Climate Change

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3 minutes, 56 seconds

It may feel "second nature" to protect our home and family, but how can we protect our parks in the face of climate change? Learn how you can join the staff of Fort Matanzas National Monument in protecting coastal habitats threatened by climate change.

 
Dune erosion caused by rising sea level and high tides.
Dune erosion on the Fort Matanzas oceanside beach.

Sea Level Rise

Two phenomena related to climate change contribute to accelerated global sea level rise:

  • Thermal expansion: global atmospheric and ocean temperatures are rising, and water expands as it absorbs heat
  • Ice melt: melting glaciers and ice sheets increase freshwater runoff into oceans

Greenhouse gases trap heat in our atmosphere resulting in rising ocean temperatures. Sources of greenhouse gases include the use of fossil fuels such as coal, oil, and natural gas to power our societies, which releases carbon dioxide and methane into the atmosphere; methane sources also include emissions from landfills and agriculture.

Since 1928, sea level has risen by almost 11 inches at Fort Matanzas based on data from the Mayport, FL tide gauge, which is operated by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Sea level could rise by as much as 5.18 ft" by 2100 [1].

Explore the science behind climate change. Discover NASA Climate Kids.

 
Flooding by the fort caused by high tide.
Flooding at the fort during an extreme high tide.

Extreme Weather

Climate change also contributes to extreme weather: tropical storms, heat waves, droughts, wildfire, rain and flooding, and more.

Which of these could affect, or has affected, the area that you live in?

 
A view of the river boardwalk under water from high tide.
The Matanzas River boardwalk under water.

How are sea level rise and extreme weather impacting Fort Matanzas?

Fort Matanzas is located near low-lying coastal areas and shorelines, so rising sea levels and increased storm surge can have big impacts. Increases in erosion, saltwater intrusion, and high-tide flooding causes challenges for both cultural and natural resources. The fort is an important historic site because it represents one of the oldest masonry forts in the US, built during Spanish colonization of Florida, and is built of a unique stone called coquina. Additionally, Fort Matanzas features frequently-visited natural resources such as beaches and dunes and recreational trails through coastal hammock forest and a salt marsh, which could all be impacted by sea level rise.

 
Close-up of eroded dunes along the Matanzas Ocean Beach.
Erosion to the dunes on Fort Matanzas beach by the Atlantic Ocean.

Climate change is bringing big impacts to communities along the Florida coast—including the natural environments of Fort Matanzas. For example, 100-500 feet of the Atlantic dune system has been washed away since 2014 by increased wave action related to higher sea levels, although much of the dune system remains intact for now. Continual erosion from incremental sea level rise—coupled with greater storm surge from tropical storms—have resulted in the loss of valuable habitat. For example, when rolling dunes are eroded into steep scarps, sea turtles cannot access safer nesting sites on higher ground and are forced to deposit their eggs within reach of the waterline. King tides or the passage of strong storms often destroy these nests. Many animals rely on the dunes for habitat, such as the Anastasia Island beach mouse, which is an endangered and endemic species that lives in the dune system. Given such realities, it’s more important than ever to care for and protect the shoreline home of our coastal wildlife.

 
Damaged oceanside boardwalk caused by Hurricane Matthew,
Damage caused by Hurricane Matthew to the Matanzas oceanside boardwalk

An increased risk of higher storm surge and flooding events also threatens visitor safety and the continued operation of the park.

 
Destruction caused to the Fort Matanzas ferry dock.
Destruction caused to the Fort Matanzas ferry dock.

The driving ramp and boardwalks at Fort Matanzas, as well as the ferry docks that allow visitors to see Rattlesnake Island and visit Fort Matanzas itself, were closed for months due to damage from hurricanes Matthew and Irma in 2016 and 2017.

 
Close-up of Sea Oats at Fort Matanzas.
Close-up of sea oats at Fort Matanzas.

Taking Action in National Parks


Locally at Fort Matanzas, the park repaired the damage caused by hurricanes and new construction was built differently with future storm considerations in mind. Rangers and volunteers planted large numbers of sea oats in an effort to stabilize dunes and help hold sand in place during extreme weather. To combat ongoing beach erosion, managers are also intentionally leaving woody debris on the beach to help trap sand and build dunes over time.

Nationally, the Climate Friendly Parks (CFP) Program is one of many initiatives supporting the National Park Service Green Parks Plan. The CFP program provides national parks with support to address climate change. The goals of the CFP Program include:

  • Measure park-based greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.
  • Educate people about climate change and demonstrate ways individuals and groups can take action to address the issue.
  • Develop strategies and specific actions to address sustainability challenges, reduce GHG emissions, and anticipate the impacts of climate change on park resources.
 
Sunrise over the ocean dunes.
Sunrise over the Atlantic Ocean dunes.

What can YOU do during your visit to Fort Matanzas to help?

You too have an important role to play. Both footsteps and car tires damage plants and destroy delicate root fibers. Staying off the dunes during your visit allows native plants to flourish, take root and guard against erosion.

 
The driving ramp to exit the beach, located between St. Johns County Beach and Fort Matanzas beach, under water from a Nor'easter in 2020.
The driving ramp to exit the St. Johns County beach, located next to the Fort Matanzas beach, under water.


Check the weather and tides before and during your visit to have a safe and enjoyable visit. The park frequently updates its website and social media accounts to notify online visitors of current conditions in the park.

What can you do from home? Learn more about the wildlife and habitats in the park. Explore a Turtle Activity for kids and discover sustainability efforts in the park.

 
Sunrise over the oceanside boardwalk.

Second Nature

With over half a million people visiting the park every year, the small things we do can make a big difference! What other actions should we make “second nature” to protect the future of the homes, parks, and habitats most important to us?

If you choose just one action or develop one new habit, you are taking a positive step toward a more efficient home and a healthier community. Learn more!

 

Reference

  1. Sweet, W.V., B.D. Hamlington, R.E. Kopp, C.P. Weaver, P.L. Barnard, D. Bekaert, W. Brooks, M. Craghan, G. Dusek, T. Frederikse, G. Garner, A.S. Genz, J.P. Krasting, E. Larour, D. Marcy, J.J. Marra, J. Obeysekera, M. Osler, M. Pendleton, D. Roman, L. Schmied, W. Veatch, K.D. White, and C. Zuzak, 2022: Global and Regional Sea Level Rise Scenarios for the United States: Updated Mean Projections and Extreme Water Level Probabilities Along U.S. Coastlines. NOAA Technical Report NOS 01. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, National Ocean Service, Silver Spring, MD, 111 pp. https://oceanservice.noaa.gov/hazards/sealevelrise/sealevelrise-tech-report-sections.html.

Last updated: May 6, 2022

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