State of the Beach/State Reports/FL/Erosion Response

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Florida Ratings
Indicator Type Information Status
Beach Access85
Water Quality85
Beach Erosion9-
Erosion Response-5
Beach Fill7-
Shoreline Structures5 4
Beach Ecology4-
Surfing Areas56
Coastal Development{{{19}}}{{{20}}}
Sea Level Rise{{{21}}}{{{22}}}


Erosion response is a measure of how well a state's policies and procedures limit the extent of shoreline armoring, unsafe coastal development, and costly beach nourishment projects, and conduct preemptive planning for sea level rise. Evaluation of this indicator brings attention to the states that are taking proactive roles in natural beach preservation and hazard avoidance. Through the formulation (if not already in place), implementation, and strict adherence of the specific criteria within the indicator, states can overcome two fundamental obstacles to alternative erosion response practices outlined by the Oceans Studies Board (2007):

  1. A lack of knowledge and experience among decision-makers regarding alternative options for shoreline erosion response, the relative level of erosion mitigation afforded by the alternative approaches and their expected life time, and the nature of the associated impacts and benefits.
  2. The current legal and regulatory framework itself, which discriminates against innovative solutions because of the complex and lengthy permitting process that almost always considers these options on a case-by-case basis.

For example, are statewide oceanfront construction setbacks used to site new development, and are these based on the latest erosion rates? When existing development is damaged during a storm, does a state prohibit reconstruction or provide incentives for relocation? Before permitting shoreline stabilization does a state require: that there is demonstrated need via geo-technical reports with content standards; that alternatives to armoring including managed retreat/relocation are fully explored; and that potential adverse impacts and cumulative effects are taken into account? Does the state conduct sea level rise vulnerability assessments and develop adaptation plans to mitigate impacts? If a state can answer 'yes' to most of these questions, then its rank is high. If the answers are mostly 'no' then its rank is low.

Also see the "Policies" discussion of the Shoreline Structures section of this report for more information on Florida's erosion response.

Possible quantitative measures for this indicator include the number of new structures located within setback areas, number of damaged structures reconstructed in identified erosion zones, number of instances where alternatives to 'hard' shore protection were employed, the number of shoreline structures permitted under 'emergency' provisions, and the number of permits for shoreline structures reviewed, approved or denied. We have found that such information is rarely available.

Policies and Guidance

Sections 161.101 and 161.161 of Florida’s Beach and Shore Preservation Act recognize beach erosion as a problem and require the state to define critical eroding beach and design a long-term management plan for their restoration.

Section 161.051 of Florida’s Beach and Shore Preservation Act defines a statewide setback of 50 feet from the line of mean high water.

In 1985 Florida amended its beachfront regulatory program, establishing a 30-year Coastal Construction Control Line and prohibiting major development seaward of that zone.[1] These policies, and a great deal of information about hazard avoidance policies and procedures in Florida, can be accessed via the FDEP Bureau of Beaches and Coastal Systems website, in particular the Coastal Construction Control Line Program pages.

In 2006, the Florida Legislature approved a bill to require that buyers of coastal property be given "meaningful disclosure" about the dangers of living in the potential path of killer hurricanes.

A set of publications detailing these policies can also be found on the FDEP Beaches website.

Beach erosion FLA.jpg

Section 161.57 of the Florida Statutes contains provisions for real estate disclosure laws for homes in high erosion areas. This noticing is to educate the potential property owner, not to discourage coastal development. DEP staff does not consider these disclosure laws to be an effective deterrent in restricting coastal development. Instead, they recommend reliance on a policy that includes land acquisition, coastal construction regulation, and beach management planning and implementation.[2]

Section 161.052 of the Florida Statutes establishes a 50-foot setback from mean high water for new construction.

161.052 Coastal construction and excavation; regulation.
(1) No person, firm, corporation, municipality, county, or other public agency shall excavate or construct any dwelling house, hotel, motel, apartment building, seawall, revetment, or other structure incidental to or related to such structure, including but not limited to such attendant structures or facilities as a patio, swimming pool, or garage, within 50 feet of the line of mean high water at any riparian coastal location fronting the Gulf of Mexico or Atlantic coast shoreline of the state, exclusive of bays, inlets, rivers, bayous, creeks, passes, and the like. In areas where an erosion control line has been established under the provisions of ss. 161.141-161.211, that line, or the presently existing mean high-water line, whichever is more landward, shall be considered to be the mean high-water line for the purposes of this section.

Under the Coastal Construction Control Line program, major development seaward of a predicted 30-year erosion projection (setback line) is prohibited. Subsection 161.053(6), F.S., stipulates, "…the Department … shall not issue any permit for any structure, other than a coastal or shore protection structure, minor structure, or pier … which is proposed for a location which, based on the Department's projections of erosion in the area, will be seaward of the seasonal high-water line within 30 years after the date of application for such permit."

Some exemptions exist from this setback requirement. Most notably, a statutory exemption exists for the construction of single-family dwellings where the parcel for the proposed dwelling was platted before October 1, 1985; the owner of the parcel for the proposed dwelling does not own another parcel immediately adjacent to and landward of the parcel for which the dwelling is proposed; the dwelling is located landward of the frontal dune structure; and the dwelling will be as far landward on its parcel as is practicable without being located seaward of or on the frontal dune. In practice, this exemption frequently results in single family dwellings being sited immediately landward of the frontal dune. Such siting often results in excavation of the landward portion of the natural dune system which can destabilize the dune feature, potentially causing more damage to property during storm events than would otherwise occur had the dune system not been impacted. In addition, structures destroyed by a storm are also generally allowed to be reconstructed in the pre-existing footprint, even when the rebuilt structure will be located seaward of the 30-yr. erosion projection.

For much of Florida's northwest coastline and to a lesser extent the lower gulf coast and east coast, the 30-year erosion projection does not provide sufficient setback to afford complete protection to the frontal dune structure. In actual practice, protection to the frontal dune is achieved through the review of applications on a case-by-case basis, applying the siting criteria in Section 161.053(5)(b), F.S., requiring project impacts to be minimized, and reducing or eliminating any encroachment on or excavation of the frontal dune. Unfortunately, this case-by-case approach sometimes results in new developments being sited too far seaward to allow for the natural or man-made recovery and maintenance of a viable frontal dune system.

There was a recommendation before the Governor’s Coastal High Hazard Committee, established after the 2004 and 2005 hurricane seasons, requesting that the Department develop a scope of work to reevaluate setbacks within the CCCL regulatory program in order to provide greater protection to life, property and the beach dune system, including an economic impact analysis of potential changes. This re-evaluation should include consideration and an analysis of the benefits and drawbacks of revising the setback criteria to include the frontal dune feature or the 30-yr. erosion projection, whichever is the most landward, revision or elimination of the exemptions from the setback criteria, and a requirement to rebuild a structure destroyed during a storm to behind the setback, where possible.

Strengthening the setbacks within the Coastal Construction Control Line permitting program may result in economic impacts, both by restricting a property owners’ ability to construct on a parcel and to the state through potential increased taking claims.

Additional relevant language from Subsection 161.053 includes:

161.053 Coastal construction and excavation; regulation on county basis.--
(1)(a) The Legislature finds and declares that the beaches in this state and the coastal barrier dunes adjacent to such beaches, by their nature, are subject to frequent and severe fluctuations and represent one of the most valuable natural resources of Florida and that it is in the public interest to preserve and protect them from imprudent construction which can jeopardize the stability of the beach-dune system, accelerate erosion, provide inadequate protection to upland structures, endanger adjacent properties, or interfere with public beach access. In furtherance of these findings, it is the intent of the Legislature to provide that the department establish coastal construction control lines on a county basis along the sand beaches of the state fronting on the Atlantic Ocean, the Gulf of Mexico, or the Straits of Florida. Such lines shall be established so as to define that portion of the beach-dune system which is subject to severe fluctuations based on a 100-year storm surge, storm waves, or other predictable weather conditions. However, the department may establish a segment or segments of a coastal construction control line further landward than the impact zone of a 100-year storm surge, provided such segment or segments do not extend beyond the landward toe of the coastal barrier dune structure that intercepts the 100-year storm surge. Such segment or segments shall not be established if adequate dune protection is provided by a state-approved dune management plan. Special siting and design considerations shall be necessary seaward of established coastal construction control lines to ensure the protection of the beach-dune system, proposed or existing structures, and adjacent properties and the preservation of public beach access.

Relevant Statutes (Chapters 161, 253, 373 and 403) can be found at

Beach Management Rules can be found at

Following the disastrous hurricanes of 2004, newspaper articles criticized lax enforcement of the Coastal Construction Control Line. Realtor Suzanne Kosmas was quoted in the Daytona Beach News-Journal on November 15, 2004 as saying "Had the state been serious about enforcing the Coastal Construction Control Line, which it established in the 1970s to discourage beachfront development, nourishment and armoring would be unnecessary. In the years since it was instituted, the line has become more of a suggestion than a rule, letting high-risk construction dominate the beaches."

