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House Select Committee On Climate Crisis Issues Testimony From University Florida Professor – InsuranceNewsNet
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House Select Committee On Climate Crisis Issues Testimony From University Florida Professor – InsuranceNewsNet

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WASHINGTON, April 15The House Select Committee for the Climate CrisisThe following testimony was given by Sherry L.Professor of food and resource economics at The University of Florida, which includes a hybrid hearing April 1, 2022“America’s Natural Solutions: Climate Benefits of Investing In Healthy Ecosystems”

Larkin also directs the Florida Sea Grant College Program.

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Thank you for inviting my testimony today. I appreciate your willingness to listen to and learn about new solutions to climate change. Solutions that improve coastal habitats, strengthen communities’ resilience to adverse environmental conditions, and increase America’s Blue Economy. My name’s Sherry LarkinI am a professor at the Food and Resource Economics DepartmentThe University of Floridaas the Director of Florida Sea Grant College Program. In my testimony, I will discuss several ongoing projects and conclude by identifying the suite of skills and tools that can help ensure natural solutions are efficient in helping to mitigate the adverse economic and environmental effects resulting from climate change.

Let me start by giving some context. As an economist who specializes in measuring the value of natural resources, it is exciting to see the growing scientific literature on the economic value of our nation’s natural capital. There is also a genuine interest among resource managers and policymakers to ensure that those values are sustained and grow with targeted investments. Our nation is greatly benefited by our natural environment. This includes our watersheds which start high in the mountains and extend to the plains. Exclusive Economic Zone 200Many miles away. These environments have worked tirelessly to remove excess nutrients from land-based activities and carbon from the atmosphere. However, we are outgrowing their ability to clean up after ourselves. We now have more scientific evidence to show how much our natural environment has helped to adapt to climate change. It’s time for us as scientists to join that environment in order to improve the resilience and sustainability of our coastal areas.

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I am currently the Director for the Florida Sea Grant College Program. This program is one 34-university-based programs. Our network finds solutions for the issues that affect the nation’s coastal communities all over the country. AtlanticPacific (includes the Great Lakes Gulf of Mexico), yielding quantifiable economic, social, and environmental benefits. Our funding is authorized by the 1966 National Sea Grant College Program Act. It allows us to fund research, education, advisory services, and other activities in any field that relates to the conservation and development of marine resources. Sea Grant is a unique program in the United States. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration(NOAA) Department of Commerce. We are charged with funding science but also ensuring that these findings are communicated and used by resource managers as well as coastal communities. We operate across multiple line offices. NOAAto support our broad mission. Sea Grant, a joint federal, state and county investment, awards over 90% of appropriated funds competitively to coastal states through issues identified by local science communicators, extension specialists, and science communicators. Sea Grant is described in the FY2023 Programmatic Request (). planned efforts to expand and upscale efforts in coastal resilience that we are currently discussing). Every dollar of federal funding for Sea Grant must be matched. $0.50Non-federal investments are a model that encourages cost-effective and collaborative efforts. As a network we have documented investments that exceeded six times the required match.

The Sea Grant program generated an estimated $1.5 billion in 2020. $520 MillionIn economic benefits, created or assisted 11,044 jobs, created, or sustained 1,332 business, helped 285 communities improve resilience, helped restore or preserve an estimated 4.2 Million acres of habitat, and supported education and training for 2,027 undergraduates and graduate students (NSGO Fall 2021). Sea Grant programs have a 50 year track record and are trusted sources for scientific information. This constant presence and support, often in conjunction, with our Land Grant partner institutions provides an invaluable link between terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems that helps us to be especially effective.

Today, I am grateful to have the opportunity speak on the climate benefits associated with investing in healthy ecosystems. My focus is on marine and coastal ecosystems. While many are familiar with the ecosystem services provided by agricultural lands or forests, the physical processes occurring in the oceans are less well understood. Yet, they are undoubtedly our greatest asset in fighting climate change. Mangroves, tidal lakes, and seagrasses1 are important coastal marine ecosystems that sequester and store large amounts of carbon in both plants and soil. Seagrass meadows contain almost all of the carbon found in soils. This is why seagrasses are under increasing threat. FloridaIt is not just for manatees.

