park in Tasmania is one of those rugged places that brings you face to face with yourself… and it’s up to you what self it brings out.

“In the depth of Winter I finally learned that there was in me an invincible Summer.”
—Albert Camus

The South West Marine Debris Cleanup is an invitational cleanup initiative orchestrated by Marine Cartographer Matt Dell, and has been running for over 10 years. The SWMDC is currently run via fishing and charter boats, lead by skipper of the ‘Velocity’ Dave Wyatt, who has been Matt’s co-pilot for the majority of the cleanup’s history.

I was lucky enough to be invited through the cleanup’s principal supporter Patagonia for a second year, along with Patagonia’s man of surf Glen Casey, filmmaker Mick Waters, and 12 other crazy wilderness fanatics in the cleanup experience.

The Southwest National Park is a 618,267-hectare (1,527,770-acre) national park. The park is Tasmania’s largest and forms part of the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area. For the most part, this area of the world is one of the most remote and rugged on the planet, so it’s humbling to see the amount of rubbish that washes up on the beaches. Everything from rope, plastic, cans, buoys, lighters, bottles, biros, bait straps and many other man-made atrocities were the order of our days, in between being jaw-dropped by the awesomeness of the isolation and wonder of the South West.

The trip lasted a week, so in a period like that in Tasmania you are bound to hit some rough seas. On our first day trip around South West Cape heading for the West, we were blessed with a confused 3-4 Metre swell which had a few of the combatants aiming their sea-sickness towards buckets and toilets. To me getting sea-sick was a real initiation to the whole experience, and part of the process. I wasn’t thinking that whilst spewing into a bucket though. Hindsight is a bitch and a blessing it seems.

After a good 8 hours of sea-initiations, we found ourselves at Nye Bay on the West Coast, where a select few surfers got a nice session at a remote right hand reef break, whilst the other gathered up 3139 pieces of rubbish. The team then zig-zagged the jagged and amazing triangular islands around Port Davey to the secluded Spain Bay, and to our biggest daily haul of rubbish on the remote Stephens Beach, which amassed a massive 11,253 piece total. The 45min bush walk to and from Stephens was a real stripe earner, on top of the 30+ bags we dragged 3kms up the beach. The daily pickup wasn’t to end with casual beers on the boat, no sir, that’s when the itemised count starts, so the team really earned those beers post count after the memorable Stephens Beach tally, and a good round of zzz’s for all.

From Stephens the troop swayed back around South West Cape to the lush scenic coves and beaches of the South Coast. The cleanup took a more casual affair at the majestic New Harbour, or as Matt Dell aptly puts it “Beer Can Bay” with a 406 singular total.

The Velocity’s Skipper Dave Wyatt’s radio was a great stirrer for many of us, as a forecast of a 6-9 Metre swell loomed. Full steam ahead with an increasing swell on our coat-tails, as we found ourselves nestled inside Recherche Bay for the onslaught of a 35-45knot South-Westerly change. Dave’s boat also reached 21 knots surfing down a good 4-5 Metre howler around the South East Cape. Always as surfer no matter what the craft or perception.

The final cleanup day was a case of mental toughness, as the team cleaned Recherche Bay against sideways rain, 70-80km winds and a few beers hidden in those backpacks. At times we where like seagulls trapped in a motionless vortex of wind, before being catapulted. All-in-all it was a crazy day to remember, and an extra 678 pieces to the total, as we all said our goodbyes in different ways, shapes and beer-ridden forms.

The 2012 is monumental, it being the 100,000 piece milestone for Matt Dell and Dave Wyatt for the SWMDC. An amazing feat from it’s beginnings in 1999. This trip itself amassed a massive 27,317 piece total, and a welcomed invite to return next year. I can’t remember how many 1000 pieces of small plastic ‘Spikey’ counted in one nights count but it was inspiring!

For me personally, this sort of trip is a once in a lifetime experience.

