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Tropical Storm Eta was a warning shot for Tampa Bay’s future | Column
What The Florida Aquarium is doing to help protect us from a future of climate change and sea level rise.
Water splashes against the seawall along Pass A Grille Way, St. Pete Beach, as squalls from Hurricane Eta move through Pinellas County, Florida, on Nov. 11, 2020.
Water splashes against the seawall along Pass A Grille Way, St. Pete Beach, as squalls from Hurricane Eta move through Pinellas County, Florida, on Nov. 11, 2020. [ Times photo illustration ]
Published Jan. 27

Most of us who live in the Tampa Bay region didn’t see Eta coming or feel its impact.

Yet the November 2020 tropical storm that brushed by Tampa Bay created a big headache and left behind millions in damage to homes and businesses in low-lying areas. In the future, another tropical storm of similar strength could impact a much broader area and wreak much more harm — and we need a greater sense of urgency and broader consensus on how to start preparing now for the inevitable.

Roger Germann
Roger Germann [ Provided ]

The Tampa Bay Times kicked off its Rising Threat series with an eye-opening examination of what could happen if a tropical storm like Eta hits here with sea levels that align with local projections for 2050. It’s not a pretty picture. The best-case scenario, according to the results of a first-of-its kind partnership between the Times and the National Hurricane Center, is that nearly twice as many properties might flood. The worst case is that nearly five times as many might experience flooding.

The projections in this report should catch everyone’s attention. The Florida Aquarium’s purpose is to save wildlife from extinction and educate and inspire stewardship of our natural environment. We envision a world where together, we protect and restore our blue planet. Our conservation priorities include assuring animal health, welfare and sustainable populations; habitat restoration; reduction of single-use plastic usage; and sustainable business and operational practices.

Helping Tampa Bay prepare for the impact of stronger storms is of great importance to us, and it should be for every family, business owner, local government and cultural institution that cares about the future of our region and our children.

We will continue to advance mitigation efforts and improve our region’s resiliency to changes in climate, including stronger storms and rising sea levels. For example, mangroves sequester large amounts of carbon and help protect our coastlines by preventing erosion and minimizing storm surge. While Tampa Bay has lost more than 40 percent of its mangroves and marshlands over the past 100 years, The Aquarium is working with partners, including Tampa Bay Watch, to restore critical mangrove habitats. The mangroves from our wetlands exhibit continue to reproduce, providing a consistent supply of new mangroves to be raised in our nursery before being planted along our shorelines.

We will continue to educate the Tampa Bay community about our environment and the risks that come with changes in climate, including stronger storms. Teaching is one of our core pillars, and we remain committed to informing students and our visitors about the importance of protecting our environment and embracing sustainable practices. In fact, The Aquarium just created our own sustainability plan designed to achieve carbon neutrality by 2040.

We also recognize the importance of teamwork and building coalitions that encourage public policies and smart investments to reduce any impact. Individual communities, governments and organizations cannot take on this challenge alone. The Aquarium is well-experienced in building partnerships, whether it’s with other colleagues to help endangered sea turtles and manatees or the NFL to advance ambitious coral reef restoration projects. It’s why we are encouraged by the creation of the Tampa Bay Regional Resiliency Coalition, comprised of 31 local governments throughout the region, which is developing a regional resilience action plan. We look forward to participating in that effort.

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The first piece in the Times’ Rising Threat series is a sobering reminder of what could happen; however, if we all come together and act now, we can change the tide — literally — to ensure our region remains resilient and thriving for generations to come.

Roger Germann is president and CEO of The Florida Aquarium.

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