Preparing for a changing climate

Coastal communities and environments are increasingly vulnerable to the extreme storms, intensified flooding, and rising sea levels associated with a changing climate. Just as you don’t look in a rearview mirror when taking a sharp curve in the road, these communities can no longer rely on the past as an indicator of what’s to come. To prepare for an uncertain future, they need sound science to help them understand current environmental conditions and how these could change. Putting this knowledge to work, however, requires something more—the input and support of diverse communities and the ability to be flexible in response to changing conditions. Reserves work with a range of partners to help local communities understand their vulnerability to climate change impacts, assess future risks, and plan for change.

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Why it matters

Preparing for the impacts of climate change on coastal areas is matter of national security. More than half of all Americans live within 100 miles of a coast and coastal counties infuse the national economy with trillions of dollars each year. At the heart of this economic and cultural vitality are healthy habitats, clean water, and an ability to plan for, and embrace, change. Natural lands support fish and wildlife, protect infrastructure from storms and flooding, absorb greenhouse gases, and provide near limitless opportunities for relaxation and play. Unfortunately, these same habitats are crowded by development pressure that is exacerbated by extreme storms and rising sea levels. With public budgets stretched thin, communities around the nation face difficult decisions about how best to manage for the present and plan for the future.

How we help

There are many questions about how climate will change and how that will affect communities in different places. Reserves help communities tackle this complicated issue in many ways, including....

  • Understanding current vulnerability: Preparing for the future requires communities to understand and manage their current vulnerabilities to the impacts of climate change. Reserve-based science and monitoring programs help them do this by exploring how wetlands and other habitats grow and change, how they support fish and wildlife, and what values they hold for surrounding communities. Reserves also examine the impact of human behavior on these natural lands and how that impact is affected by a shifting climate. This information not only informs future planning; it also supports sustainable approaches to managing flooding, erosion, pollution, and loss of fish and wildlife.
  • Forecasting future risk: The impacts of climate change will vary from place to place, and the degree of those impacts is uncertain for everybody. Reserve-based research, training, and monitoring programs help communities assess their risk for the future through predictive models that that are practical for making decisions at different geographic scales. Reserves’ research and monitoring work enhances tracking and understanding of coastal changes, which helps communities fill information gaps and reduce uncertainties. Coastal communities need locally relevant and timely information to make informed decisions and plan for the future. Reserves provide these resources as well as training opportunities to build communities’ capacity to apply the information.
  • Planning for the future: Because reserves are embedded within the communities they support, we are able to play a key role in planning for change. Through coastal training and other programs, reserves help communities carry out discussions about the difficult trade-offs involved in climate change adaptation with the support of locally relevant decision-making tools and data. Reserves promote stakeholder engagement and collaborative approaches to understanding and addressing problems. Our work produces useful and relevant resources, while building capacity and developing meaningful relationships. Lessons learned from reserve initiatives are documented to help others along the way. All of these impacts help initiate, guide, and sustain community efforts to prepare for local impacts of a changing climate.

What you can do

Interested in helping your community prepare for changes? Here’s where you can start...

  • Get educated: Find out what your town is doing to prepare, plan for, and improve its resilience to the impacts of climate change; your local reserve is a great first stop for what’s happening and who’s behind it.
  • Get involved: Volunteer a few hours to support a reserve-based citizen science, training, or education program that supports climate change preparation.
  • Give: Consider a contribution to your local reserve to support conservation, research, monitoring, or education work focused on preparing for the impacts of climate change.