Having grown up in Tasmania as kid (until the age of 15), I’d always romanticised when I’d get to visit this wild and beautiful jewel, but with the beauty it seems that there is an uglier side, seeing how such a remote place is influenced by our Western ways. I can speak on behalf of all of the volunteers that it was inspiring being a part of the South West Marine Debris Cleanup, and comforting to know that in between the laughs, the surfing, and the camaraderie that we probably aren’t changing the world, but we are the ones out there doing it.

In the words of Tassie’s great slogan…

“Stow it, don’t throw it”

South West Marine Debris Cleanup

2012 SWMDC Team

From Washed Up Rubbish to Gallery Art

South West Marine Debris Cleanup: 2012

A Video: © By Little House Production

St. Maarten: Paradise in Peril

Frigate bird, St Maarten. Photo source: ©© Penumbra

Excerpts; by Patrick Holian; a Green Antilles Interview

Sint Maarten is at the crucial point of destroying the last of what draws crowds of dollar-touting tourists to this once-pristine Caribbean island.

“When the Oasis of the Seas, the world’s largest cruise ship, was bathing in opening ceremonial champagne in 2010, no-nonsense dredgers were busy scraping out the bottom of Sint Maarten’s Great Bay to accommodate the behemoth boat’s thirty-one foot draft.

The port did not want to miss out on welcoming the 6000 passengers that this mega-vessel promised to deliver each time it arrives.

Photograph: © SAF

The dregs from the bay were taken to the Great Salt Pond, one of the few remaining wetlands on the island—critical habitat for birds, fish, and other marine organisms. The pond is currently being filled in with the bay’s sand to build a ring road, one declared by politicians and developers alike as an absolute must for the island’s economy. There is also talk by some of constructing a drag strip there. Others want to build a cricket stadium in the pond, which also currently holds the island’s landfill.

Welcome to a paradise in peril.”

Landing at the Princess Juliana International Airport in Sint Maarten. Captions and Photo source: ©© Aldo Bidini

Read Full Article, By Patrick Holian; a Green Antilles Interview

Dubai’s Staggering Growth

Uploaded by NASA / EarthObservatory on Jan 17, 2012


To expand the possibilities for beachfront development, Dubai undertook a massive engineering project to create hundreds of artificial islands along its Persian Gulf coastline.

Built from sand dredged from the sea floor, and protected from erosion by rock breakwaters, the islands are shaped in recognizable forms such as palm trees. As the islands grew, so did the city.

The above video includes satellite images showing the growth of Dubai, one of the United Arab Emirates, between 2000 and 2011.

Taken by the Advanced Spaceborne Thermal Emission and Reflection Radiometer (ASTER) on NASA’s Terra satellite, the false-color images were made from visible and infrared light. Bare desert is tan, plant-covered land is red, water is black, and urban areas are silver.

In 2000, the area was nearly entirely undeveloped. By 2011, whole city blocks had sprung up. Offshore, the first palm-shaped island, Palm Jumeirah, reached completion.

Environmental Impacts of The Palm Islands Construction
The construction of the Palm Islands and The World, for all Nakheel’s attempts to do otherwise, have had a clear and significant impact on the surrounding environment. It would be impossible to introduce a change of such magnitude to an established ecosystem and not anticipate any negative changes or reactions in the area’s wildlife and natural processes. The construction of the various islands off the coast of Dubai has resulted in changes in area wildlife, coastal erosion and alongshore sediment transport, and wave patterns. Sediment stirred up by construction has suffocated and injured local marine fauna and reduced the amount of sunlight filtered down to seashore vegetation. Variations in alongshore sediment transport have resulted in changes in erosion patterns along the UAE coast, which has also been exacerbated by altered wave patterns as the waters of the Gulf attempt to move around the new obstruction of the islands.

