Global and regional change events, both natural and human induced, have the potential for significant impacts
to the ecologic integrity of RBNERR. Analysis of climate data worldwide and trends in global temperatures
indicate that accelerated changes in climate are occurring. The most significant impact on RBNERR associated
with climate change will be sea level rise.
As sea level rise continues, RBNERR can anticipate significant and potentially catastrophic changes to the
natural habitats and wildlife within the region. Priority concerns include protected species that depend upon
beach habitats for nesting (e.g. sea turtles) and resting, foraging and nesting (e.g. shorebirds). Also of concern is the anticipated loss of emergent
wetlands as the migration of marine wetlands continues to track rising sea levels, until reaching a static urban
boundary. The long-term impacts of sea level rise will likely be the single most significant threat to the
ecological integrity of RBNERR due to the potential for catastrophic and irreversible change.
Barrier islands are particularly vulnerable to
sea level rise.
In addition to long-term sea level rise, short-term catastrophic events such as periodic hurricanes, cold events
and HABs, including red tide events, could impact natural resources within RBNERR. Barrier islands such as
Keewaydin, Little Marco and Cannon Islands provide evidence of significant changes in geomorphology from 1928 to
today. These changes are primarily a result of storm events and the cumulative effects of longshore currents.
Not only do catastrophic events impact coastal systems, but red tides and other harmful algal blooms can have a
significant effect on wildlife. In 1996, a severe red tide event resulted in the mass mortality of over 150 West
Indian manatees, an endangered species. The severe cold event observed in January 2010, when temperatures in
Rookery Bay and the Ten Thousand Islands dropped to 47 degrees while similar conditions were observed in other
Florida coastal areas, resulted in 197 confirmed manatee deaths across the State and mass mortality of cold
susceptible fishes observed within RBNERR.