climate change

adopting climate resilient strategies for a sustainable future

photo by: Mark Gardner

Climate change, an indisputable, human-induced phenomenon, is altering the environment at unprecedented levels. Without dramatic changes to our government policies and lifestyles, the world’s environment, economy, and people will face ever-increasing challenges. The effects are already being felt around the world and on the islands.

The Salish Sea’s acidity is increasing, storm events and droughts are becoming more severe and frequent, and island wells are going dry before the summer months are over. As climate change continues to affect the region, adopting climate resilient strategies for a sustainable future is critical.

sea level rise

Sea level rise is a pressing island issue. It is caused by the rapid melting of glaciers and ice sheets and thermal expansions of oceans. Sea level rise will increase flooding, shoreline erosion, seawater intrusion into groundwater, and the loss of up to one quarter of the world’s wetlands this century*.

In the Pacific Northwest, we are likely to see dramatic shifts to our shoreline ecology by 2100**, including:

  • 65% loss of estuarine beaches,
  • around 44% disappearance of tidal flats,
  • 13% loss of inland fresh marshes,
  • 25% loss of tidal fresh marshes,
  • 61% loss of tidal swamps,
  • 11% inland swamp inundation by saltwater, and
  • 52% conversion of brackish marshes to tidal flats, transitional marshes, and saltmarshes.

This level of habitat loss will have alarming impacts on the region’s fish and wildlife, including loss of spawning beaches for forage fish and reduction of stopovers in tidal flats for migratory birds.

Friends actively studies climate change impacts, modelling how sea level rise will change the county’s shorelines, and identifying the areas that will be most affected.

ocean acification in the Salish Sea

Fossil fuel use has led to massive amounts of CO2 being absorbed into our oceans. This CO2 absorption alters the delicate ocean chemistry and makes the sea potentially uninhabitable for many marine species, particularly those on the bottom of the food chain.

Ocean acidification has only recently been studied, so the long-term implications are still uncertain. However, we do know that due to humans’ relationship to fossil fuels, marine species must adapt quickly to their habitat’s changing chemistry (more quickly than many are able), or they will perish. For example, due to ocean acidification the Pacific Oyster has not reproduced in the wild since 2004, and mussels are dying and being replaced by algae.

The following marine species in the Salish Sea are threatened by ocean acidification:

  • oysters, clams, crabs and scallops;
  • plankton such as pteropods (tiny snails) and coccolithophores (a type of algae);
  • fish and mammals that rely on these plankton (salmon, mackerel, herring, cod, humpback and grey whales);
  • rockfish and some other bottom-feeding fish; and
  • eggs and larvae of many other species.

renewable energy

Fossil fuels are part of our everyday lives. Coal, oil, natural gas… they transport us, heat our homes, and make life easier. However, science shows that dirty energy harms our health and environment. Without investing in a renewable energy future, the next generations face a very uncertain future.

Innovations in renewable energy happen every day, providing people the opportunity to make choices to reduce their carbon footprint. Solar panel roofs, wind turbines, and electric cars and bikes are more accessible than ever, and are fantastic options to invest in a fossil fuel free future.

Friends  works with the San Juan Islands Conservation District, Islands Energy and OPALCO on the Cool School Challenge (CSC), a program which engages students in reducing energy and carbon dioxide emissions school-wide. Friends also partners with other organizations on presentations about how to implement renewable energy and other sustainable solutions in our community.

related news

Each year I make a generous gift to the Friends of the San Juans because it’s the one organization where I can actually follow the money from my checkbook to observable measurable outcomes. Will you join me in making a gift to support one of the most beautiful, precious, fragile monuments to nature on earth?

George Lawson

members, Lopez Island