The World is sinking: Dubai islands ‘falling into the sea,’ The Telegraph
The “World”, the ambitiously-constructed archipelago of islands shaped like the countries of the globe, is sinking back into the sea, according to evidence cited before a property tribunal. Their sands are eroding and the navigational channels between them are silting up…

Palm Islands, Satellite Images, NASA
Along the coast of Dubai—one of several emirates comprising the United Arab Emirates—are human-made islands. From south to north, the artificial island sites in this image are Palm Jebel Ali, Palm Jumeirah, The World, and Palm Deira. Palm Jebel Ali and Palm Jumeirah appear largely complete in this image, looking like giant palm trees enclosed in huge arcs.

Slipping Sands Of Time Hit Dubai’s World, Time Magazine
The World islands off the coast of Dubai are sinking. The development, consisting of 300 islands, was designed to look like the countries of the globe when seen from above (or from the top of Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest building onshore in the city). The islands were intended to become luxury hotel complexes and private properties, each tailor-made to suit its owners…

Coastal Erosion Threatens Evolutionary Hotspots, Green Prophet
A shoreline expert is concerned about the toll construction and shoreline projects are having on the world’s marine ecosystems. Looking at the intensive construction projects ongoing in the Gulf region, such as Dubai’s The World, and over-pumping of aquifers by the Palestinian and Israeli authorities, Berne sees the current management of shorelines as a disaster. In an interview with Green Prophet, Berne points out the problems in the Middle East and gives alternative solutions, such as offshore ports powered by solar energy, to stop soil erosion and habitat loss…

Rethinking Living Shorelines

By Orrin H. Pilkey,* Rob Young, Norma Longo,* and Andy Coburn; Program for the Study of Developed Shorelines / Western Carolina University, March 1, 2012
*Nicholas School of the Environment, Duke University.


In response to the significant detrimental environmental impacts caused by traditional erosion control structures such as bulkheads and revetments along estuarine and riparian shorelines, many environmental groups, state resource management agencies and federal resource management agencies now advocate an approach known as “Living Shorelines” that embraces the use of natural habitat elements such as indigenous vegetation to stabilize and protect eroding shorelines.

On its website, NOAA defines the term “Living Shoreline” as a more natural bank stabilization technique that uses plants, sand, and limited use of rock to provide shoreline protection and maintain valuable habitat. It describes “Living Shoreline” projects as those that use a variety of structural and organic materials, such as wetland plants, submerged aquatic vegetation, oyster reefs, coir fiber logs, sand fill, and stone.

A survey of “Living Shorelines” along Gulf and East coast estuarine shorelines, however, reveals that a growing number of projects classified as a “Living Shoreline” are relying more on massive hard stabilization with less emphasis on natural stabilization or the development of a significant habitat component, as was the original intent of early “Living Shoreline” projects.

A survey of recent projects dubbed “Living Shorelines” on the US East and Gulf Coasts indicates that there is a wide range in the design, degree of stabilization, amount of habitat creation, and monitoring. Some are used to protect private property, and some are designed to reduce the erosion on the margins of existing wetlands. In short, the term Living Shoreline is being used to describe everything from well-constructed, vegetative stabilization projects to massive rock revetments where a small planting of marsh grasses seems to be an afterthought.

We are concerned that the use of massive hard engineering structures in the deployment of some of these so called “Living Shoreline” projects will cause long-term environmental degradation, provide a false sense of accomplishment, and shift the focus away from trying to maintain the most natural estuarine shoreline feasible. There is a need for advocates of “Living Shorelines” to more precisely define and regulate this term so it is not misused simply to allow more unnecessary and damaging hard stabilization of estuarine shorelines.

We urge broad reconsideration of the use of large-scale hard stabilization for “Living Shorelines” and a renewed scientific effort to evaluate the cumulative impacts of all existing structures (bulkheads and Living Shorelines) on natural and physical processes and ecosystems.

