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Governments Plan for Development of Land Vulnerable to Rising Sea Level: Treasure Coast

Merritt, Peter. 2010. Treasure Coast. 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 Treasure Coast (Florida) sea level rise planning study (pdf).


The Treasure Coast Region is comprised of four counties located along the southeastern coast of Florida. A total of 34 municipalities in the four counties of the Treasure Coast Region are likely to be impacted by sea level rise in the future.

From north to south the region includes Indian River, St. Lucie, Martin, and Palm Beach counties. Application of the state-wide approach for assessing the likelihood of land use protection in the region resulted in the identification of 119,157 acres (83.3 %) of uplands and 23,927 acres (16.7 %) of wetlands in the study area. Regionally, the "Protection Almost Certain" category accounted for 77.0 % of the uplands in the study area. This was followed by "Protection Reasonably Likely" (6.7 %), "Protection Unlikely" (10.7 %), and "No Protection" (5.6 %). (See the summary table). A clear regional trend exists, reflecting an increase in the number of acres in the "Protection Almost Certain" category when moving north to south from Indian River County to Palm Beach County.

Indian River County has less land likely or almost certain to be protected than any other county along Florida's Atlantic Coast. On a percentage basis, it has less land that is almost certain to be protected than any other Florida Atlantic county. A large portion of the county's coastal zone is still undeveloped or agriculture, including the Sebastian River preserve and portions of the barrier island, and development is not expected in the foreseeable future. Low-density and parks are present along much of the coastal barrier, making shore protection likely but not certain. To the south, by contrast, almost 90 percent of the low land of St. Lucie County is likely or almost certain to be protected. Most coastal lands are developed, and the agricultural lands along the Indian River Lagoon is likely to be developed and hence eventually protected as sea level rises. The presence of the Florida Power and Light Company St. Lucie Nuclear Plant and significant high-rise development on the barrier island in St. Lucie County translates to a greater likelihood of protection of property and infrastructure from sea level rise.

Martin County is known for its commitment to conservation in its coastal floodplains and has relatively strict development guidelines. As a result, shore protection is unlikely or precluded for about 40 percent of the lands within the study area. Substantial undeveloped lands on Jupiter Island are expected to remain undeveloped and hence unlikely to require shore protection. Much of the land south of Palm City is also unlikely to be developed or protected. Particularly striking is the area at the southern end of Martin County. The pattern of intense coastal development extending north from Miami stops abruptly when it reaches Jonathan Dickinson State Park and the Hobe Sound National Wildlife Refuge in southern Martin County. Water and sewer lines have been extended from Palm Beach County into extreme southern Martin County to support development south of these park systems. However, the significant investment in infrastructure south of the state park and national wildlife refuge is in sharp contrast to the natural areas in the park systems where much of the remaining lands are not available for development and hence unlikely to be protected.

Palm Beach County, by contrast, is almost entirely developed along its Atlantic Coast. As a result, shore protection is likely or certain for 97 percent of the lands within a few meters above sea level.

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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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