In early 2005 The Caribbean Conservation Corp., Audubon of Florida, and 1000 Friends of Florida signed a letter to Gov. Jeb Bush and Colleen Castle, secretary of the Department of Environmental Protection that called for a radical re-evaluation of the state's coastal management policy, calling Florida's emphasis on beach nourishment and sea walls "risk" and "shortsighted." The groups argued that Florida has encouraged high-risk development and endangered beaches by being lax about oceanfront construction and using beach nourishment and armoring to protect beachfront property.

A sweeping coastal and marine conservation bill sponsored by Sen. Paula Dockery and co-sponsored by Sen. Ken Pruitt requests a review of "state programs that encourage inappropriate growth in fragile or hazard-prone areas" and says these should be changed. This bill was scheduled to be considered by the 2005 Legislature.

Below is an editorial on this subject that appeared in the Daytona Beach News-Journal in March 2005:

"Vanishing lines - Construction limits should halt seaward march

Twenty years ago, Florida drew a line in the sand to protect its beaches and dunes from encroaching development. The state proved faster than the ocean at blurring that line. The result: People are building too close to the ocean and taxpayers are bailing them out when rising seas threaten their property. With 40 percent of Florida's beaches critically eroded and a predicted trend for higher seas, it's time the state revise coastal management policies that permit risky and environmentally destructive oceanfront construction.

Fortunately, the Legislature will be given a chance this spring to do that. Spurred by conservation groups, Republican senators Paula Dockery and Ken Pruitt have introduced Senate Bill 1670 to create the Oceans and Coastal Resources Management Act. The act would establish an 11-member work group of scientists to assess coastal resources and prepare a research plan by early next year to guide the state in better managing and protecting the beach and dunes. The legislation, itself not a change of policy but a critical start to that process, deserves full public support. It comes none too soon. Already this session, bills have resurfaced to weaken coastal management by permitting more invasive beachfront redevelopment in parts of the state.

Florida's line in the sand, the Coastal Construction Control Line, was established to prevent new development seaward of the footprints of existing buildings and require more storm-worthy oceanfront construction. The law has resulted in sturdier buildings, but does little to protect the beach and dunes. Understandably, determining an appropriate construction line is difficult in places without existing buildings or a distinctive shoreline. But efforts to project coastal erosion 30 years ahead, as the law requires, have more often sacrificed science to politics that favor developers. The law is fraught with loopholes that should be closed.

It shouldn't take catastrophic weather to convince lawmakers of the folly in moving sand to eroded beaches to sustain risky development. The governor asked for an additional $67 million to that end this year. Dredging the ocean floor to perpetually rebuild beaches and permitting sea walls that worsen the destruction of natural dunes not only cost taxpayers millions but also threaten the health of reefs and marine life that depend on the ocean's give and take on a natural coastline.

Through the Dockery-Pruitt bill, the state can begin a science-based evaluation of the costs and benefits of current coastal management policies and alternatives -- for instance, condemning storm damaged buildings and buying the property and other critically eroded oceanfront for conservation and other public benefits.

As seas rise, state leaders should be encouraging strategic retreat from the shore, not making the public subsidize those who build at the water's edge."

Governor Jeb Bush issued Executive Order 05-178 on September 7, 2005, appointing members to the Coastal High Hazard Study Committee. The Committee was charged with studying and formulating recommendations for managing growth in Coastal High Hazard Areas, which are defined as the Category 1 hurricane evacuation zone. The Committee met with experts throughout Florida from November 2005 through January 2006, and delivered a final report of findings and recommendations to Governor Bush on February 1, 2006.

Partially in response to the recommendations of the report, HB 1359 - Hazard Mitigation for Coastal Redevelopment was introduced, passed and signed into law effective June 1, 2006. The bill "specifies entities that are authorized to install or authorize installation of rigid coastal armoring structures; requires the Division of Emergency Management to manage certain hurricane evacuation studies; provides that the application of development policies shall be at the discretion of local government; provides a deadline for local governments to amend coastal management elements and future land use maps, etc."

The legislation has been criticized by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) who contend that it suffers from three key weaknesses:

  • Building restrictions to prevent development in coastal high-hazard areas shall be at the discretion of local government. (emphasis added) PEER believes developer influence of county commissions is already resulting in re-designations of land in storm surge and floodways to be cleared for potentially lucrative construction projects;
  • Creation of pilot projects to actually encourage building within coastal building zones. PEER believes this loophole will result in more population living in areas that are difficult, if not impossible, to evacuate in the event of a major storm; and
  • Property redevelopments in coastal zones are now allowed to dump excavated material on adjacent properties, thus paving the way for even more construction and higher densities in the previously damaged areas.

As an example of how the loopholes are already having effects, PEER released the proposed revisions to the Lee County map on Special Flood Hazard Areas (SFHA) in which areas just north of the southwest Florida city of Ft. Myers that have historically been in the SFHA are now being removed. This mapping reclassification may pave the way for yet more development in hurricane vulnerable areas, especially along the flood prone Caloosahatchee River.

The report Eroding Long-Term Prospects for Florida’s Beaches: Florida’s Coastal Management Policy (2008) discusses the CCCL Program and its deficiencies in the context of impacts to sea turtles. The report has several suggestions for reform of the program.

Protecting Our Communities: Land Use Planning Strategies and Best Development Practices for Minimizing Vulnerability to Flooding and Coastal Storms (43MB pdf), is one in a series of “best practices” publications prepared by the Florida Department of Community Affairs (FDCA). It describes how to create a powerful synergy from what currently are related but often discrete or loosely coupled plans. The guidebook provides information on planning policies and strategies that can be implemented before and after disasters strike to further reduce community vulnerability to coastal storms and related flooding. Additionally, DCA and the Florida Division of Emergency Management will propose legislation to require each community to develop a post-disaster redevelopment plan as part of the local government’s comprehensive plan.

The Florida Coastal and Ocean Coalition, which includes Surfrider Foundation, authored a report Florida’s Coastal and Ocean Future, A Blueprint for Economic and Environmental Leadership in September 2006 that has now been endorsed by 160 Coastal and Ocean Businesses, Civic, Outdoor, and Conservation Organizations. The Coalition followed this with the release of Preparing for a Sea Change - A Strategy to Cope with the Impacts of Global Warming on the State’s Coastal and Marine Systems, which calls upon state leaders to take the necessary steps to address the expected impacts of global warming on the state’s unique coastal and marine resources. Florida’s Coastal and Ocean Future: An Updated Blueprint for Economic and Environmental Leadership was released in January 2012. Read the press release.

EPA has published a summary document Governments Plan for Development of Land Vulnerable to Rising Sea Level: Florida (2009).

Florida is a member of StormSmart Coasts, a resource for coastal decision makers looking for the latest and best information on how to protect their communities from weather and climate hazards.

Florida emergency managers use GATOR, an interactive Web mapping tool, to assist in emergency preparedness and response. GATOR, or Geospatial Assessment Tool for Operations and Response, combines base map data such as roads, facilities, and aerial photographs with real-time weather and storm data. To bring in additional demographic, infrastructure, economic, and environmental data, direct access to NOAA’s Coastal County Snapshots was added to the GATOR interface. With direct access to Coastal County Snapshots, Florida emergency managers can use charts and graphs to assess a county’s exposure to flooding, analyze a county’s dependence on the ocean, and quantify the benefits a county receives from its wetlands. The easy-to-understand charts and graphs are valuable communication tools that help managers prepare Florida communities for hazards.

Saving Florida's Vanishing Shores is a brochure published by Monroe County, Miami-Dade County, Florida Department of Community Affairs and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Also see Adaptive Response Planning to Sea Level Rise in Florida and Implications for Comprehensive and Public-Facilities Planning (2007).

The Florida DEP BBCS has regulatory responsibility for erosion hazard response. Chapters 62B-33 Rules and Procedures for Coastal Construction and Excavation, 62B-41 Rules and Procedures for Application for Coastal Construction Permits, and 62B-49 Joint Coastal Permits and Concurrent Processing of Proprietary Authorizations of the Florida Administrative Code (FAC) address this issue. Rule 62B-33 allows rebuilding following coastal flooding if the land still exists but requires all rebuilding to meet current standards.

