Climate change and sea-level rise threaten Miami. Education is critical. (includes video story)

Climate change poses many threats to the South Florida ecosystem, but many people fail to realize the potential effects on their daily lives. 

Attracted by the sunny weather, beautiful views and bustling nightlife, people continue to move to Miami from all over the world. According to a analysis, migration to the city has tripled in the past year, even though sea-level rise threatens the area. 

The Union of Concerned Scientists, an environmental watchdog group, contends that within 30 years, 300,000 homes will be at risk of chronic tidal flooding.

“The general public… they don’t know the threats that they face due to sea-level rise,” Jayantha Obeysekera, a research professor and director of the sea level solution center at Florida International University. “It could come from underground. It could come from on top as a storm surge.”

Today, Miami Beach residents deal with flooding on a regular basis. Sometimes, flooding occurs after rain and other times on sunny days. Obeysekera said that before the city started taking action, Miami Beach residents would see flooding twice a day during king tides. 

Miami Beach resident Genny Castellanos says many people moving to the area don’t realize the severity of the issue. “The residents that live here in Sunset Harbor and Belle Isle are aware of the flooding. They may not know it’s because of climate changes. They may just think, ‘Well, it rained a lot today. That’s why there’s a lot of water.’” 

Both Obeysekera and Castellanos emphasized the importance of educating citizens. 

“I think [Miami Beach] can implement more changes like advertisements in bus stations and bus stops, possibly put bulletins in the local buildings,” said Castellanos. 

In March, Miami-Dade County released a strategy to combat sea-level rise. And Miami Beach has elevated some streets as much as two feet. The city has also installed pumps all over the city.

Still, experts feel that the strategy severely downplayed the severity of the issue. Rob Moore, a senior policy analyst with the Natural Resources Defense Council, described the strategy as “just enough to reassure developers that Miami’s safe enough to build in, in the near term.” 

The problem of sea-level rise in Miami Beach will continue. Seas are projected to rise in Miami-Dade County by more than 15 inches in the next 30 years.  

“It’s a very high-value property in Miami Beach,” says Obeysekera. “So people will be reluctant to say, ‘Okay, I will leave this place.’ There’s flooding. They will invest sufficient funding to protect themselves, but then the question is at what point can they not protect themselves anymore and what do you do after that?”  

The answer is unclear. For now, we can focus on slowing it down by lowering greenhouse gas emissions. A serious push will have to be made very soon to educate South Floridians of the inevitable impacts sea-level rise will have on our lives, homes, businesses and families.

Sophia Lama is a senior at Florida International University majoring in broadcast journalism. She was ABC 7 Chicago’s first-ever race and culture reporting intern. Currently, Sophia is a part of the NBCU Diversity, Equity & Inclusion fellowship in Washington, DC and is interning for ESPN.