Nature-Based Solutions for the Conservancy of Southwest Florida
By Cheryl J. Hapke, Ph.D., Senior Consultant
With coastal regions increasingly vulnerable to the impacts of stormsurge and sea level rise, federal agenciesfrequently propose large coastal storm impact prevention projects. In southwest Florida, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) proposed constructing a series of hard features, including storm surge barriers at several barrier island inlets and a massive storm surge wall at the head of Naples Bay, to protect the area from coastal flooding. This effort was tabled for several years until Hurricane Ian severely impacted southwest Florida, especially Collier and Lee Counties. In Ian’s aftermath, USACE decided to revisit its initial Coastal Storm Risk Management proposal for Collier County, but not without opposition. The Conservancy of Southwest Florida, whose mission is to protect southwest Florida’s unique natural environment and quality of life, was concerned about the environmentaland aesthetic impacts of the features in theproposed project, and our team was called in to help.
Working with a team of scientists in close contact with the client, our team developed a series of nature-based alternatives to the proposed hard features in the USACE proposal.These strategies weredeveloped as a comprehensive system overview of the Naples Bay region,designed to work with and enhance one anotherwhilealso benefiting the ecosystem.We created artistic renderings of the alternative designs that clearly communicated the function and appearance of the portfolio of options for the Conservancy to use for internal discussion as well asforexternal communication at community meetings.
Organizations that advocate for the protection of coastal ecosystems, like the Conservancy of Southwest Florida, now have powerful communication tools to use whenexplainingthe benefits of nature-based adaptation solutions as compared to gray, or hard, approaches.They can demonstrate the benefits of nature-based features not only forthe natural system, but also forcommunity members. Rather than build hard infrastructure to attempt to stop natural coastal processes, our designs work with nature by restoring or enhancingecosystems that are vital to the system.