CORRECTON: This story has been updated to reflect multiple misspelled names.
Monitoring, measuring, and movement is the 3M approach Savannah State University's marine biology department is using to address climate change.
The staff and faculty of the department are vigilant in monitoring the Atlantic Ocean’s slow advance toward the coast. One of the many things noticed in their research is a warming trend in the water temperature affecting the stability of local and animal plant life. This unstable warming is the primary cause of bigger, stronger weather events.
Tara Cox, professor of marine science, says cedar trees and plant life such as spartina and marsh elder provide shelter for- and act as a part of the food chain for- plankton, oysters, snails and crabs. These food sources cannot thrive in salt water; therefore, their movement inland is necessary for their and their beneficiaries’ survival.
The needed movement inland is a slow process, as plants, unlike humans and animals, cannot uproot and leave their environment. Seeds must move inward through the through germination which can take a long time. As part of the ocean’s slow movement inward, shellfish, oysters, crabs, and more will be put in danger, Cox says.
Traditional local industries that will impact tourism and Savannah’s food industries such as crabbing and oyster harvesting will be disrupted. As the water level rises, salinity rises, altering the lifestyles and livelihoods of Lowcountry locals.
Chris Hintz, also a marine biology professor on campus, said the tide changes also affect the local population's lifestyles. During high tide, portions of Highway 80 leading to Tybee Island occasionally flood causing a roadway closing, he said. Besides the stress flooding puts on plant life, Hintz pointed out that heavy rainfalls will generate an immense fallout for food production. Increases in colder winters and warmer summers will increase cost and energy consumption while the health changes brought on by climate change will appear in the form of stress-related symptoms such as high blood pressure and other such diseases.
If the sea level continues to rise, the Earth will warm and with it the likelihood of famine will occur. Retreat of all life that is not salt-tolerant would be inevitable. With elevated levels of saline in fresh water, a decrease in wooded areas would spark wind erosion.
Dione Hoskins Brown, an alum of SSU and professor of marine biology, says the decision to move or stay is a pressing issue that the community at-large and the Gullah Geechee community will need to address. Individuals may be forced to recede inland or should they stay, they would need to elevate their existing homes, therefore changing their lifestyle and cultural patterns.
Prior to or in conjunction with possible human migration will be the occurrence in the shifts of species. Birds, lion fish, green porcelain crabs, oysters, and other animal species will need to move in order to remain competitive and survive.
Professor Ann Robinson sees awareness of the science behind climate change as crucial. As a part of SSU’s department of Marine Biology, conducts outreaches to students in grades K-12 to educate them on humanity’s impact on the environment and climate change. Her approach through education is a measure of hope for the future.
Human habits of waste are concerning as land and manufactured products are often major factors in Earth’s slow decline and destruction. Earth is a closed, contained system which unlike biological entities can eliminate waste immediately.
“Use only what is needed,” says Robison.
Waste reduction of materials through recycling and reuse of certain materials like plastic would result in cost reduction, reduce energy consumption, and would slow the filling of landfills.
Veinalesha Walker, a student at Savannah State, says she predicts an indirect effect of climate change.
“The main thing that it would affect is our water, and that is one of the most important things on earth. The water source could become sparse or it could become too much, causing floods and other natural disasters,” said Walker.
Andre Colbert, another student at Savannah State, said, “Extreme climates such as droughts, high intensity storms, and famine could happen worldwide. Climate change can also affect the foods we eat. Without the right climate, certain foods won’t grow, slowing down the food chain. Rising ocean levels and bad air pollution is also a direct effect.”