With the likelihood that tens of millions of dollars will be spent over the next decade building tens of miles of new “Living Shoreline” projects, we need a better perspective on the long-term fate of all “Living Shorelines”, as our estuaries, and the ecosystems they nurture, respond to increasing rates of sea level rise in the coming years.

The Theory behind Living Shorelines
Shoreline erosion is a natural process in most coastal environments, and estuarine shorelines are no exception. Coastal landowners, however, typically view any loss of land as undesirable, which leads to demands for erosion control structures such as seawalls, revetments and bulkheads. These structures do not allow the marshes and beaches to move inland in response to sea level rise and will eventually result in the loss of shoreline environments such as fringing marshes and sandy beaches.

In a well-intentioned response to the proliferation of traditional erosion control structures along estuarine and riparian shorelines, many government agencies and conservation organizations now advocate a concept known as “Living Shorelines” that uses natural habitat elements like marsh grasses and oyster reefs to stabilize and protect shorelines. NOAA defines the term “Living Shoreline” as a more natural bank stabilization technique that uses plants, sand, and limited use of rock and other materials to provide shoreline protection and maintain valuable habitat.

All Living Shorelines are said to have one fundamental element in common: a reliance on natural methods for shoreline erosion control that do not sever existing connections between riparian, intertidal, estuarine and aquatic areas essential for water quality, ecosystem services and habitat values.

While the goal of “Living Shorelines” – to reduce the growing dependence on traditional shoreline erosion control/shoreline stabilization structures that damage shoreline habitat in favor of more natural approaches – is commendable, an examination of “Living Shorelines” across the US indicates that we need an immediate reassessment of what “limited” use of rock means, where the various design elements are appropriate, and where they are not.

Problems with Living Shorelines that Utilize Structural Stabilization
We are not naïve. We recognize the threat to our estuaries posed by bulkheads and other traditional shoreline stabilization techniques. Clearly, coastal managers and policy-makers need to address the long-term loss to intertidal habitat that is occurring along estuarine shorelines as a result of the rush to stop coastal erosion and property loss. In North Carolina alone, permits are being issued to allow from 20 to 30 miles of estuarine shoreline to be stabilized each year.

… We are concerned that the use of massive hard engineering structures in the deployment of some of these so called “Living Shoreline” projects will cause long-term environmental degradation, provide a false sense of accomplishment, and shift the focus away from trying to maintain the most natural estuarine shoreline feasible.
—Pilkey, Young, Longo, Coburn

What started out as a laudable effort to substitute natural vegetation for hard erosion control structures often now devolves into designs that embrace, rather than discourage, the use of rock sills, revetments and breakwaters where private property owners are more interested in protection than ecosystem enhancement. In many locations, rocks have replaced significant portions of sandy estuarine beaches and subaqueous bottom habitat.

A proposal in Alabama for “restoration” of the coastal environment following the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, for example, includes surrounding an entire marsh island with large, segmented breakwaters and back filling with sediment. It is hard to see how many of these projects maintain the “natural connections between riparian, intertidal, estuarine and aquatic areas.”

Many “Living Shoreline” projects are described as “environmental restoration” projects. Let’s be very clear, structurally stabilized Living Shorelines and shorelines where marsh grass has been planted but never previously existed do not meet the definition of environmental restoration as defined by the Society for Ecological Restoration International and should not be considered environmental restoration. True ecological restoration returns an ecosystem to its original trajectory. Dam removal on rivers is a good example. Shoreline stabilization utilizing rock sills, breakwaters, or similar structures is an attempt to thwart that trajectory, regardless of what is planted behind the structure.

The question is how do advocates for “Living Shorelines” avoid the inevitable tendency for the original goals of habitat enhancement to be abused by overly aggressive permit applicants, engineers, and property owners? How do we ensure that future Living Shoreline projects are, in fact, preferable to the bulkheads they are often designed to replace?

