I grew up in a small town called Titusville, Florida, situated on the north end of a big county that we locals like to call the “Space Coast.” Once, Titusville was a sleepy town, awoken only by the traffic-stopping crowds attracted by shuttle launches. Since the end of the shuttle program in 2011, Titusville hardly stirs.
Titusville isn’t only slowing down. It’s heating up, too. But my family and friends shouldn’t get too excited. This doesn’t necessarily mean more beach days on the Space Coast. In fact, the effects of warmer temperatures might even keep people away from the beach.
There are only a few things that keep Floridians off the water.
We stay away from the water when the algae blooms get out of control, making the coastal air both unsafe and unpleasant to breathe. On the lagoon, the stench of miles worth of dead sea grass and hundreds of dead manatees, pelicans, and dolphins is enough to keep even the most dedicated boater away. And what good is fishing during a bloom anyway? Your bounty will be unsafe to eat. As temperatures rise, the chances of these blooms only grow.
We’ll have no choice but to stay away when rising sea levels reshape our coastline as we know it. According to the National Climate Assessment, sea levels will rise a projected one to four feet in the next century. That’s over the course of 100 years, but we’ve already seen our beaches reshaped - or, to state it more accurately, entirely eroded - by Hurricane Sandy in 2012. Two years later, authorities are still trying to restore our beaches.
But aren’t we Floridians used to storms? We all know what it’s like to evacuate in bumper-to-bumper traffic up I-95. We all know the routine of moving our plants and lawn furniture inside, taping and boarding our windows, living in darkness when the power goes out and our windows are boarded up. We all know the cost of a flooded living room, a ravaged pool screen, or a fallen tree. We’ve all been to a hurricane party. Yeah, maybe we’re used to storms, but are we ready for the economic consequences as storms become stronger and more frequent?
Since 1980, Florida has been hit by 23 storms that cost $1 billion or more. We cannot forget Hurricane Andrew in 1992. We must remember 2004, when Florida was hit by four hurricane-strength storms in five weeks. As weather warms, chances of category 4 and 5 hurricanes only increase, putting not only our safety, but our economy - already fragile since the end of the shuttle program in 2011 - at risk. If we don’t act now, just one big storm could devastate our homes, our schools, our jobs, and yeah - even our beach days.