Although nearly all possible types of erosion response are potentially allowed by the FAC, there is no guarantee that any specific response will be authorized.[3] Funding for hazard response activities can be from the Ecosystem Management Trust Fund, funded from the documentary stamp tax.[4]

Florida's 2010 FACT report has a section on Coastal Hazards. Twelve "Coastal Hazards Indicators" are presented:

  • Population in the High Hazard Area
  • Emergency Evacuation Shelter Demand and Capacity
  • Level of Awareness of Coastal Hazards
  • Number of Local Governments Implementing Educational Programs and Activities to Increase Level of Awareness of Coastal Hazards
  • Number and List of Local Governments with Inventory of Mapped Areas Affected by Coastal Hazards
  • Number of Communities Improving Resiliency through the Community Rating System
  • Amount of Funds Received through the Hazard Mitigation Grant Program
  • Number of Local Governments Developing Long Term Recovery and Adaptation Plans to Improve Community Resiliency
  • Number of Miles of Eroding Beaches
  • Number of Vessel Groundings
  • Number of Reported Hazardous Material Incidents
  • FCMP Funded Projects and Grants for Coastal Hazards

The introduction to this section reads:

Development within coastal areas of Florida increases the vulnerability of both populations and structures. Development within these high hazard areas is expected to continue in the future, thus increasing the vulnerability of the state as a whole. In the coastal zone, hazards can include flooding, hurricanes/coastal storms and associated storm surge, shoreline erosion, tornadoes and other severe storms, wildfires, drought and extreme heat, and winter storms and freezes. Such hazards can result in loss of life, damage to resources, and cost millions of dollars in repairs. The legislature has enacted laws that, through local comprehensive plans, direct development and redevelopment way from areas more vulnerable to natural disasters to protect human life and limit public expenditures. These laws also protect coastal resources and examine cumulative impacts through local government planning efforts. The Coastal Hazards focus area includes indicators that address the vulnerability of life, awareness of coastal hazards, and resiliency in the coastal zone.

In 1998, Jacksonville District of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers issued setback criteria to be used in the review of structures proposed for placement along certain federal channels. Since then, minor revisions have been made to the setback guidance, including updated setback criteria issued in 2013. The federal channels to which the updated setback criteria applies are the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway (from the Florida state line to the St. Johns River), Intracoastal Waterway (east coast of Florida from the St. Johns River to Miami), the Intracoastal Waterway (west coast of Florida from the Caloosahatchee River to the Anclote River) and the Okeechobee Waterway (W.P. Franklin Lock west to Punta Rassa and from the St. Lucie Lock east to the Intracoastal Waterway). Under the new guidance, the optimum setback for all structures is 100 feet from the near design edge of the channel.

The FCMP website lists the following two videos under publications:

  • A House Built On Sand, Common Sense Rules for Buying & Building in Florida's Coastal High Hazard Area
  • Against The Tide, When Permanent Structures Encounter a Moving Shoreline

University of Florida's Levin College of Law, Conservation Clinic, Coastal Development and Ecosystem Change, works to develop the legal and policy framework that reconciles coastal development with eroding beaches, sea level rise and other threats to the coastal environment in Florida. Their developed resources include Dynamic Habitat Accommodation: The Policy Framework for Migrating Shorelines and Sea Level Rise Ready: Model Comprehensive Plan Goals, Objectives and Policies, to Address Sea-Level Rise Impacts in Florida (PowerPoint presentation).

NOAA's Digital Coast website has an article Developing Consistent Methods for Mapping Sea Level Rise in Southeast Florida. Another article is Adapting to Sea Level Rise in Miami-Dade County, Florida.

On a regional level, funding from the RESTORE Act, led to the creation of the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council and preparation of a report Restoring the Gulf Coast's Ecosystem and Economy (August 2013). A update of this plan was being prepared in late 2016.

Coastal Barrier Resources Act

The federal Coastal Barrier Resources Act (CBRA), passed in 1982, was designed to "minimize the loss of human life, wasteful expenditure of federal revenues, and the damage to fish, wildlife and other natural resources" by denying federal support for everything from sewer construction to flood insurance in undeveloped or little-developed coastal areas such as barrier islands. CBRA does not restrict development in these areas, but it indirectly discourages development by denying the use of federal funds for development projects or redevelopment after storm or flood damage. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service administers this program, which identified 1.3 million acres of coastal land to be covered by the act. Unfortunately, pressure by property owners and developers in these areas has lead Congress to pass dozens of exemption bills which exclude certain areas from CBRA, thus thwarting the intent of the Act.

The Coastal Barrier Improvement Act (CBIA) was enacted on November 16, 1990. The CBIA resulted in reauthorization of the CBRA of 1982. The CBRA establishes the Coastal Barrier Resources System (CBRS) to protect areas such as undeveloped coastal barrier islands. There is a discussion of CBRA on NOAA's web site that concludes:

"Although the removal of federal funding assistance has discouraged development in some coastal barrier islands, development has continued in other areas despite designation as a unit of the CBRS. CBIA is not intended to prevent or regulate development in high-risk areas; rather the intent is to direct that federal dollars not be spent for development in these areas. Activities conducted in areas adjacent to CBRS units may adversely impact these sensitive areas; these activities are not regulated under CBIA. In addition, CBIA does not restrict the use of private, local, or state funding within CBRS units. Some coastal states have initiated legislation that limits state funding of certain projects."

A report released in March 2007 reviews the extent to which (1) development has occurred in CBRS units since their inclusion in the system and (2) federal financial assistance and permits have been provided to entities in CBRS units. GAO electronically mapped address data for structures within 91 randomly selected CBRS units and collected information on federal financial assistance and permits for eight federal agencies. GAO found multiple federal agencies have provided some financial assistance to property owners in CBRS units that is expressly prohibited by CBRA; some assistance allowed under CBRA; and hundreds of permits for federally regulated development activities within the unit. GAO recommended, among other things, the four agencies that provided prohibited loan guarantees or insurance policies to CBRS units first verify and then cancel those that are in violation of CBRA.

On April 7, 2009, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service released to the public its Report to Congress: John H. Chafee Coastal Barrier Resources System Digital Mapping Pilot Project. The report, which was directed by the Coastal Barrier Resources Reauthorization Act of 2000 (P.L. 106-514), highlights the benefits of updating Coastal Barrier Resources System (CBRS) maps with more accurate and precise digital maps to better protect people, coastal areas and natural resources. A 2016 report is now available.

FEMA has now developed a fact sheet on CBRA. The fact sheet outlines the responsibilities and restrictions that various programs within FEMA have under CBRA.

In Florida, Congressman Allen Boyd has introduced a bill to delete certain areas from the CBRS, specifically Cape San Blas and Indian Pass. Senator Bill Nelson has indicated he would support the legislation.

In 1974, Collier County adopted a new zoning ordinance designed to control growth and preserve coastal islands, marshes and other ecologically sensitive areas. As part of this code change, more than 80 percent of the land area in the County was placed in a new zoning classification called the Special Treatment overlay. The Special Treatment overlay imposes environmental regulations and requires a special permit for all new development. To encourage the protection of sensitive environmental resources in the Special Treatment overlay, the County's original Transfer Development Rights (TDR) ordinance allowed for the transfer of development rights exclusively out of this zone. At first, transfers were only allowed to contiguous properties. However, a 1979 amendment permitted transfers to non-contiguous land and also streamlined the approval process. In 1999, the Special Treatment overlay TDR process was amended again.

In October 2008, Sarasota County Commissioners approved a virtual ban on building sea walls and generally made it tougher to build or reconstruct along the Gulf of Mexico. Besides the sea wall ban, the ordinance would push construction along the gulf as far landward as possible, according to Commissioner Jon Thaxton.

An issue that relates to potential damage to coastal infrastructure from erosion is the availability (or lack thereof) and cost of homeowners insurance for coastal properties. In Florida, insurance rates began rising after Hurricane Andrew in 1992 and rose again after the 2004 and 2005 hurricane seasons. Some insurers have completely backed out of the market in coastal areas in Florida and elsewhere along the East and Gulf coasts. For instance, State Farm announced in February 2008 that they were not renewing customers within one mile of the water in St. Johns County. In response, Florida legislators enlarged the state "catastrophe fund", essentially letting the state (meaning the taxpayers) assume a much larger share of the hurricane risk. This was done in the hopes of lowering insurance rates, but rates have not decreased and many companies have increased rates. The state's Citizen's Property Insurance Corporation is the "insurer of last resort." In the long run, high insurance rates for coastal properties may be a good thing if they discourage unwise development. But in the short term, individual homeowners can be severely impacted or even lose their homes.

