UCF has launched a national research center focused on finding big-picture solutions to threats facing coastal communities.
In 2017, federal and local governments in Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico spent more than $284 billion to deal with the impact of hurricanes and flooding, according to NOAA.
“There’s a perfect storm coming,” said Graham Worthy, UCF biologist and director of the National Center for Integrated Coastal Research. “We’ve already seen some of it. With economic constraints, environmental threats and extreme weather events becoming more and more common, now is the time to look at how we develop resilient communities that aren’t constantly in expensive recovery mode.”
While many institutions are studying ways to help coastal communities, UCF’s center is unique by bringing together dozens of experts including biologists, economics, medical care professionals, social scientists, engineers and emergency management personnel to come up with long-term solutions that incorporate multiple disciplines.
“As a biologist, I may find a solution to a water quality issue,” Worthy said. “But I don’t know the economic impact, or whether my solution may create another issue for emergency management or maybe there’s a social impact I haven’t even thought of. By having experts in all these areas together we will begin speaking the same language and come up with solutions that are big picture, and that’s the kind of solutions we need as a society.”
And while some may argue that people who live on the coast know the risks, the threats impact residents living hundreds and even thousands of miles away.
In Florida, much of the economy relies on tourism with people going to the beaches and theme parks. But sea-level rise would harm beaches and it may no longer be a draw to tourists resulting in fewer dollars coming to the state. The coast is connected to rivers and streams. Sea-level rise could also impact water quality, resulting in negative impacts to agricultural production, cattle production and even ecotourism businesses that rely on rivers.
The center, housed on the main UCF campus, includes more than 40 faculty members. The center’s researchers are pursuing multiple partnerships with national and international groups to expand its work. Claire Knox, a UCF public administration associate professor, will focus on environmental and emergency management plans and policies. She provides the connection between coastal science and policy making.
“Specifically, my research in Louisiana and Florida concludes that many land use plans lack a hazard mitigation element and are not being fully implemented,” Knox said. “Our environmental policies say one thing, yet do another. Both practices have led to a disjoined effort to restore Louisiana’s coastal wetlands and Florida Everglades ecosystem.”
The problems facing Florida are similar to those found in other states and countries that have coastlines, so the faculty expect that the solutions they develop may become national models. Knox is just one of many faculty who conduct research outside the state of Florida.
“As a Cajun from coastal Louisiana, coastal is personal. It means home,” Knox said, “A home comprised of coastal wetlands that we are losing at a rate of a football field every 45 minutes. This increases the vulnerability of coastal communities, displaces multiple unique cultures, and includes the relocation of the U.S. first climate change refugees at Isle de Jean Charles.”