LIHU‘E — “The golden era of coastal living is over,” said University of Hawai‘i at Manoa Associate Dean for Academic Affairs and Professor Charles “Chip” Fletcher of the Department of Earth Sciences in the School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology, in a recent virtual meeting hosted by the Kaua‘i Board of Realtors (KBR).
According to Fletcher, in addition to mountain glaciers melting, another major cause of sea-level rise is the ocean storing 94% of the heat that is being trapped by the earth’s greenhouse gases.
“We are not feeling that heat. The ocean is absorbing it for us,” Fletcher said. “But when water gets warmer it expands.”
Fletcher believes Hawai‘i and other Polynesian islands are going to be most affected by the glaciers melting and experience more sea-level rise and coastal erosion in the near future.
“And so we sit along with other Polynesian and Micronesian coastal communities, island communities are in about the worst place on the planet with regard to sea-level rise,” Fletcher said. “And so if the global mean is about one meter, what we will see is more than that. We’ll see on the order of 1.3 meters.”
Fletcher said if National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration forecasts 3.2 feet of sea-level rise, Hawai‘i would actually see 4.3 feet.
Fletcher presented information on sea-level rise and coastal erosion to community leaders, Realtors and county officials at a recent meeting, warning of the urgency to do something now because that response is already 20 years too late.
“The longer you wait, the more expensive it will be to react, to respond,” Fletcher said.
County of Kaua‘i Energy and Sustainability Coordinator Ben Sullivan said for management of county properties, the county’s approach mirrors what is in the General Plan for all coastal areas. That includes minimizing new development in exposed areas, avoiding armorment of the shoreline and beginning planning for relocation of critical county infrastructure that is exposed.
The county is beginning its first Island Wide Climate Action, Adaptation and Resilience Plan in the next several months, which will zoom in on high-level policies from the 2018 General Plan and form more-specific approaches and plans for these challenging questions. The eastside coastal path, Ke Ala Hele Makale, is a county facility exposed to coastal erosion in several areas.
“The short-term strategy, again consistent with the General Plan, includes beach-nourishment where appropriate, and minimizing new development in exposed areas,” Sullivan said.
Sullivan said the Wailua corridor contains numerous critical infrastructure components including the Kuhio Highway, as well as associated utilities (electric, water, wastewater) and county facilities such as the Wailua Wastewater Treatment Plant, and numerous beach parks.
“The CARRP will look at how to address these challenges in greater detail, building from the Kaua‘i General Plan, information in the Multi-Hazard Mitigation and Resilience Plan and other resources,” Sullivan said.
Sullivan said sea-level rise is clearly accelerating, and global emissions have not slowed.
“According to Dr. Fletcher’s presentation from the meeting, 4.3 feet by 2100 is now considered an intermediate scenario for local mean SLR relative to the year 2000,” Sullivan said.
“We greatly appreciate the proactive discussions that continue to take place across our community with partners such as KBR, who clearly understand the imperative for all of us to take action now rather than later to prepare for sea-level rise,” said Sullivan.”
For more information, see the Pacific Islands Ocean Observing System website, pacioos.hawaii.edu.
Stephanie Shinno, education, business, and community reporter can be reached at 245-0424 or email@example.com.