Climate Change Adaptation


The Faces of Climate Change Adaptation: The Need for Proactive Protection of the Nation’s Coasts (Coastal States Organization, May 2010) states:

"Florida is a unique state in that is surrounded by both the Atlantic and Gulf coasts. In fact, no point in the state is more than 75 miles from saltwater. With 8,426 miles of shoreline, Florida’s coastline generates a huge portion of its gross domestic product (GDP); in fact, in 2006, the coastal economy of Florida generated almost $562 billion, or 86% of the GDP. Of Florida’s 20 major population centers, 15 are located in coastal counties. While Florida reaps the benefit of coasts: lovely sandy beaches, easy access for shipping and travel on the seas, plentiful seafood, and a booming tourist industry, Florida is also experiencing the devastating impacts of climate change. Specifically, Florida is facing sea level rise, coastal erosion, and increased storm intensity and frequency.
Florida Sea Level Risks.png
The changing climate is causing sea levels to rise in two ways: warmer ocean waters take up greater volume and melting glaciers and ice fields increase the aggregate quantity of waters in the oceans. While globally there has been an increase in sea level rise, the amount of relative sea level rise experiences along different parts of the United States coasts depends on the changes in elevation of the land that occur as a result of subsidence or rising. Over the past 50 years, significant portions of the Atlantic coast and Gulf of Mexico coast have experienced significantly higher rates of relative sea level rise than the global average due to land subsidence. In Florida, a state whose highest point is only 345 feet above sea level, a 35-55 inch seal level rise by 2100 would result in an annual property and revenue loss of up to $345 billion.
Rising sea level, along with flooding and powerful ocean waves, also contributes to erosion on the coasts. Erosion wears away beaches and bluffs along the shorelines, undermining waterfront homes, businesses, and public infrastructure and facilities, eventually rendering them uninhabitable or unusable. This is particularly troubling for a state like Florida, which houses the majority of its residents and facilities on its coasts. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) estimates that by 2060, coastal erosion will threaten nearly 87,000 homes and other buildings in coastal areas in the nation, 53,000 of which are on the Atlantic coast and 13,000 of which are on the Gulf of Mexico coast. In fact, erosion is particularly severe on the Atlantic coast, where beaches retreat two to three feet per year on average, and the Gulf of Mexico coast, where the overall annual erosion rate is six feet per year. In Florida this means that 59%, or 485 miles, of Florida’s beaches are eroding.
Sea level rise and warming seas may also increase hurricane intensity and frequency. Since hurricanes need a sea-surface temperature of at least 79 degrees Fahrenheit to form, an increase of seasurface temperatures above this threshold will result in more frequent and more intense hurricanes. Reputable scientific studies demonstrate that hurricanes will become increasingly stronger as the climate warms. Hurricanes are the costliest natural events in the United States, causing approximately $1 billion in property damage each. Hurricane property damage is greatest on the coasts where hurricanes make landfall, causing storm surge, severe beach erosion, inland flooding, and wind-related casualties for both societal and natural resources. In Florida, since 2000, several strong hurricanes have hit the coasts, including hurricanes Charley, Jeanne, Dennis, Katrina, Wilma, and Ivan. Due to its unique location surrounded by coasts, Florida is experiencing intensified effects of climate change. As climate continues to transform, more and more states will experience impacts similar to Florida."

With nearly 1250 miles of open ocean coastline, and a coastal population nearing 16 million, Florida is in a particularly precarious position when it comes to climate change and sea-level rise. In recent years climate change has become a major topic among state politicians and coastal managers, with a slew of comprehensive adaptation strategies, recommendations, and scientific studies recently published. Governor Crist has fully endorsed climate change and sponsored major Executive Orders that have increasingly forced the State to recognize the climate change issue. Florida additionally stands out in the Southeast, being one of the only coastal states with both a Climate Change Action Plan and State Adaptation Plan. Many adaptation guidance documents and reports, such as Preparing for a Sea Change, published by the Florida Coastal and Ocean Coalition, also strongly promote a policy of managed retreat and implementation of more stringent shoreline regulations. In terms of individual counties, Miami-Dade County and Collier County have proven especially proactive when it comes to climate change planning.

Yet although the state does benefit from numerous erosion and sea-level rise studies, as well as extensive coastal LiDAR and inundation mapping, governing coastal policies and a history of shoreline armoring greatly hinder Florida’s ability to effectively adapt to rising seas and increased storms. Florida should start using the coastal mapping and erosion data they have to integrate sea-level rise projections into future management strategies (i.e. coastal setbacks). And while the state’s adaptation plan set forth immediate recommended actions and an overarching adaptation framework, the state has yet to actively address or utilize these tools. In contrast to many coastal states, Florida already possesses an incredible amount of climate change information and numerous policy and management tools to aid in formulating a more comprehensive adaptation strategy. The time is ripe for action, which will most likely mean overhauling the state’s current coastal construction standards and retreating from the shore, especially in the most hazard prone areas. However this will prove extremely difficult, especially in the near future, and will require the cooperation of both state and local managers, policy makers, and communities.

Climate Change

Although Florida had passed the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Act as early as the 1980s, it wasn’t until recently that the State really began responding to climate change. In 2005 the Florida Legislature formed the Century Commission to help envision Florida’s future. The Commission has since identified climate change as one of the most critical State issues. Yet the year 2007 marked the most significant turning point in terms of Florida’s commitment to climate change mitigation and adaptation, setting a new course for the State’s energy future. During the State’s 2007 Florida Summit on Global Climate Change, Governor Charlie Crist declared:

“I am persuaded that global climate change is one of the most important issues that we will face this century…”

He then further addressed this issue with the signing of three major Executive Orders:

Together, these executive orders committed the state to specific greenhouse gas emissions reductions, investing in alternative energies, increasing the state’s energy efficiency, and creating a comprehensive Climate Change Action Plan to help guide the state’s climate change mitigation and adaptation efforts. In addition to the above Executive Orders, the Governor also committed to partnering with Germany and the United Kingdom to discuss and promote initiatives that broaden the Kyoto Protocol and reduce the emission of GHG beyond 2012 (see Partnership on Global Climate Change Action between the Federal Republic of Germany and the State of Florida).

The Governor’s Action Team on Energy and Climate Change (EO 07-128) was charged with creating a comprehensive Energy and Climate Change Action Plan for the state. Comprised of six Technical Work Groups (TWGs), the Action Team was able to explore long-term public policies that focused on reducing GHGs while stimulating economic development of alternative energies in Florida. The six TWGs include Adaptation; Agriculture, Forestry & Waste; Cap & Trade; Energy Supply and Demand; Government Policy; and Transportation and Land Use. The Final Energy and Climate Change Action Plan was completed in October 2008 and includes 50 policy recommendations as well as recommendations for the development of a cap-and-trade program to facilitate greenhouse gas emissions reductions. Importantly, the Plan also contains a built-in State Adaptation Plan that sets forth adaptation objectives for state consideration. For more information on specific mitigation goals, see the Energy Supply and Demand TWG’s recommendations on policy and potential impacts (Chapter 3). More information concerning the State Adaptation Plan can be found below.

The Florida Energy & Climate Commission created by Governor Crist and the Florida Legislature in the 2008 Legislative session is the primary organization for state energy and climate change programs and policies. The Commission is responsible for reviewing the Energy and Climate Change Action Plan annually, making recommendations and monitoring legislative actions to ensure they meet the intended objectives.

The State has also shown great initiative in acknowledging climate change and its impacts outside of its Climate Change Action Plan. Both the Governor’s office and Department of Environmental Protection fully endorse climate change in comprehensive websites that detail the effects of climate change, as well as actions taken by the state to reduce GHGs and climate change impacts. The Office of Energy website details Florida’s climate and energy initiatives. It should be noted that climate change activities are now conducted by the Florida Energy & Climate Commission located in the Governor’s office. While these climate change websites represent a positive first step, more comprehensive educational and outreach materials would be greatly beneficial.

Miami-Dade County, a major coastal metropolis, has proven especially proactive in taking measures designed to mitigate and adapt to climate change. As early as 1991, Miami-Dade was one of the first 12 international jurisdictions participating in the International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives (ICLEI) Cities for Climate Change Program. Although the program’s goal to reduce CO2 emission by 20% of the 1988 baseline by 2005 was not met, it helped the County incorporate climate change considerations into its future plans. Continuing to build on these early initiatives, in July 2007 Miami-Dade County established a Climate Change Advisory Task Force (MDCCATF) with the adoption of Ordinance 06-113. The Task Force issued its Second Report and Initial Recommendations to the Miami-Dade Board of County Commissioners in April 2008, which included climate change adaptation measures and suggested the protection of natural lands. The document recommended that all county agencies be required to assess climate change impacts on the agency’s/entity’s responsibilities. The recommendation went on to say:

"The assessment should include the impact of sea level rise on all public investments and identification of vulnerabilities in order to produce strategies for mitigation and adaptation. These assessments should utilize a 50-year planning horizon."

The CCATF also released its June 2010 recommendations, which included an updated and comprehensive set of measures to both mitigate and adapt to climate change. The recommendations suggested the County use the Science Committee’s State on Sea Level in the Coming Century to guide future climate change mitigation and adaptation policy, and also recommended commission detailed LiDAR maps for the entire county. Additional recommendations also considered public outreach campaigns and creation of plans to locate infrastructure and development outside coastal/or flood hazard prone areas use projections of sea-level rise to identify those areas.

