Is spending time in Florida on your bucket list?
Better get there sooner, rather than later.
Climate change science shows that rising sea levels associated with global warming will in time eradicate Florida’s contemporary Atlantic coastline, including Miami and environs, most likely within 20 to 30 years. This is expected to play out seriously in the Miami area’s heavily populated Dade County, where the highest point above sea level is the county landfill. If you considering buying — or renting — a sea-view condo in Miami or nearby Fort Lauderdale or Coral Gables, do it soon, or think again. There are apparently great deals on long-term-lease condos in Kansas.
Miami aside, there is Florida’s Gulf Coast, 160 miles west of Dade County via the Alligator Alley highway that transverses the Everglades between Miami and Tampa. Gulf of Mexico communities include more than a few booming metroplexes: Tampa, Clearwater, Sarasota, Ft. Myers/Cape Coral and Naples. While Florida’s Gulf Coast is expected to be less vulnerable to rising sea levels than are Atlantic Ocean communities, the Gulf Coast is more vulnerable to hurricanes with intensities enhanced by climate change. The Gulf Coast region has also become a meteorological magnet for both heavy rains and killer tornadoes. Apparently, even Dorothy and Toto can’t safely winter near Naples.
For generations Florida’s Gulf Coast beaches have been a ritual-of-spring Mecca for college students from “up north.” Think bottomless beer that begets bottomless bikinis, both of which fuel 24/7 partying. Florida’s Gulf Coast beaches are spring break’s epicenter. But, this spring, the once-pristine waters lapping beachfront hormone habitats are more porta-potty brown than pristine sea-green. Why? Because heavy February rains in central Florida inundated rivers that drain into the Gulf from inland “lakes” — man-made drainage reservoirs adjacent to inland cattle ranches (think manure) and orange groves (think pesticides). Central Florida areas that historically deal with less than two inches of rainfall in February saw as many as 13 inches of rain this February, driven by an aberrant climate-change El Nino weather pattern, with more rain forecast before central Florida’s historical rainy season that historically begins in June.
The impact of southwest Florida’s ecological chaos extends well beyond spooking spring breakers, whose booze-induced, credit card meltdown spending represents a significant economic impact for southwest Florida. What has transpired weather-wise over the last month has devastated the Gulf Coast fishery. The massive influx of polluted fresh water into the salt-water Gulf of Mexico has caused an off-shore exodus of once-lucrative Gulf Coast marine species — among them grouper, Spanish mackerel, pompano, stone crab, pink shrimp and mullet. “Normally, I do a thousand pounds a day,” a Pine Island mullet fisherman recently told a local newspaper. “I’ve got about 400 pounds today.”
Another mullet fleet overseer said this: “My fishermen have been fishing their whole lives and they’ve been saying the same things. The water quality is so bad that the mullet are not coming back or have been killed by red tide. … This is very sad. This is all I’ve done my whole life. You sit back and see your livelihood go down the drain.” It’s a Gulf Coast variation of a sad song familiar to those long-involved in the now-defunct Maine shrimp fishery.
Offshore, central and southwest Florida have been dealing with a recent rash of tornadoes, a climactic crisis in an area replete with basement-less mobile homes. For years, Florida has held the national distinction of experiencing the most thunderstorms per square mile, but recently those thunderstorms have increased to intensities that spawn serious tornadoes. In January of this year, a tornado 40 miles southeast of Tampa killed two and destroyed or damaged dozens of homes.
Curiously, a popular roadhouse bar and restaurant in that same area has this sign posted in the hallway leading to the restrooms: “In case of tornado, gather in the men’s room near the urinal. It hasn’t been hit in years.”
Tom Walsh is an award-winning health and science writer who, when not escaping Downeast winters in Florida, works from his home in Gouldsboro.