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Governments Plan for Development of Land Vulnerable to Rising Sea Level: East Central Florida

McCue, T. 2010. East Central Florida. In James G. Titus, Daniel L. Trescott, and Daniel E. Hudgens (editors). The Likelihood of Shore Protection along the Atlantic Coast of the United States. Volume 2: New England and the Southeast. Report to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Washington, D.C.

The summary is on this page. You can also download a printer quality version of this East Central Florida sea level planning study (pdf).



Although people often develop close to the coast, shorelines constantly change due to erosion, sedimentation, and sea level rise. During the last century, sea level has risen approximately 6-9 inches worldwide and 9 inches along the coast of East Central Florida. There is estimated to be a 90 percent probability of over a 1 foot rise in sea level by 2150 along the Florida coast. However, there is a 50 percent probability that this rise could be seen by the year 2075.

This study is the first comprehensive attempt to assess the likely response to sea level rise in East-Central Florida. The study area contains the (ocean) coastal areas of Brevard and Volusia counties, approximately 14.5 percent of the combined area of the two counties); We omitted the portion of these coasts counties along the St. John's River. According to the 2000 census, the population in the coastal census tracts is approximately 503,000 in 260,000 dwelling units. The coastal population is expected to grow to roughly 550,000 residents in 287,000 dwelling units by 2020. Major tourist destinations such as Daytona Beach, Cocoa Beach, and Melbourne Beach are included in the study area. Therefore, the effects of sea level rise will affect not only the residents, but may have a major effect on tourist destinations as well, which may result in dramatic effects on the economic well being of the counties. The study focused on the lowest 240 square miles, using a common mapping benchmark for defining low coastal land: the 10-foot contour. More than 141,000 acres of uplands and almost 96,000 acres of wetlands are in this area and would be directly affected by a continued rise in sea level. Wetlands and water comprise 65% of the study area.

In Volusia County, the majority of coastal lands are developed and almost certain to be protected. Nevertheless, there is a substantial amount of preserve areas along both sides of the lagoon at the northern and southern ends of the county, as well as the middle of county along Sebastian Inlet. At the northern end of the county there are also three forested islands that are not formally part of a preserve but whose development would be difficult and hence shore protection is unlikely. And at the southern end of the county, there are some low-lying agricultural lands where coastal development with planned low and moderate density, with wetlands situated around them and hence shore protection are unlikely, .as well as an even greater area of undeveloped land where development is expected but not necessarily inevitable.

Regionwide, land in which shore protection is almost certain accounts for 65,000 acres (102 square miles), 15% of the study area. Single family residential lands account for 46,000 acres. The maps show that for all practical purposes, past and planned development have already made it inevitable that property will be protected and the inland migration of wetlands will be blocked and eventually eliminated along 30% of Brevard and 60% of Volusia County shores. Existing conservation lands, however, ensure that wetlands will be able to adjust to rising sea level along the shores of about 45% and 15% of the two counties, respectively. Perhaps most importantly, we still have a realistic opportunity to choose between wetland migration and coastal development for approximately 25% of the land in each county. (See the summary table).

Brevard and Volusia coastline is an important ecological and economical resource for the region and state. Land use is a state and local responsibility and decisions should be made concerning the protection of developed and undeveloped land before it becomes too expensive or impossible to protect the shoreline and property. The counties and cities are presented, through this study, with options for decision making concerning land use and the protection of common infrastructure, property, resources, and the economic base of the community from sea level rise. In some cases, it is reasonable to wait and respond as the sea rises. However, infrastructure changes may require a lead time of a few decades, and land use decisions last centuries. If we want to preserve more than half of our coastal environment as sea level rises, policies should be developed to ensure such a preservation before the remainder of our coastal zone is developed. Doing so need not impair property values; but a failure to act soon would preclude opportunities to preserve the coastal environment in a cost-effective manner.

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Governments Plan for Development of Most Land Vulnerable to Rising Sea (PDF, 7 pp., 1.3 MB) was originally published in Environmental Research Letters , Issue 3, Volume 4 (2009).

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| Main study | Elevation Maps | Zipped file of the maps Related Links

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