The Florida counties of Broward, Miami-Dade, Palm Beach, and Monroe signed the Southeast Florida Regional Climate Change Compact to coordinate positions on state and national legislation on climate change and to coordinate activities on mitigation and adaptation. They also committed to preparing an action plan that will include adaptation strategies (Broward County, 2009).

In September 2012 the the city of Boynton Beach and the Community Redevelopment Agency received the Sustainable 2012 Best Practice Award from Sustainable Florida, a program of the Collins Center for Public Policy. A blue ribbon panel of leaders from Florida Power & Light Co., Disney, Publix, Audubon of Florida, Darden Restaurants, The Everglades Foundation and Florida A&M University selected Boynton Beach for its Climate Action Plan, which incorporates a green construction code and tax financing incentives for Seabourn Cove, a 456-unit complex.

Unfortunately, Florida's efforts to plan for and adapt to the effects of climate change have taken a giant step backwards under the administration of Governor Rick Scott. Reportedly, Governor Scott put out an unwritten rule ordering that no one at the Department of Environmental Protection even use the phrases global warming or climate change in any of their communications. More on this.


Florida’s Climate Change Action Plan includes a built-in State Adaptation Plan as created by the Adaptation Technical Working Group. The Technical Working Group’s original tasks included developing "adaptation strategies to combat adverse impacts to society, public health, the economy, and natural communities in Florida." The Plan articulates the climate change impacts expected to affect Florida, including sea-level rise, increased incidence of hurricanes, coastal inundation, increased flooding, potential increases in insect infestation and infectious diseases, and ecological changes in its marine and wetland communities. Based on the knowledge about the risks from climate change, the TWG developed a framework that included 11 major adaptation topics, and identified goals and strategies to address each topic. Some of the topics include advancing climate change science and data, comprehensive planning, education, and emergency preparedness. The Plan also includes specific “Recommended Early Action Items” to be considered by Florida’s policymakers, providing the state with a basic foundation upon which to formulate its adaptation policy.

Despite its State Adaptation Plan, and the fact that Florida faces significant climate change impacts, current rules and regulations governing the coastal zone do not fully incorporate sea-level rise or adaptation measures. Florida’s coastal development is largely controlled by the 30-year erosion Coastal Construction Control Line (CCCL), stipulating that construction activities seaward of the control line must meet special siting and design criteria. In determining this line, the CCCL takes into consideration historical weather data (i.e., past hurricanes), tidal cycles, offshore bathymetry, and erosion trends. The CCCL also establishes a 50-foot setback or “setback line” as a line of jurisdiction where construction is prohibited within 50 feet of the line of mean high water. Chapter 161 of the Florida Statutes provides a complete list of jurisdictions specific to the CCCL, and also defines the coastal building zone (section 161.54, F.S) as the “land area from the SHWL to a line 1,500 feet landward from the CCCL”.

Sections 161.101 and 161.161 of Florida’s Beach and Shore Preservation Act also recognize beach erosion as a problem and require the state to define critically eroding beaches and design a long-term management plan for their restoration, yet make no mention of accelerated sea-level rise. Although considered ineffective by DEP staff in restricting coastal development, Section 161.57 of the Florida Statutes also contains provisions for real estate disclosure laws for homes in high erosion areas.

In addition to not taking future sea-level rise into account, the 30-year erosion setbacks have also proven largely ineffective in promoting sustainable coastal development. For much of Florida's northwest coastline, and to a lesser extent the lower gulf coast and east coast, the 30-year erosion projection does not provide sufficient setback to afford complete protection to the frontal dune structure. One Daytona Beach News Journal article (May 2005) noted that “in the years since it was instituted, the [Coastal Construction Control] line has become more of a suggestion than a rule, letting high-risk construction dominate the beaches."

Released in 2008 by the Florida Coastal and Ocean Coalition, the document Preparing for a Sea Change - A Strategy to Cope with the Impacts of Global Warming on the State’s Coastal and Marine Systems further criticizes the ineffectiveness of Florida’s coastal management policies, including the inadequacies of the CCCL. The report notes that Florida’s current coastal management and coastal development policies do not pro-actively consider sea-level rise. Florida’s updated Strategic Beach Management Plan also makes no mention of climate change or sea-level rise. The Report calls for a reassessment of the state’s CCCL, as it does not take sea-level rise scenarios into consideration, nor stipulate a specific dune setback that will ensure the future protection of coastal dune systems. The report further observes that Florida continues to encourage, allow, and subsidize high risk coastal communities through loopholes in the CCCL and inherent problems with the Citizens Property Insurance Corporation that results in a subsidy for ill-advised construction in coastal high hazard areas. Included within the report is also a list of recommended actions for state/local and federal/regional governments to deal with sea level rise, as well as extreme weather events. The report represents an extremely important and comprehensive document that can be used to direct coastal policy and management strategies in light of climate change. In context to sea level rise, the report provides the following overview of adaptation measures:

"To prepare for sea-level rise, Florida and the federal government must take steps to implement ecologically and economically sound adaptive policies and strategies that discourage development in vulnerable areas and support efforts to site structures farther landward of eroding shorelines. This is essential not only to help reduce the serious risks to human safety and well being of communities, but also to ensure the preservation of beaches, dunes, and other natural coastal habitats that are so important to our economy and quality of life. For example:

  1. The state should undertake a comprehensive reevaluation of the Coastal Construction Control Line regulatory program to ensure that it is accomplishing the intended goals of protecting life, property, and the beach/dune system.
  2. The Florida Department of Environmental Protection and other relevant agencies should develop state wetlands conservation and restoration plans that promote designation of wetland migration as sea levels rise, thereby protecting the valuable benefits they provide.
  3. Federal, state, and local governments should replace economic incentives for private development in high risk coastal areas with incentives to relocate and build in other areas and invest in coastal conservation."

Recognizing the inadequacy of current coastal management strategies, both at the state and federal level, the report strongly encourages immediate action and incorporation of sea-level rise into future coastal planning. The report notes:

"Certainly many of the federal and state procedures for planning and assessing conditions for coastal and shoreline development fail to incorporate effects of sea-level rise, climate change, and future development associated with a rapidly growing human population. Now is the time for Florida (and relevant federal agencies) to develop a comprehensive strategy to confront sea-level rise in a way that reduces the risks to communities by discouraging building in vulnerable areas, and increases the resiliency and protection of coastal habitats by:

a) steering away from structural armoring of Florida’s shorelines;
b) avoiding beach re-nourishment projects where especially harmful for ecosystems,
c) restoring and protecting natural buffers."

Although not stated outright, these recommendations, combined, indirectly support a policy of managed retreat. Unlike many broad guidance documents, the report specifies detailed recommendations for state and local government actions that will help Florida’s coastal areas better adapt to climate change, including:

  1. consider sea level rise when amending comprehensive plans for land use, etc; expand local comprehensive planning horizons beyond the current 5-10 year period
  2. state should reduce incentives for private development in coastal areas at high risk from erosion and storm surges;
  3. reevaluate the CCL program and determine if existing coastal setbacks are adequate in light of projected sea-level rise scenarios
  4. Strategic Beach Management Plan should incorporate a range of sea level rise scenarios over at least a 50 year time horizon
  5. DEP, DCA, and state Regional Planning Councils should jointly develop, assess, and recommend for local governments a suite of planning tools and climate change adaptation strategies (e.g. retreat, stronger setbacks, tax incentives)
  6. The Florida Department of Emergency Management (DEM) should incorporate sea-level rise and increasing storm surge impacts into its efforts to remap potential hazard areas in coastal zones. Revised hazard areas should better reflect the added risks to communities associated with climate change and allow reevaluation of the suitability for development in these areas.

Earlier in 2006, the Coalition also authored Florida’s Coastal and Ocean Future, A Blueprint for Economic and Environmental Leadership. Among other recommendations, the document calls on state and local leaders to take action to protect Florida’s marine and coastal ecosystems by strengthening controls on coastal development and helping Florida become a leader in reducing pollution sources that contribute to sea level rise and more intense hurricanes. Recognizing the growing battle between rising seas and coastal communities, the Coalition sets forth a number of specific “recommended actions” designed to assist the state in more proactively responding to sea-level rise. Along with suggestions to reevaluate the state’s CCCL and restoring natural ecosystems, the document importantly advocates a policy of managed retreat, recommending the state:

"Explore a policy of “strategic retreat” to encourage moving development away from eroding shorelines. This policy should utilize tax incentives, buyouts of condemned properties, restrictive setbacks when rebuilding after storms on critically eroded shorelines, and other creative strategies to encourage the private sector to build as landward as possible."

