Coastal natural reserves, which provide habitats for marine and bird species and are listed as heritage sites by UNESCO, are threatened by rising sea levels due to climate change. As the sea levels rise, the habitats and infrastructure such as roads and buildings will disappear, which could affect tourism and fishing communities. Proposed solutions include constructing sea walls, restoring wetlands and beaches, and relocating infrastructure and communities, although funding is a challenge. Conservation, restoration, and reducing greenhouse gas emissions are key in saving coastal natural reserves.
Rising Sea Levels Threaten Coastal Natural Reserves
Coastal natural reserves provide a vital habitat for an array of marine and bird species, and are some of the most beautiful and relaxing places on earth. They are of such importance, that UNESCO lists a number of the world’s most valuable coastal natural reserves as heritage sites to be protected for all eternity. Unfortunately, climate change and rising sea levels are threatening these irreplaceable natural treasures.
The Impact of Rising Sea Levels
The direct impact of rising sea levels on coastal natural reserves is catastrophic. As sea levels continue to rise, beaches, dunes, and wetlands quickly erode, and as a result, the habitats these regions provide to wildlife are disappearing. For example, as sea levels rise, saltwater intrusion occurs in wetlands, which is harmful to the freshwater plants and animals that depend on the habitat. The increased salinity causes harmful changes in soil chemistry and foliage, which eventually destroys the wetland, leaving behind barren land.
The people living nearby and, to some extent, tourists visiting these reserves will also feel the impact of these environmental changes. Coastal infrastructure such as roads, bridges, and buildings will become vulnerable to flooding and will eventually be destroyed by the rising water levels. As it shrinks, the reserve’s scenic coastline may lose some of its appeal and affect the number of visitors. Additionally, some communities who depend on fishing for their livelihoods could suffer as the fish populations move to colder waters.
The Solution to Protecting Coastal Natural Reserves
Whilst the effects of rising sea levels on coastal natural reserves are clear, finding practical solutions to prevent the disastrous consequences has proven to be difficult. Although global emissions of greenhouse gas emissions are progressively being capped, it is questionable whether this will reverse the effects of climate change quickly enough to prevent further habitat loss. Some proposed solutions include:
- The construction of sea walls to block rising waters
- The restoration of wetlands and beaches
- The relocation of infrastructure and communities
Some of these solutions may not be feasible as constructing sea walls or relocating infrastructure and communities would require vast funding, which not many countries have. Therefore, the priority remains in providing a safer and sustainable environment for wildlife and people. Unfortunately, the effects of climate change within just twenty years will not only compromise the safety and accessibility of coastal natural reserves, but it will also have severe economic impacts on the tourism industry.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is causing rising sea levels?
Rising sea levels are largely caused by climate change, which is caused by humans burning fossil fuels such as coal, oil, and natural gas, and deforestation. These activities emit greenhouse gases that trap heat in the Earth’s atmosphere, causing temperatures to rise and resulting in the melting of ice sheets and glaciers, which in turn causes the rise in sea levels.
What can we do to slow down the rise in sea levels?
We can help slow down the rise in sea levels by reducing our reliance on fossil fuels and promoting the use of renewable energy sources such as wind and solar power. We can also help reduce greenhouse gas emissions by conserving energy by using energy-efficient appliances and by conserving water.
Can coastal natural reserves be saved?
Yes. Coastal natural reserves can be saved through a combination of measures such as conservation, restoration, and reduction in the effects of climate change. Conservation efforts include reducing pollution and protecting wildlife habitats, while restoration includes planting trees and restoring wetlands. Additionally, reducing the effects of climate change can be achieved by reducing greenhouse gas emissions.