(AFP) — Warm sunshine and sandy beaches make south Florida and its crown city, Miami, a haven for tourists, but the area is increasingly endangered by sea level rise, experts said Tuesday.
During a special Senate hearing held in Miami Beach, Senator Bill Nelson described south Florida as “Ground Zero” for climate change and its threats to coastal communities.
The perils for Miami are particularly concerning because it has the most assets at stake in the world in terms of assets like homes, beachfront hotels and businesses, according to the World Resources Institute, a global research firm.
Not only is there $14.7 billion in beachfront property, but Miami is also home to the world’s fourth largest population of people vulnerable to sea level rise, the WRI said.
Nearly 20 million people live in the entire state of Florida, and about three quarters live on the coast, said Nelson.
– Waters rising –
The waters around south Florida are rising fast. The Florida coast has already seen 12 inches (30 centimeters) of sea rise since 1870.
Another nine inches to two feet (23 to 61 centimeters) are anticipated by 2060, said the WRI.
Miami is located just four feet (1.22 meters) above sea level.
The mayor of Miami Beach, Philip Levine, said residents are commonly seen wading through knee-deep waters to get to their homes and businesses during high tides and floods.
Officials are investigating the use of tidal control valves and new water pumps to improve drainage, with three pumps planned for installation before October’s high tides, Levine said.
Discussions are also under way on urban designs and city plans that could better equip the area for rising sea levels, he said.
– High costs –
Climate change may bring more severe weather, warned Piers Sellers, deputy director of the science and exploration directorate at NASA.
Fred Bloetcher, a professor of engineering at Florida Atlantic University, said sea level rise is a present threat to “nearly six million Floridians, their economy and lifestyle, 3.7 trillion dollars in property in southeast Florida alone and a $260 billion annual economy.”
Meanwhile, insurance companies are still unprepared to cope, said Megan Linkin, a natural hazards expert at Swiss Re Global Partnerships.
Despite the risks, tourism continues to boom in Florida.
In 2013, 14.2 million visitors spent nearly $23 billion in the Miami area, said William Talbert, president of the greater Miami Convention and Visitors Bureau.
Last year also marked the first time in history that more visitors came from foreign countries than from the United States, he said.