Focusing on Florida, the Climate Change Conference was held in Tampa, Florida on May 9-11, 2007. Bringing together nearly 300 attendees, the Conference presented the latest scientific findings and information about climate change related impacts and the actions that should be taken to respond to respond to these issues. The document Climate Change Conference Summary provides an overview of the Conference’s proceedings, and presents detailed summaries concerning climate change impacts and response, climate change science, and discussion group reports. The Summary also prioritized climate change actions, categorizing climate change planning as a first tier priority. Importantly, the summary indirectly recommends a strategy of managed coastal retreat, suggesting:

"Plan ahead for climate change and sea level rise to allow migration of communities and ecosystems (e.g., establishment of greenways, reduction of barriers for migration)."

As a second tier priority, the Summary suggests:

"Establish a long-term vision for healthy and vibrant beach dune communities that will be affected by sea level rise."

Florida’s Center for Urban and Environmental Solutions published a report Florida’s Resilient Coasts: A State Policy Framework for Adaptation to Climate Change in 2007. This report considers policy options in light of climate change and sea-level rise for the following areas: land use planning and building regulation, water supply and delivery, transportation and infrastructure, conservation of natural lands and marine life, beaches and beach management, and extreme events: emergency preparedness and response. The report expounds on five major principles to help guide state policy development and adoption: “a disciplined, comprehensive, purposeful, strategic, and efficient approach”.

Signed by Governor Jeb Bush on September 7, 2005, Executive Order 05-178 created Florida’s Coastal High Hazard Study Committee. The committee’s main goals were to study and formulate recommendations for managing growth in coastal high hazard areas, defined as Category 1 hurricane evacuation zones. Although largely focusing on the state’s susceptibility to tropical cyclone hazards, the committee’s recommendations also include significant discussion of the role of Florida’s CCCL. On February 1, 2006 the Committee delivered its final report to the Governor, recommending that the state DEP develop a scope of work to reevaluate setbacks and other dune protection criteria within the CCCL regulatory program. A restudy of the CCCL was suggested in portions of the state where consideration of hydrographic and topographic data indicate that shoreline changes have rendered established control lines to be ineffective.

Another important document pertaining to sea-level rise adaptation is Adaptive Response Planning to Sea Level Rise in Florida and Implications for Comprehensive and Public-Facilities Planning. Published in 2007, the document provides a comprehensive overview of both the science behind climate change and how climate change is expected to impact Florida. Estimates of future sea-level rise for Florida’s coasts are also included. Yet in terms of adequacy of Florida’s current planning strategies, the report notes:

"The local comprehensive planning horizons stipulated in the state's Growth Management statute (Chapter 163, F.S.) do not provide an explicit context for considering the implications of short-term development decisions with respect to long-term gradual changes such as sea level rise."

The report also found that many local coastal planners had little idea about how projected sea-level rises would affect their jurisdictions, but that they were aware which areas would be most impacted. In terms of addressing sea-level rise at a local level, and prioritizing SLR, county planners provided a wide range of perspectives. While some maintained that climate change and sea level rise are important considerations, as of the report only Collier County was addressing the potential impacts of sea-level rise within its comprehensive plan, and Miami-Dade County through its Climate Change Task Force.

The report also provided a list of preliminary recommendations for consideration by the Florida Department of Community Affairs and the Division of Community Planning. These recommendations include incorporating sea-level rise into county plans, defining the range of possible Florida SLR scenarios for 2050 to 2100, providing SLR inundation maps to state and local planners, and requiring long-term infrastructure adaptation and planning. A complete list of these recommendations can be found using the above link.

Florida emergency managers use GATOR, an interactive Web mapping tool, to assist in emergency preparedness and response. GATOR, or Geospatial Assessment Tool for Operations and Response, combines base map data such as roads, facilities, and aerial photographs with real-time weather and storm data. To bring in additional demographic, infrastructure, economic, and environmental data, direct access to NOAA’s Coastal County Snapshots was added to the GATOR interface. With direct access to Coastal County Snapshots, Florida emergency managers can use charts and graphs to assess a county’s exposure to flooding, analyze a county’s dependence on the ocean, and quantify the benefits a county receives from its wetlands. The easy-to-understand charts and graphs are valuable communication tools that help managers prepare Florida communities for hazards.

Florida Sea Grant has developed several policy tools related to sea level rise adaptation. These materials offer planners and attorneys materials to help them analyze the different planning and policy options for addressing sea-level rise and other coastal hazards.

Implementing “Adaptation Action Area” Policies in Florida

The 2011 Florida Legislature passed the Community Planning Act (CPA) making significant changes to the state’s growth management laws, including the addition of optional adaptation planning for coastal hazards and the potential impacts of sea level rise. The Adaptation Action Area, as defined in the CPA, is an optional comprehensive plan designation for areas that experience coastal flooding and that are vulnerable to the related impacts of rising sea levels for prioritizing funding for infrastructure and adaptation planning. Local governments that adopt an adaptation action area may consider policies within the coastal management element in their comprehensive plan to improve resilience to coastal flooding. Criteria for the adaptation action area may include: areas below, at, or near mean higher high water; areas which have a hydrological connection to coastal waters; or areas designated as evacuation zones for storm surge (§163.3164(1) and §163.3177(6)(g)(10), F.S.)

In January 2011, the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) approved the Florida Coastal Management Program’s (FCMP) Section 309 Strategy, including an initiative to be conducted by the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity (DEO) titled, “Community Resiliency: Planning for Sea Level Rise.” This five-year initiative will examine the statewide planning framework and determine how to best integrate adaptation into the existing process as well as how to coordinate adaptation efforts statewide. In addition, the initiative will vet guidance by developing adaptation plans for two pilot communities. The purpose of preparing pilot plans is to evaluate planning guidance, modeling and vulnerability analysis methodologies for statewide application, determine effective modes for communicating risks, and deliver technical assistance to support adaptation to a diverse audience.

At the time the strategy was developed, the language regarding Adaptation Action Areas had not yet been conceived or adopted into statute and therefore was not reflected in the work plan. However, this newly adopted language provides the statutory framework to promote adaptation planning for sea level rise at the local level. It also provides the authority for the DEO to offer technical assistance to communities that wish to include adaptation planning in their local comprehensive plan, as well as guidance for other communities that are interested in learning more about this planning strategy.

This supplemental project will explore the options available to local governments that wish to implement Adaptation Action Areas and policies in the local comprehensive plan. The City of Ft. Lauderdale, in cooperation with Broward County, will serve as a pilot to test the adaptation options. The results of this process will be compiled into a guidance document to assist Florida communities that choose to address Adaptation Action Areas in their local comprehensive plan.

During the first phase of the overall initiative proposed under the 309 Strategy (2011-2012), the DEO will inventory sea level rise research from around the state and nation, and identify technical assistance resources currently available to support community sea level rise planning and adaptation. The DEO will also convene a group of statewide experts to serve as the Focus Group for the overall project. In the second phase of the overall initiative (2012-2013), the DEO will identify a model for coastal inundation and best practices guidance for adaptation planning to be tested in two pilot communities in the following year. The pilot communities will be representative of the average community in Florida that has not considered adaptation and how they might holistically plan for future vulnerability.

This supplemental project to address Adaptation Action Areas will occur simultaneously with the two pilot projects included in the second phase of the 309 Strategy. The main difference between the supplemental project and the DEO’s 5-year initiative is that the pilots under the 5-year strategy will represent an average community in Florida and will take a holistic approach to adaptation planning. The pilot under this application will be an advanced community on the forefront of adaptation planning in the State, ready to take on highly targeted tasks related to how adaptation action areas will be addressed in the local comprehensive plan. First, a menu of optional program changes will be developed for local governments to choose from in order to address Adaptation Action Areas in their local comprehensive plan. These options will include, but are not limited to:

  • Overlay zones/districts for special adaptation action areas.
  • New or revised regulations regarding adaptation planning.
  • Resolutions, executive orders and memoranda of understanding/agreement regarding future plans for areas that meet the adaptation action area criteria.
  • Targeted land acquisition programs.
  • Conservation easements.
  • Transfer and Purchase of Development Rights Programs.
  • Hazard mitigation program improvements to incorporate adaptation strategies at the local level.

Next, these options will be tested through a pilot project that will ultimately result in a proposed amendment to the local comprehensive plan that addresses sea level rise adaptation. The South Florida Regional Planning Council will serve as the consultant for this project as they work closely with these local governments and the compact on climate change and sea level rise adaptation issues. The DEO asked the City of Ft. Lauderdale, in conjunction with Broward County, to serve as the pilot for this effort because of its involvement with the Southeast Florida Regional Climate Compact, a partnership between Palm Beach County, Broward County, Miami-Dade County and Monroe County. The Compact has made significant progress with setting parameters for data and analysis regarding sea level rise vulnerability in the region. In addition, the Compact was instrumental in providing the support needed to get the Adaptation Action Area language adopted into state statute. The DEO also considered it important to select a municipality, since this would involve the local comprehensive plan. The City of Ft. Lauderdale was selected due to their interest in the project and vulnerability to coastal flooding, extreme high tide and impacts of rising sea levels. Broward County will also contribute to the planning process due to the fact that it has played a strong role in the Southeast Florida Regional Climate Compact, and has a unique oversight role over all local comprehensive planning-related decisions within its jurisdiction. Broward County also has a high level of planning and technical capacity to support this project.

