Climate change is the rise in average surface temperatures on Earth, mostly due to the burning of fossil fuels. Climate change is causing intensifying storm activity, rising sea levels and creating more
frequent floods and droughts in the Carolinas and worldwide. Recent,
significant storm events in North and South Carolina include Hurricane Florence (2018), Hurricane Matthew (2016) and Hurricane Floyd (1999).
Increased storm activity is having a huge economic and environmental impact on our coastal and inland communities in the Carolinas. Hurricane Matthew caused an estimated $4.8 billion in damages. Hurricane Floyd caused between $7 and $9.4 billion, and the damage from Hurricane Florence was estimated to be nearly $17 billion – more than Matthew and Floyd combined
Wetlands play a critical role to help mitigate increased storm activity caused by climate change by retaining floodwater, stormwater and storm surges. Because of their critical importance during these storm events, wetland protection and conservation is essential to combating the effects of climate change in the Carolinas.
Flooding not only causes property damage, but also impacts public health and overall well-being in our communities3. Flooding can destroy a home, leaving it uninhabitable. There are also numerous hidden dangers in flood waters that create a public health risk: live wires, broken glass, and sharp metal as well as bacteria and other pathogens4.
Because of their ability to mitigate sea level rise, absorb rainwater, retain floodwater and store atmospheric carbon dioxide, wetland protection and conservation is essential in the Carolinas.
Wetlands can be protected and conserved in a number of ways:
- By not developing or impacting wetlands (e.g., filling, ditching, placing wetlands under protective easement),
- If you live on waterfront property, wetlands can be protected by installing a “living shoreline” (see photo – left) – a mix of plant roots, sand and stone instead of man-made structures, like retaining walls, to stabilize the soil.
- Avoiding the development or impact of wetlands (e.g., filling, ditching);
- Avoiding wetlands if planning a home, building, shed or farm field expansion; and
- By placing wetlands under protective easement (e.g., conservation easement).
- Wetlands can be protected by installing a “living shoreline” (see photo) to stabilize the soil – a mix of plant roots, sand and stone instead of man-made structures, like retaining walls.
- NASA’s Climate Center “Overview: Weather, Global Warming and Climate Change” [Online]. Available: https://climate.nasa.gov/resources/global-warming-vs-climate-change/ [Accessed July 1, 2020].
- Economic impact of Florence: https://insideclimatenews.org/news/27122018/hurricane-damage-north-carolina-climate-change-2018-year-review-florence-michael-matthew#:~:text=Hurricane%20Florence%20produced%20a%20record,Carolina%20alone%20at%20%2417%20billion.
- Economic impact: https://www.newsobserver.com/news/technology/article215476785.html
- Health Impacts of Flooding: https://edmdigest.com/resources/florence-flooding/
- Kunkel, K.E., R. Easterling, A. Ballinger, S. Biligin, S.M. Champion, D.R. Corbett, K.D. Dello, J. Dissen, J.M. Lackmann, R.A. Lutteich, Jr., L.B. Perry, W.A. Robinson, L.E. Stevens, B.C. Stewart, and A.J. Terando, 2020: North Carolina Climate Science Report. North Carolina Institute for Climate Studies, 233 pp. https://ncics.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/06/NC_Climate_Science_Report_FullReport_Final_revised_May2020.pdf
- Association of State Wetland Managers: “Carbon Sequestration” [Online]. Available: https://www.aswm.org/wetland-science/wetlands-and-climate-change/carbon-sequestration
- DCERP (2018). Defense Coastal/Estuarine Research Program 2 Final Report. Retrieved from https://dcerp.serdp-estcp.org/Portals/0/FinalReports/RC2245_DCERP2_Final_Report.pdf
- Michener, W.K., E.R. Blood, K.L. Bildstein, M.M. Brinson and L.R. Gardner. Climate Change, Hurricanes and Tropical Storms, and Rising Seal Level in Coastal Wetlands. 1997. Ecological Applications, Vol. 7, No. 3, pp. 770-801.
- C. Kozak, “Restoration Work – A Test for Carbon Farming,” Coastal Review Online, 01-Aug-2019. [Online]. Available: https://www.coastalreview.org/2019/01/restoration-work-a-test-for-carbon-farming/. [Accessed: 11-Feb-2020].
Heather Patti, PWS is a Senior Ecologist and Project Manager at TRC Companies, specializing in wetland and stream delineation, permitting and endangered species assessments for the renewable energy industry. Heather is a proud mother of 2 boys, Ben and Wyatt, and in her free time enjoys hiking, camping, botanizing and kayaking. She is a terrible fisherman.