• Clearly, we need to reexamine the management of estuarine shorelines in the same way that many states have examined ocean shorelines. This includes the development of realistic setbacks and an understanding that allowing the construction of bulkheads, revetments, breakwaters and other hard structures causes great environmental harm and ecosystem degradation. Estuarine shorelines are dynamic, just as ocean shorelines are. We urge all parties to redouble their efforts to reduce the rate at which this nation’s estuarine shorelines are being walled off from the rest of the estuary.

• “Living Shorelines” need to be precisely defined. This definition should include specific, quantifiable development standards that establish what “limited” use of structural materials actually means.

• “Living Shorelines” that rely on hard stabilization structures should be avoided or minimized wherever possible. If structures are used, they should be temporary, biodegradable or easily removable. Living Shorelines that include massive, traditional erosion control structures should not be classified as “Living Shorelines” simply because they contain a vegetative component.

• Objective, science-based monitoring of short- and long-term biological, geological and physical impacts of “Living Shorelines” (as well as traditional bulkheads) is needed to answer questions concerning long-term benefits and function, sedimentation rates, storm responses, impact on erosion rates, impact on nutrient contribution, and loss of sandy beach ecosystems.

• Where a structural stabilization component is used, alternative materials, such as oyster shell bags where appropriate, should be used to reduce the impacts and construction access challenges associated with the use of stone sills, revetments and breakwaters.

• Fiber or coir logs have been placed against undercut banks and trees to act as a medium for plant propagation and provide temporary protection for incipient marshes. They increase slope stability, encourage growth of fibrous roots and decay naturally within 5 years in the marine environment.

• Additional research needs to be carried out to assess the impacts to nearby ecosystems of introducing any type of non-native structural control (e.g. rocks, oyster shells) into areas where those substrates would not normally occur.

• Regulatory incentives and general permits that allow and promote the ongoing, heavy stabilization of the estuarine shoreline with bulkheads and seawalls need to be abolished.

The term “Living Shorelines” is frequently overused. There is no precise and universally accepted definition used by advocates of this shoreline stabilization strategy. This results in many projects that rely heavily on engineering structures, rather than the biological components for shoreline stabilization. Until a measurable definition of “Living Shoreline” projects is made, there is real danger that the term will be used to justify stabilization projects that are just as damaging to estuarine shorelines as the traditional shoreline stabilization techniques they are meant to replace.

Developing strict criteria for what a “Living Shoreline” should be is critical as some states move to the availability of general permits for the construction of “Living Shorelines” based largely on the assumption that they are environmentally friendly. Many governmental entities are using rock structures to reduce erosion on natural, marsh shorelines. Is this a “Living Shoreline” as they are often called? And how will these structures impact the dynamic estuary as sea level rises?

“Living Shorelines” that incorporate traditional erosion control structures are not restoration projects and should not be advertised as such.

The above images gallery, provides examples of ‘Living Shorelines.’

Detecting Detrimental Change in Coral Reefs

The Pinnacle III reef in Discovery Bay on the north coast of Jamaica four days after its Sept. 16, 1972 discovery. The pinnacle reef rises some 110 feet from the seafloor. At the time of its discovery the reef was completely covered with corals and large tree-sized seafans. Photograph: Phil Dustan.

By Laura Rocchio, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center

Over dinner on R.V. Calypso while anchored on the lee side of Glover’s Reef in Belize, Jacques Cousteau told Phil Dustan that he suspected humans were having a negative impact on coral reefs. Dustan—a young ocean ecologist who had worked in the lush coral reefs of the Caribbean and Sinai Peninsula—found this difficult to believe.

It was December 1974. But Cousteau was right.

During the following three-plus decades, Dustan, an ocean ecologist and biology professor at the University of Charleston in South Carolina, has witnessed widespread coral reef degradation and bleaching from up close. In the late 1970s Dustan helped build a handheld spectrometer, a tool to measure light given off by the coral. Using his spectrometer, Dustan could look at light reflected and made by the different organisms that comprised the living reefs. Since then, he has watched reefs deteriorate at an alarming rate. Recently he has found that Landsat offers a way to evaluate these changes globally. Using an innovative way to map how coral reefs are changing over time, Dustan now can find ‘hotspots’ where conservation efforts should be focused to protect these delicate communities.