In addition to the proposed amendments to the City of Ft. Lauderdale Local Comprehensive Plan, the end products from this project will include various outreach materials. These resources are to be used by the staff from the Florida DEO and its partners when providing technical assistance on addressing Adaptation Action Areas in local comprehensive plans. In order to capture the different learning styles and ways to present this information, outreach materials will include an easy-to-read guidebook with a case study, a video on adaptation action areas and podcasts with key players throughout the project. It is also expected that staff will present this information via multiple webinars and workshops in order to promote the planning tools.

Sea Level Rise and Erosion Mapping

In 2005 The South Florida Regional Planning Council (SFRPC) completed a study on the effects of long-term sea level rise on seven coastal counties. The Sea Level Rise Project was designed to describe what South Florida might look like in 200 years if global warming causes sea levels to rise significantly. Inundation maps for each of the seven coastal counties in southeast Florida from Monroe County to Indian River County were generated. For more information on the Sea Level Rise Project and the SFRPC website, see here.

EPA has published a summary document Governments Plan for Development of Land Vulnerable to Rising Sea Level: Florida (2009), which in terms of Florida’s coastal management, notes that in the state:

…there is no explicit plan for the fate of most low-lying coastal lands as sea level rises. Environmental planners do not know whether to assume that the coastal wetlands will be lost or simply migrate inland. Those who plan coastal infrastructure do not know whether to assume that a given area will be submerged by rising waters or protected from the sea. And even in developed areas that will presumably be protected, public works departments do not know whether to assume that the land surfaces will gradually be elevated or that the area will be protected with a dike.

Under a grant from EPA to the Southwest Florida Regional Planning Council, six of the regional planning councils in Florida developed maps distinguishing shores that are likely to be protected from those areas that are likely to be submerged, assuming current coastal policies, development trends, and shore protection practices. The purpose is primarily to promote the dialogue necessary to decide where people will yield the right of way to the inland migration of wetlands and beaches, and where attempts will be made to hold back the sea.

To date, no one has yet developed a statewide synthesis report of these six studies, although the Document and EPA’s website provides brief summaries of the reports for Northeast Florida, East Central Florida, Treasure Coast, and South Florida. Report authors have also prepared a summary table of the area of land in Florida vulnerable to sea level rise by likelihood of shore protection for the four regions along the Atlantic Coast, based on the results of the four Florida Atlantic chapters from The Likelihood of Shore Protection (PDF 8 MB).

Complete reports and/or GIS data are available on the following regional planning council websites.

The Charlotte Harbor National Estuary Program (CHNEP), in cooperation with the city of Punta Gorda, has prepared a city of Punta Gorda Adaptation Plan, which was approved in November 2009. The document identifies current and projected changes and potential vulnerabilities to the Punta Gorda community due to climate change, as well as the alternative adaptations that could be undertaken to address these identified climate change vulnerabilities. CHNEP is also preparing a Climate Change Vulnerability Assessment, which will provide three climate change scenarios and identify vulnerabilities to a range of human and natural resources.

The South Florida RPC completed a Climate Change Community Toolbox to help local governments plan for and adapt to climate change. The Toolbox includes LIDAR maps showing areas likely to be inundated by 1, 2, 3, and 5-foot rises in sea level, fact sheets describing climate change impacts on Miami-Dade County, and adaptation resources. As part of the National Coastal Mapping Project, the state obtained LiDAR data for a number of coastal regions, maps of which can be found here. Current status of LiDAR mapping along the coast can be found here, with additional maps here. The Florida division of Emergency Management (FDEM) is also finalizing a $29 million mapping effort to update coastal storm surge models and regional evacuation studies with more current and accurate LiDAR elevation data, and have thus far acquired over 15,000 square miles of new LiDAR data.

The Sea Level Rise Summit 2013 was held October 16-17 in Fort Lauderdale. Focusing on the economy and built environment, the Summit addressed the issues that public and private sector professionals face in adapting to sea level rise and other climate change related impacts. Local, national and international experts demonstrated best practices and state of the art research. Panel topics included Sea Level Rise, Storm Surge Impacts & Response, Post-Sandy Implications, Economic Implications, Impacts on Human Health, Impacts on the Built Environment, Adaptation, and Innovation & Resilience on a Local, National & International Front. More information is available on the Summit website.

Additional Initiatives

Passed in 2005, the Oceans and Coastal Resources Act established the Florida Oceans and Coastal Council. The Council was charged each year with developing priorities for ocean/coastal research and establishing a statewide ocean research plan, in addition to examining and prioritizing management needs. In the most recent FY 2009-2010 Research Plan, the Oceans Council recommended prioritization of research which will quantify coastal impacts from climate change, at scales that will be useful for regional and local community planning.

The Florida Coastal Management Program and Florida Department of Community Affairs published FACT – Florida Assessment of Coastal Trends in 2000. While the document makes no mention of sea-level rise or climate change as a potential coastal hazard, it does recommend prioritizing counties and communities that are most at risk from coastal flood inundation. The document also recognized the importance of educational outreach to coastal communities with regards to coastal hazards.

The Southwest Florida WMD Wetland Restoration Program restores wetland habitats in the Tampa Bay ecosystem. This program incorporates sea level rise projections in its planning (assuming a 12- to 18-inch sea level rise scenario over 100 years) and has included high-marsh components to allow low-marsh habitats to migrate landward as sea levels rise.

The Southeast Florida Regional Climate Change Compact represents a joint commitment of Broward, Miami-Dade, Palm Beach and Monroe Counties to partner in mitigating the causes and adapting to the consequences of climate change. The Compact was formalized following the 2009 Southeast Florida Climate Leadership Summit, when elected officials came together to discuss challenges and strategies for responding to the impacts of climate change. The Compact outlines an on-going collaborative effort among the Compact Counties to foster sustainability and climate resilience at a regional scale. In January 2012 the the Compact Counties announced the release of the Draft Regional Climate Action Plan for public review and comment. In April 2014 Palm Beach County commissioners approved the plan, joining Broward, Miami-Dade and Monroe counties.

Miami-Dade County's Sea Level Rise Task Force was created by the County Commission in July 2013 to "review the relevant data and prior studies" to provide a "comprehensive and realistic assessment of the likely and potential [future] impacts of sea level rise." In July 2014 the Task Force made public its final report and recommendations to county leaders. The Task Force report includes six major recommendations to Miami-Dade officials:

  1. Hire engineers and other experts to vet the elements of the infrastructure plan -- the actual physical features like flood control devices and pump stations, as well as road and bridge design. (The report calls this the "critical first step.")
  2. Update and implement the suggestions of the Miami-Dade Climate Change Advisory Task Force, which met from 2006 through 2010 and produced a set of 57 recommendations for adaptation of "natural systems, built environment, health and economic systems, as well as a series of Green House Gas mitigation recommendations."
  3. Follow through on the County Commission's May 6 resolution that requires all county infrastructure projects to "consider the potential impact of sea level rise during all project phases" and evaluate existing infrastructure in regard to sea level rise.
  4. Join with the South Florida Water Management District and the Southeast Florida Climate Compact to "conduct a comprehensive study and develop adaptation strategies" to address sea level rise's potential for flood damage and saltwater intrusion.
  5. Make Everglades restoration a "top priority" of the county's lobbying efforts (things are not looking so great for the River of Grass) and "utilize and fully fund" the county's Environmentally Endangered Lands Program.
  6. In the face of skyrocketing insurance rates ("the 'cruelest tax of all'"), work with private insurance and reinsurance pros and with other official bodies to "develop long-term risk management solutions."

The Task Force report concludes with a "follow the money" warning:

"With trillions of dollars of built environment and invaluable natural resources at stake in the region, the economic imperative to take action sooner rather than later is clear. WE BELIEVE THAT WITHOUT A PROFESSIONALLY WELL THOUGHT OUT ADAPTATION PLAN IN PLACE, WE RISK LOSING INSURABILITY AND FINANCIAL SUPPORT FOR OUR FUTURE."

Early in the development of its coastal planning process, Collier County adopted new zoning ordinance designed to control growth and preserve coastal islands, marshes and other ecologically sensitive areas. See above for more information about Collier County’s zoning initiative and its creation of Special Treatment overlay.

Florida is a member of StormSmart Coasts, a resource for coastal decision makers looking for the latest and best information on how to protect their communities from weather and climate hazards.

