STC Gets Ahead of the Tide

Issue 1, 2016

STC Gets Ahead of the Tide

By Gary Appelson

Sea Turtle Conservancy (STC) is proud to announce the release of a series of short, 5-minute videos about sea level rise (SLR) and the need to protect Florida’s beaches in an era of rising seas for both sea turtles and people. The video series, Ahead of the Tide, was produced in partnership with the nonprofit film-maker CAVU.

The first video in the series highlights the importance of beaches to all Floridians as told in their own words. To produce the video series STC and the talented CAVU production team traveled the state interviewing climate scientists and legal scholars at three universities, local coastal government officials and planners, high school and college students, surfers and other beachgoers, federal agency officials, and public figures such as one of Florida’s favorite authors, Carl Hiaasen.

Sea level rise is projected to have serious and long-lasting impacts to the state’s globally-important sea turtle nesting beaches. Our hope is that this series of short, powerful films will help to serve as a Call-to-Action for all Floridians to demand that our elected leaders, government agencies and coastal communities begin planning for SLR in order to protect Florida’s most valuable asset — its natural sandy beaches — both for sea turtles and for people. We hope these videos also will encourage the public to push local elected officials to make smarter decisions regarding where we can build along the shoreline.

STC has long been concerned about impacts to the nesting beach resulting from rising seas. How will Florida maintain viable nesting habitat for sea turtles? Will the state permit the “armoring” of the shoreline with sea walls to protect adjacent buildings and just let our beaches wash away? STC is working to highlight these concerns and increase public awareness about SLR by focusing attention on impacts to the nesting beach and promoting strategies that can help ensure the long-term protection of the beach. Public awareness and involvement on these issues is critical in a state like Florida, where many elected leaders still deny the realities of SLR and where state coastal development and management laws fail to even acknowledge climate change or sea level rise. Sadly, even the few local government efforts at SLR adaptation planning focus primarily on infrastructure and ignore impacts to the beach and fail to include strategies to reduce the loss of coastal habitat.

STC Policy Director Gary Appelson has been traveling the state making presentations to highlight the need for Florida to begin planning for sea level rise along the shoreline. Late last year he addressed the Florida Shore and Beach Preservation Association, a professional association of local coastal governments and coastal engineers. He stressed the need to plan for SLR in the state’s beach management program, to reform our outdated coastal development policies, and to study better ways to rebuild beaches that have less of an impact on sea turtles and other nearshore resources. STC has also carried its message to other conferences and workshops.

Long-term planning for SLR is essential if we are to avoid the hardening of the beach through the widespread construction of sea walls that are constructed in the hope of protecting upland properties from the rising surf. Already, some coastal developers are proposing to line the beach with sea walls before buildings are even constructed on the coast. Sea walls are bad for the beach and bad for sea turtles. Once constructed, sea walls redirect wave energy to areas immediately in front of and to the sides of the walls. This refracted wave energy results in increased erosion around the wall and interferes with the beach’s ability to naturally recover from storms. Sand locked up behind sea walls is now removed from the beach system and is no longer available to help naturally replenish beach sand lost to erosion. Sea walls also deter female sea turtles from nesting and cause nests to be laid in sub-optimal habitat where they are more susceptible to sea water inundation and erosion.

SLR skeptics often argue that ocean levels have been rising and falling for millennia and sea turtles are just as adapted to rising seas as they are to periodic hurricanes and other major storm events. It is certainly true that in the distant past sea levels were much higher and Florida’s beaches and barrier islands were located much further inland than they are today. And undoubtedly sea turtles simply nested wherever those beaches were located and slowly adapted as sea levels slowly receded. What is different for sea turtles now, as they are forced once again to adapt to shifting shorelines, is that Florida’s beaches are no longer undeveloped and free to move inland as seas rise. Instead, they are lined with homes, businesses, and high-rise condos.

A line in the sand has been drawn where development is now located, and property owners are willing to defend that line at all costs. As seas rise and beaches wash away and recede, turtles that come ashore to nest are finding that their habitat literally is being squeezed between the rising sea and the immovable line of development. While state leaders continue to ignore SLR, Florida continues to allow high-risk and high-density shoreline development as if our beaches are stable land upon which to build. STC believes there are many specific policies that can be implemented to help coastal communities adapt to rising seas, while also protecting our natural beaches both for sea turtles and for people. Most importantly, we have to start taking action and making smarter decisions about the management of our coasts in an era of rising seas. We have to get “Ahead of the Tide.”

The first chapter in the series, Florida’s Lifeblood, can be watched now on STC’s website at You can also receive notification when each of the remaining nine chapters are released by signing up at, a joint website set up by multiple organizations to advance our common campaign to address SLR in Florida.