A Role for Remote Sensing
Situated in shallow clear water, most coral reefs are visible to satellites that use passive remote sensing to observe Earth’s surface. But coral reefs are complex ecosystems with coincident coral species, sand, and water all reflecting light. Dustan found that currently orbiting satellites do not offer the spatial or spectral resolution needed to distinguish between them and specifically classify coral reef composition. So instead of attempting to classify the inherently complex coral ecosystem to monitor their health, Dustan has instead started to look for change—how overall reflectance for a geographic location varies over time.

Dustan uses a time series of Landsat data to calculate something called temporal texture¬—basically a map showing where change has occurred based on statistical analysis of reflectance information. While Dustan cannot diagnosis the type of change with temporal texture he can establish where serious changes have occurred. Coral communities have seasonal rhythms and periodicities, but larger, significant changes show up as statistical outliers in temporal texture maps and often correlate with reef decline.

A Case Study
Carysfort reef—named for the HMS Carysfort, an eighteenth century British warship that ran aground on the reef in 1770—is considered the most ecologically diverse on the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary’s northern seaward edge, but today it is in a state of ecological collapse.

Dustan and colleagues conducted the first quantitative field study of coral health at Carysfort in 1974. After a quarter century their studies showed that coral had declined 92 percent. The coral had succumbed to an array of stressors culminating with deadly diseases.

Using the well-characterized Carysfort reef as his control, Dustan calculated the temporal texture for the reef using a series of 20 Landsat images collected between 1982 and 1996. The resulting temporal texture maps correlated with the known areas of significant coral loss (where coral communities have turned into algal-dominated substrates) and they correctly showed that the seaward shallow regions have had the most detrimental change.

This novel approach to change detection is only possible because the long-term calibration of Landsat data assures that data from year-to-year is consistent. Dustin needs at least 6 to 8 Landsat images to create a reliable temporal texture map, but the more data that is available, the finer the results.

Dustan tested this work in the U.S. because he had a robust study site and because prior to 1999 coverage of reefs outside of the U.S. was spotty. With the Landsat 7 launch in 1999 a new global data acquisition strategy was established and for the first time the planet’s coral reefs were systematically and regularly imaged, greatly increasing our knowledge of reefs. The Landsat archive enabled the completing of the first exhaustive global survey of reefs (Millennium Global Coral Reef Mapping Project, Efforts are currently underway to receive and ingest Landsat data collected and housed by international ground-receiving stations. International partners often downlink Landsat scenes of their countries that the U.S. does not, so it is very likely that historic reef images will be added the U.S. Landsat archive during this process.

Carrying on Outside of Carysfort
Temporal texture gives scientists an entirely new way to look at coral reefs. A worldwide study could help managers locate change ‘hotspots’ and could better inform conservation efforts.

Ideally, after more testing, Dustan would like to see an automatic change detection system implemented to follow major worldwide reef systems. “There is no reason that a form of temporal texture monitoring could not be implemented with current satellites in orbit,” Dustan says.

Because reefs are underwater it is difficult to grasp the extensive devastation being exacted upon them. Global temporal texture mapping could bring the ravages into focus.

The Landsat Program is a series of Earth observing satellite missions jointly managed by NASA and the U.S. Geological Survey. Landsat satellites have been consistently gathering data about our planet since 1972. They continue to improve and expand this unparalleled record of Earth’s changing landscapes for the benefit of all.

Reef environments provide habitat for hundreds of fish species including the butterflyfish shown here in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. Photograph: Chris Huss.