Saving Florida's Vanishing Shores is a brochure published by Monroe County, Miami-Dade County, Florida Department of Community Affairs and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Ahead of the Tide is an independent movement that launched a 10 part video series in February 2016 highlighting the effects of sea level rise and climate change through the stories and voices of local Floridians. Each short video (5 to 7 minutes) showcases various aspects concerning sea level rise and includes interviews with scientists, engineers, politicians, conservation directors, educators, authors and activists.

Additional Resources

  1. The Florida Department of Environmental Protection website has links to Beach Erosion Control Program, CCCL permitting, Coastal data acquisition, coastal engineering, and joint coastal permitting.
  2. The Oceans and Coastal Resources Management Act
  3. Adaptation and Mitigation of Climate Change Impacts: South Florida on the Front Lines – White Paper: An Integrative and Collaborative Climate and Energy Initiative (ICCE), May 13, 2009
  4. The Effects of Climate Change on Florida’s Ocean and Coastal Resources (2009), version 2
  5. Protecting Our Communities: Land Use Planning Strategies and Best Development Practices for Minimizing Vulnerability to Flooding and Coastal Storms
  6. HB 1359 - Hazard Mitigation for Coastal Redevelopment was introduced, passed and signed into law effective June 1, 2006, and also helps manage hazards in the coastal zone
  7. Florida’s Coastal and Ocean Future, A Blueprint For Eoncomic and Environmental Leadership
  8. For more information on the Critical Erosion Areas Report and the Strategic Beach Management Plan, see here or here.
  9. For more information on jurisdiction specified in the CCCL Program, go here.
  10. Homeowners Guide to the Coastal Construction Control Line Program
  11. Chapter 161 of the Florida Statutes
  12. Further details on the CCCL Program
  13. Florida Sea Grant has developed several policy tools related to sea level rise adaptation. These materials offer planners and attorneys materials to help them analyze the different planning and policy options for addressing sea-level rise and other coastal hazards.
  14. The Faces of Climate Change Adaptation: The Need for Proactive Protection of the Nation’s Coasts, Coastal States Organization, May 2010

General Reference Documents

EPA's Risk-Based Adaptation website (under the heading of Climate-Ready Estuaries) provides several resources and tools to help users identify, analyze, prioritize and reduce their climate change risks.

An informative publication is Ten Principles for Coastal Development (2007) by the Urban Land Institute.

The Coastal States Organization (CSO) has published two reports relating to climate change adaptation. The first is Coastal Community Resilience: An Evaluation of Resilience as a Potential Performance Measure of the Coastal Zone Management Act (July 2008). (No link to this could be found.) Developed by CSO staff and CSO’s Coastal Resilience Steering Committee, the document demonstrates the value of resilience to coastal management and offers concrete recommendations for enhancing resilience at the state and local level. The second document is The Role of Coastal Zone Management Programs in Adaptation to Climate Change (September 2008)(PDF, 732KB). The report includes detailed results of a 2008 adaptation survey designed to obtain up to date information on the status of adaptation planning, priority information needs, and the anticipated resource needs of the coastal states, commonwealths, and territories.

In April 2009, the Heinz Center and Ceres announced the release of their Resilient Coasts - A Blueprint for Action, to outline steps to reduce risks and losses in the face of growing threats. The Heinz Center and Ceres produced the blueprint with a coalition of leading insurers, public officials, risk experts, builders, and conservation groups. The blueprint is endorsed by many groups, including The Travelers Institute, The Nature Conservancy, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the Wharton School, and the Mayor of Charleston, South Carolina. The blueprint includes policy changes and common sense actions that could reduce economic losses from future storms and rising sea levels by as much as half along U.S. coastlines. The blueprint outlines specific recommendations, including: enabling planning for climate impacts by providing the necessary science and decision-making tools; requiring risk-based land use planning; designing adaptable infrastructure and building code standards to meet future risk; strengthening ecosystems as part of a risk mitigation strategy; developing flexible adaptation plans; maintaining a viable private property and casualty insurance market; and integrating climate change impacts into due diligence for investment and lending. The coalition urges the Obama administration, Congress, local leaders and the private sector to see that blueprint actions are implemented through regulation, investment, education, and other means.

In January 2010 the National Association of Counties released Building Resilient Coastal Communities: Counties and the Digital Coast which highlights many of the Digital Coast resources that counties use to address coastal flooding, habitat conservation and land use. More resources, tools and data are available through NOAA's Digital Coast website.

More recently, NOAA Coastal Management has developed a Sea Level Rise and Coastal Flooding Impacts Viewer as part of its Digital Coast website. Being able to visualize potential impacts from sea level rise is a powerful teaching and planning tool, and the Sea Level Rise Viewer brings this capability to coastal communities. A slider bar is used to show how various levels of sea level rise will impact coastal communities. Completed areas include Mississippi, Alabama, Texas, Florida, and Georgia, with additional coastal counties to be added in the near future. Visuals and the accompanying data and information cover sea level rise inundation, uncertainty, flood frequency, marsh impacts, and socioeconomics.

StormSmart Coasts is a resource for coastal decision makers looking for the latest and best information on how to protect their communities from weather and climate hazards. StormSmart Legal is a new addition to the StormSmart Coasts Network that provides information about property rights, regulatory takings, and permissible government regulation in coastal areas.

In December 2012 NOAA's Climate Program Office released a report Global Sea Level Rise Scenarios for the United States National Climate Assessment. The report was produced in response to a request from the U.S. National Climate Assessment Development and Advisory Committee. It provides a synthesis of the scientific literature on global sea level rise, and a set of four scenarios of future global sea level rise. The report includes input from national experts in climate science, physical coastal processes, and coastal management.

NOAA's Coastal and Waterfront Smart Growth website is organized into 10 chapters describing different elements essential for communities interested in implementing coastal and waterfront smart growth. By clicking on the individual chapters, you can get a description of each Coastal and Waterfront Smart Growth Element, how this relates to the Coastal and Waterfront Issues, Tools and Techniques you can use in your community, and Case Studies of successes. Each chapter contains a navigation box allowing quick access to the information and the ability to download the content of each page. A 2012 report by NOAA and EPA on Achieving Hazard-Resilient Coastal & Waterfront Smart Growth presents ideas shared by smart growth and hazard mitigation experts related to building hazard-resilient coastal communities.

EPA has a website devoted to preparing for rising sea level and other consequences of changing climate. The premise of the Greenhouse Effect and Sea Level Rise website is that society should take measures to make our coastal development and ecosystems less vulnerable to a rise in sea level. The papers on this site demonstrate that numerous low-cost measures, if implemented, would make the United States less vulnerable to rising sea level. A more recent EPA website is Adapting to Climate Change, but was removed by the Trump administration.

Coastal Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerabilities (USGS-NOAA, January 2013) emphasizes the need for increased coordination and planning to ensure U.S. coastal communities are resilient against the effects of climate change. The report examines and describes climate change impacts on coastal ecosystems and human economies and communities, as well as the kinds of scientific data, planning tools and resources that coastal communities and resource managers need to help them adapt to these changes. Case studies are presented for Chesapeake Bay and the Gulf of Mexico.

In December 2012 the Lincoln Institute released Coastal States’ Climate Adaptation Initiatives: Sea Level Rise and Municipal Engagement (Working Paper). This paper explores how states and municipalities interact to address sea level rise, providing an overview of the state of practice, some reasons for different levels of action, and some of the needs of municipalities. It includes recommendations for ways states can provide adaptation support to municipalities.

Coastal Risk Reduction and Resilience: Using the Full Array of Measures, (pdf, 1.2 MB) published in September 2013, discusses the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' capabilities to help reduce risks to coastal areas and improve resilience to coastal hazards through an integrated planning approach. Federal, state, local, non-governmental organization and private sector interests connected to our coastal communities possess a complementary set of authorities and capabilities for developing more integrated coastal systems. The effective implementation of an integrated approach to flood and coastal flood hazard mitigation relies on a collaborative, shared responsibility framework between Federal, state, and local agencies and the public.

The National Climate Assessment is an extensive report released through the U.S. Global Change Research Program and produced by a large team of experts with the guidance of the Federal Advisory Committee. The report is put out every few years, with the most recent one being the 2014 National Climate Assessment and the next report expected to be released in 2018-2019. It includes numerous studies on the impacts of climate change on different economic sectors and geographic regions in the U.S. An important and applicable portion of the report is the Response Strategies section, which lays out actionable ways that decision-makers ranging from the federal government to private-sector companies can take to mitigate and adapt to climate change.


  1. Bernd-Cohen, T. and M. Gordon. "State Coastal Program Effectiveness in Protecting Natural Beaches, Dunes, Bluffs, and Rock Shores." Coastal Management 27:187-217, 1999.
  2. Ralph Clark, DEP. Surfrider State of the Beach Survey response. November 12, 2002.
  3. Ralph Clark, DEP. Surfrider State of the Beach Survey response. November 12, 2002.
  4. Roxane Dow, DEP. Surfrider State of the Beach Survey response, December 2003.

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