Friday, July 17, 2015

Effects of storm surge on Florida historic cemeteries (Image courtesy of  Ed Gonzalez-Tennant)

Last month several archaeologists, historians, preservationists, and scientists gathered near the Matanzas Inlet for our inaugural Sea Level Rise workshop. To say it was the Northeast Regional Center’s initial foray into SLR is not quite true. We’ve already participated in a Sea Level Rise panel as part of Florida Trust for Historic Preservation's 2013 annual conference and the Society for Historical Archaeology’s “Have We Missed the Boat” 2015 panel in Seattle. The North Central FPAN Center also recently held a workshop in Apalachicola for a citizen planning committee to discuss Sea Level Rise. And the GTM-NERR has conducted nationally recognized Planning Matanzas public meetings across the Matanzas Basin. But this workshop was something different.

Climate Change and Sea Level Rise are for some politically charged words, but for archaeologists it’s already a reality. We’ve noticed and have taken part on digs both coastal and inland where we can see environmental impacts to archaeological sites. And the change is nothing new. Archaeologists have an unique perspective as we’ve seen Florida change dramatically over the 12-15,000 years of human occupation of the state. Geologists reaching back millions of years have documented the dynamic ebb and flow of the coastline and the land’s reaction to extreme environmental changes.

What’s new is we want to provide the public with resources so they can make future informed decisions regarding cultural resources and give them hands-on experience recording threatened sites. There are many choices we will have to make for ourselves, for our communities, and for our shared heritage and we want to be ready. We want YOU to be ready. Ready to make informed decisions about how to spend funds on planning documents, on solutions, on stop-gap measures, and help identify sites to be identified and studied before they are inundated or impacted by storm surge.

The workshop began with a welcome by Tina Gordon from the GTM-NERR welcoming us at the Education Center. It made sense to us to have our first SLR workshop at Matanazas Inlet in Flagler County, ground zero in some respects to changes predicted in NOAA SLR and Coastal Flooding modeling tools. We then presented an overview of the environmental history of Florida to show how sites have been impacted by environmental change over thousands of years and different ways past cultures have adapted. We heard from Fernandina Beach planner Adrienne Burke who is concerned from a preservation perspective what will happen to her community and wanting to know the full suite of best practices already installed by other cities, states, and nations. We presented different options heritage sites can consider and looked closer at how rising sea levels directly impact archaeological sites and artifacts.

Before breaking for the afternoon fieldtrip Tina Gordon walked us through the Planning Matanzas program and led a SLR adaptation role-playing game developed by the University of Florida during the public workshop portion of the Planning Matanzas program to look at cost, affordances, and constraints of many of the tools available to local commissions and boards. Sea Level Rise adaptation plans could include actions such as temporary beach renourishment, living shorelines, hardscaping with seawall construction, elevating structures, habitat migration corridors, ecosystem conservation, and planned relocation. Workshop participants are assigned roles ranging from local resident to government official, ecotourism business owner, inland developer and environmental scientist, each with a varying degree of funding and SLR adaptation strategy.

Deliberation is the goal of all our education efforts. If people can discuss, argue, disagree, cite different examples, and make their case for their strategy, then our job is done. I don’t know how to solve SLR, and I’m sure each community in the regions I serve will take a slightly different approach across the adaptation continuum, but it’s important to know what the options are and be aware of their short and long term effects.

In the afternoon we took the workshop on the road. First stop, we tried to relocate a sensitive coastal archaeological site.

See it?

Of course you don’t! Most sites are in great need of being recorded or updated on the Florida Master Site File. This site happened to be under tens of feet of sand covering it up and is only in view during a low tide after a storm surge. Being aware of sites to monitor long term impacts is essential. Relocating to verify the location is just as important. The accuracy of reporting tools has increased dramatically in the decades since many sites were initially discovered. In terms of planning, the best plan in the world won’t help a site or resource if it’s not mapped accurately and verified.

Our second site visit was to Washington Oaks State Park. We toured the site to see changes since the initial 1980s reporting by Bruce Piatek. There are standing structures that will be impacted by SLR, a prehistoric site—noted in the 80s to be in danger due to rising elevations and wake from boater—that continues to erode out from the side of the seawall constructed to protect it, and the gardens themselves which will change as sea level and salinity increase over time.

What’s next? I’ve never faced an archaeological issue that has generated this much written material over such a short amount of time. There is a lot of information, best practices, and guidelines being issued every day that we keep adding to a shared DropBox folder to stay current. It takes a lot of reading to be aware of all the recently available resources. So first, to the books! If you’d like to help FPAN with this part of SLR awareness, we need help with an existing list of SLR related resources to get an annotated bibliography we can post and update as more resources become available. Contact me if you are interested in reading articles and writing a short paragraph to help us navigate through all the literature.

We also hope to offer more SLR workshops across the region and the state over the next year. FPAN staff from across the state attended this workshop with hopes of bringing back resources and adapting the agenda for their region’s needs. If you are interested in a SLR workshop in your area, check the website to find your local FPAN office and contact page with emails to request a workshop. We’re also looking for sites in the Northeast and East Central regions where we can conduct the morning information session, free and open to the public. If you have ideas, let us know by emailing us or leave a comment in the section below.

Look for updates on our website and join the EnvArch group on Facebook to learn more.

Text: Sarah Miller, FPAN staff

Images: Sarah Miller, FPAN staff and Storm Surge Cemetery graphic used with permission by Ed Gonzalez-Tennant.

Thanks to Tina Gordon (GTM-NERR), Adrienne Burke (City of Fernandina Beach), FPAN staff Kevin Gidusko and Emily Jane Murray for presenting; Associate Director Della Scott-Ireton, Northwest/North Central Director Barbara Clark, and Public Archaeology Coordinator Nicole Grinan for attending; Florida State Parks for allowing our education workshop to visit Washington Oaks; professional archaeologists and preservationists across Florida and the US for contributing to our resource folder of articles, guidelines, and resources for public understanding of climate change and impacts to cultural resources.

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