In many sea level projections for the coming century, the Keys, Miami and much of southern Florida partially sink beneath potential waves. However, officials are quick to note that the Keys' beloved resorts and marinas and airport — with a runway averaging just over 2 feet above sea level — aren't disappearing underwater overnight.
The Keys and three South Florida counties agreed in 2010 to collaborate on a regional plan to adapt to climate change. The first action plan developed under that agreement was published in October and calls for revamped planning policies, more public transportation options, stopping seawater from flowing into freshwater supplies and managing the region's unique ecosystems so that they can adapt, too.
Before writing the plan, the counties reviewed regional sea level data and projected a rise of 9 to 24 inches in the next 50 years.
"The rate's doubled. It would be disingenuous and sloppy and irresponsible not to respond to it," Monroe County Administrator Roman Gastesi, who oversees the Keys.
In addition to the regional plan, Monroe County aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 20 percent below 2005 levels by 2020 and to incorporate future sea level rise projections into infrastructure planning.
"We clearly have the most to lose. If sea-level rise is not curtailed by immediate reductions in greenhouse gases, the Florida Keys may eventually become unlivable," according to a March draft of the county's plans. "Planning decisions should take into consideration medium to extreme sea level rise predictions."
Sea level rise will be considered as projects come up, Gastesi said. Once the Stock Island fire station is completed, next in line for possible elevation or additional drainage are a nearby park, then roads and bridges.
In Key West, city officials are exploring the use of cisterns to catch rainwater for non-potable uses, to avoid taxing mainland freshwater resources.