Original Article, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center<

To Save a Beach, They May Ruin It

okaloosa county white sand beach
White sand beach, Okaloosa County, Florida. Photo source: ©© faungg

By Robert S. Young, PhD, Director Program for the Study of Developed Shorelines

Florida led the nation in establishing detailed criteria for ensuring that only high-quality sand is placed on Florida beaches during construction of beach nourishment projects.

While the Sand Rule (Florida Administrative Code 62B-41.007j) explicitly indicates that the goal is to “protect the environmental functions of Florida’s beaches,” it has also served to protect the economic interests of coastal communities dependent upon the high quality and aesthetic beauty of those beaches.

Using Florida as an example, North Carolina established similar, but more stringent, criteria for beach nourishment projects on our valuable beaches.

Now it seems the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) would like to weaken these sand quality standards or even bypass them altogether. Why would a state that places such a high value on the quality of its beaches do this? It might have something to do with two recent instances in which administrative law judges have recommended that permits for beach nourishment projects be rescinded due to sand-quality issues and violations of the Sand Rule.

The most recent case involves a proposed beach nourishment project for Okaloosa Island.

The tourism website for the Emerald Coast describes the beaches like this: “Florida’s Emerald Coast offers 24 miles of pristine white-sand beaches. … This sand, made up of pure Appalachian quartz, remains remarkably cool even in the heat of summer, and gives the waters here their trademark emerald-green color by reflecting sunlight back up through the surf.”

I agree.

I bring my two young boys to visit these beaches because they have the highest quality and most stunningly beautiful sand I have ever seen. And, through my job, I have visited many beaches all over the world.

okaloosa island
Okaloosa island, Florida. Photo source: ©© Scott

Okaloosa County applied for, and was granted, a permit to pump sand onto 2.8 miles of pure “sugar sand” beach on Okaloosa Island. We know exactly what this “fill sand” will look like, because a nearby beach was covered with this exact same material. The sand is not of Emerald Coast quality. It is far darker, has large shell shards throughout, and is not composed of the pure Appalachian quartz sand advertised by local tourism officials.

It will completely change the Okaloosa Island beach.

Many property owners on Okaloosa Island expressed grave concerns over the project and how it will impact their community. The entire Northwest Florida legislative delegation is so concerned that it passed a resolution urging abandonment of the project out of concern for the economic impacts that will come from “exposing visitors to a downgraded beach-going experience.”

Ultimately, Okaloosa property owners filed suit, arguing the project would degrade their beach. In September, an administrative law judge agreed and issued a recommended order indicating the permit should be rescinded because the sand is clearly not beach compatible. He held that the proposed fill violates the Sand Rule in that it does not “maintain the general character and functionality of the material occurring on the beach and in the adjacent dune and coastal system,” as the Rule stipulates. He recognized the fill material would completely change the character of that beach because it is darker and shell-laden.

I have a dog in this hunt. I served as an expert witness for the plaintiffs. Yet, all of those who relish the high quality and beauty of Florida beaches celebrated this ruling. Sadly, the celebration was short-lived. On Dec. 29, the secretary of FDEP overruled the judge and ordered the permit be issued. In doing so he ignored the Sand Rule’s unequivocal requirement that beach not contain material coarser than the native beach and ignored the spirit of the rule requiring fill material maintain the “general character” of the native beach (color, shell content).

In my opinion, he gave license to Okaloosa County to kill the goose that laid the golden egg — the “sugar sand” beach. One wonders why the county would want to do this?

The beach on Okaloosa Island is already wide, with a formidable dune in most locations. There is a lot of money to be made selling beach nourishment projects, and some folks seem to think that if you have a chance to pump some sand, well, you just ought to.

Some have argued that FDEP is simply trying to streamline burdensome regulations; but, this is very short-sighted. The quality of Florida beaches matters.

The Sand Rule must be preserved and enforced to protect the coastal economy and the environment. It is a rare two-fer, and a no brainer.

Photo source: ©© Davew Wilson