Study IDs Gulf Coast ecosystems at risk

Sea turtles as most vulnerable species

Gulf Coast sunset.
Rising sea level and warming ocean temps are putting Gulf Coast ecosystems at risk, according to a new study. @bberwyn photo.

Staff Report

Sea turtles breeding along the Gulf Coast are among the species deemed most vulnerable to climate change and rising sea level, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service concluded in a new vulnerability assessment that looked at four Gulf ecosystems and 11 species dependent on them.

The ecosystems are mangrove, oyster reef, tidal emergent marsh and barrier islands. The species are roseate spoonbill, blue crab, clapper rail, mottled duck, spotted seatrout, eastern oyster, American oystercatcher, red drum, black skimmer, Kemp’s ridley sea turtle and Wilson’s plover.

Kemp’s ridley sea turtle is thought to be the most vulnerable species across the Gulf Coast. The report identified the main threat as loss of nesting habitat to sea level rise, erosion, and urbanization.

Tidal emergent marsh is considered to be the most vulnerable ecosystem, due in part to sea level rise and erosion. In general, avian species were more vulnerable than fish because of nesting habitat loss to sea level rise, erosion and potential increases in storm surge.

“The Gulf Coast region supports some of the most diverse species and ecosystems in the world,” said U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dan Ashe. “It also faces some of the most pressing environmental challenges of our time. The Gulf Coast Vulnerability Assessment will help our agency identify and assess areas that are susceptible to climate change and other stressors while working with our partners to protect and conserve this ecological safe haven for generations to come.”

“In the next 100 years, accelerated sea level rise, changing winter climate extremes, altered river flows and coastal development will greatly change coastal landscapes across the Gulf region,” said USGS research ecologist Mike Osland.

The assessment identifies barriers and opportunities for the landward migration of tidal saline wetlands along the U.S. Gulf coast, Osland explained.

“These studies can assist in increasing the adaptive capacity of our coastal wetlands to help ensure that future generations have access to the many goods and services provided by these important coastal ecosystems,” he added.

Learn more about the assessment here.

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