12 Strategies to Protect Coastal Habitat & Marine Environments

Dr. David Randle Senate Hearing Statement

 

 

Statement of Dr. David W. Randle,
Director of Sustainable Tourism
University of South Florida
Patel College of Global Sustainability

U.S. Senate Commerce Committee Field Hearing
August 10, 2017
University of South Florida, St. Petersburg
University Student Center

 

Senator Nelson, Congressperson Kathy Castor, Congressman Crist, Mayor Kreisman, and other distinguished members of the U.S. Senate Commerce Committee and Florida Congressional Delegation.

Thank you for the opportunity to share some thoughts on the major threats facing Florida’s Tourism Driven Economy.

The threats to Florida’s tourism driven economy come from three fronts, environmental, social / cultural, and economic. All three might be summed up in the word sustainability. Market trends show that tourists are increasingly seeking out sustainable tourism options as they choose their destinations. Destinations that demonstrate sustainability are showing increases in profitability, do better in maintaining the quality that attracts people in the first place, and have stronger support from the community where they are located.

Environmental Threats

The environmental challenges facing Florida's tourism can be found in the science of planetary boundaries and include but are not limited to the following:


Climate Change which includes the risk of increasing temperatures, more frequent and more intense extreme weather events, increase in vector born diseases such as zika, and dengue fever, and sea level rise. Florida’s cities, infrastructure, beachfront homes, and natural ecosystems are among the most vulnerable in the nation to water creeping up the coast . By the year 2060, it is estimated that sea levels along Florida’s coastline could rise an additional 9 inches to 2 feet.

Currently Miami Beach is raising their roads to attempt to mitigate sea level rise and the Florida Keys are already experiencing increased road closures and airport closures due to flooding from combination of sea level rise and storms. Sea level rise brings two major challenges, first the flooding and second salt water intrusion that can damage water supplies coming from places like the Biscayne Aquifer.

Ocean Acidification - Ocean acidification threatens our marine ecosystems, coal reefs, and shellfish viability. The Great Florida Reef, is the only living coral barrier reef in the continental United States. It is the third largest coral barrier reef system in the world (after the Great Barrier Reef and Belize Barrier Reef). NOAA suggests that coral reefs in southeast Florida have an asset value of $8.5 billion, generating $4.4 billion in local sales, $2 billion in local income, and 70,400 full and part-time jobs.

Land Use Changes - Florida loses 450 acres of forest and 410 acres of farmland every day to development. Both of these land use changes continue to devalue the quantity and quality of Florida tourism. Florida also needs to improve in protecting its natural resources. National Geographic ranked the Florida Everglades / Big Cypress National Preserve as the worst preserved national park in North America. Protecting our country, state and national parks are critical for Florida’s tourism economy.

Loss of fresh water resources - Florida is already experiencing the depletion of ground water and surface waters in the everglades, and destruction of wetlands. 50% of Florida’s wetlands are already gone. Wetlands filter and remove pollutants, help reduce impacts from storms, provide fish & wildlife habitat, and economic and aesthetic values. Water supplies are also stressed with increasing populations. For example, the tri county area in South Florida relies on the Biscayne Aquifer and with increasing urban sprawl coupled with droughts may not be able to supply drinking water to the millions who need it.

Biodiversity Loss - Florida is one of the most species rich states in the nation. The loss of biodiversity though continues with roadways that block wildlife corridors for migration, wetland destruction, and forrest loss. There are currently 70 endangered species in Florida and that does not count the threatened species. Large tracts of land that are needed for species like the Florida panther and the bear are rapidly disappearing to development. Increases in recreational boating is threatening manatees and sea turtles with more frequent boat strikes.

Nitrogen Phosphorus Overload - Fertilizers run off is the number one cause of ocean dead zones. Much of this comes from agriculture that is exempt in the Clean Water act. Areas like the Indian River Lagoon, North Florida’s Apalachicola Bay, and Fort Meyers Beach have all been in the news this past year as pollution threatens sea grass, fisheries, recreation, and local economies.

Chemical pollution - Chemical pollution is often the cause of the death of mangroves in Florida, Mercury has been found to be polluting the fish in the everglades. Florida is also at risk from oil spills in the gulf of Mexico and off of Cuba and Bahamas.

 

Social / Cultural Threats

Rapid population growth in Florida coupled with increasing tourism has stressed the long standing Florida social and cultural values. While places like the Historic Cortez Fishing Village have been given historical preservation status and the Florida Maritime museum has been located there to preserve the history, the present fishing culture in Cortez is stressed, Wages of fishermen have not kept pace with the rising property values and cost of living.  Their way of life is in jeopardy of being a thing of the past.  The same story can be told in other economic sectors throughout the state as well. Often times tourism is partly to blame as new resort development often do not pay for the needed infrastructure costs of the community hosting the tourism.

In a recent poll by USF and Nielsen Surveys, 63% of all Florida households reported some financial stress with 28% blaming income insecurity and low paying jobs. Income and wealth inequality is increasing while costs basics such as health care, food, and housing are rising. Together this threatens the social fabric of our communities that are needed to provide a quality work force and necessary community hospitality for high quality tourism.

 

 

Economic Threats

Florida welcomed 113 million tourists in 2016 generating about $90 billion to the economy

The infrastructure to accommodate both locals and tourists though has been declining. Aging infrastructure of water and sewer systems, congested highways, lack of a high speed rail system, are a few examples of some of the threats. Cities are struggling to find economic solutions to address these long ignored infrastructure challenges. For some the time has come to pay the piper and there is little that they have to pay with.

If the infrastructure problems were not bad enough, Florida leads the nation with property at risk from climate change. In a report from the Risky Business project, it was estimated that by 2030, $69 billion in coastal property in Florida could flood at high tide that is not at risk today, the report found. That amount is projected to climb to $152 billion by 2050. According to the study, storm-related losses linked to climate change are expected to increase an average of $1.3 billion every year by 2030, or by $4 billion yearly on average by 2050. Even at mean sea level, more property could flood with rising seas: up to about $15 billion worth by 2030, the report said.

Rising temperatures also mean the number of days over 95 degrees will increase from about seven per year to 32 between 2020 and 2039, the report said. By mid-century, the number of 95-degree days could reach 76, or more than two and a half straight months of scorching, AC-busting days. While increasing energy costs for air-conditioning tourists may be less likely to visit Florida knowing of the likely heat.


All of the challenges from the environmental, social, and economic threats facing Florida come back to the lack of sustainability.

The good news is that sustainability can be planned for in new developments and increased in existing developments. Florida has some of the best practice sustainability models in the world in places large and small such as Walt Disney World, the largest single employer site in the United States and small Anna Maria Island Pine Avenue Restoration Project. The USF Blue Community Consortium, a UNTWO Affiliate and UNTWO Sustainable Tourism Observatory, that includes 9 communities in Pinellas and Manatee counties.have developed 12 strategies to assist the tourism industry in becoming more sustainable. See: http://www.bluecommunity.info/topics/view/51cbfc99f702fc2ba812ed8f/

There is much that can be done on the local, state, and federal levels to strengthen the sustainability of tourism in the state.

The challenges are great but can be addressed if we have the political will to do so.

Thank you!

                                                   

 

Glossary

Citation

Randle, D. (2017). Dr. David Randle Senate Hearing Statement. Retrieved from http://www.bluecommunity.info/view/article/598cc6580cf21390392713b0

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