According to The Blue Carbon Initiative (http://thebluecarboninitiative.org83% of the world’s carbon cycle is in the ocean. The coastal habitats account roughly half of the total carbon deposited and stored in ocean sediments. This means that coastal habitats can be invested in, even though they currently account for less than 2 percent of the ocean’s total area. This is the ideal situation, as we need to only invest in more habitat, rely on photosynthesis, and have the potential to support sustainable industries. Sea Grant has designated “Healthy Coastal Ecosystems”, one of the four National Focus Areas, and has invested in habitat restoration, as previously mentioned. FloridaThis is not an exception. We have planted and replanted seagrasses and mangroves as well as shoreline sea oats. Genetic studies have been conducted to improve the effectiveness of plant varieties. Plant breeding is more than just for food and fiber crops. However, we have learned that not all marine vegetation is a net sink of carbon dioxide. Additionally, if these areas become disturbed, such as by boat motors scarring or excessive trimming by oceanfront owners, the carbon they have stored will be released to the atmosphere. This carbon contributes to greenhouse gases that are responsible global warming, rising waters, and ocean acidification.

This example shows us that we also need research into plant biology and breeding in order to maximize the carbon uptake. Public education programs are also necessary, like the “Seagrass Safe Boating”, where recreational boaters sign a pledge. and “Mangrove Trimming Best Management Practices” videos that explain how and why ( ). We are not only trying to educate the public but also provide the education necessary for them to act and change their behaviours. This education can be extended to other efforts to preserve the integrity and health of natural systems such as the removal of invasive species (e.g. beach vitex is a beautiful ornamental, but it kills native seaoats and doesn’t have the root structure required to stabilize shoreline dunes. ). Some communities have seen the need to enforce local ordinances, which can lead to fines. Sound policy and regulation could also be a way to maximize atmospheric carbon removal.

There is more good news. Our oceans are responsible for carbon sequestration through photosynthesis. They also help us remove carbon dioxide gas from the atmosphere by calcification. This is when carbon is absorbed into the ocean and the shellfish secretes calciumcarbonate to make its shell. means that a portion of shells contains carbon). The calcification process converts carbon dioxide permanently into an insoluble mineral. The calcium carbonate, especially from shellfish, can be stored indefinitely as limestone. This is a promising sign: molluscan oyster aquaculture produces two products – food for humans and long-term greenhouse gas storage. The carbon in most plant and animal tissues, however, returns to carbon dioxide within a few years. Shellfish aquaculture does more than produce the shell-bearing species (such as oysters, clams, and clams) but also other hard materials that are associated with external growth. These hard materials are often called “biofouling” and are costly to remove but can be beneficial to society because of their carbon capture properties. The industry byproducts of shellfish aquaculture are valuable in construction and can even be used to make decorative tiles. South America. But just because there are some carbon sink properties and other benefits for society, doesn’t mean we should go ahead. A recent study’s lead author concluded that oyster farming is a good way to create income and jobs. It can be done anywhere oyster reef development is possible. Near shore is the best option if you want to sequester CO2. (Fodrie et al. 2017). Location is everything.

Sea Grant, especially in FloridaSince its inception,, has provided outreach support to people who want to grow shellfish. However, this support is viewed from the perspective that it will help to sustain a financially viable and profitable industry. This support includes habitats and assistance with licensing and permitting. It may also include the protection of juvenile shellfish from predators. Now, we are seeing the potential to manage growing operations with environmental benefits. Although farming in the ocean doesn’t require irrigation or food, it does require planning, permits, and education that isn’t readily available or passed on between generations. And for new shellfish products and crops ( Grant also introduced consumers and chefs to the new supplies. Marketing can also be a tool for encouraging growth in carbon sequestering shellfish production.

While I have primarily focused on the carbon sequestration potential of shellfish aquaculture, I would be remiss not to share that these systems also offer great potential for removing excess nutrients like nitrogen and there is tremendous potential for fostering a nutrient credit program. Florida Sea Grant recently used COVID-19 relief funds to purchase market-sized shellfish clams that had been sized for their nutrient management functions. Then, they monitored those functions in a research experiment. ). Although this practice of having multiple markets for hardclams seems like the best solution to the problem, current regulations prohibit it. This is a long way from saying that permitting and regulatory reforms could be a wise investment as efforts such as the new “All Clams on Deck”. develop. These programs could be developed in a similar way to the ones proposed by USDAPartnerships for land-based farming, Climate-Smart Commodities ( or those of Solutions for the Land (, also known as a “renaissance in production” with a focus upon innovation, entrepreneurship and advanced environmental sustainability goals.

You might ask, what about other invertebrates, such as corals and sponges? Florida Sea Grant is actually investing in all three, with a focus towards restoration (e.g. It would seem obvious at first that corals could also be “sinks”, or net carbon consumers. However, corals may also be net carbon sinks like seagrasses and shellfish that have been misplaced. This is why we are moving toward the creation, training and practice of LSLs or Living Shorelines. “Living shoreline” ( broad term that describes a variety of nature-based strategies to stabilize a shoreline is (). Living shorelines can be used in place of bulkheads or seawalls to reduce erosion and protect property in the right environments. Living shoreline projects are made mostly of natural materials, such native vegetation, natural fiber logs or oyster reef breakswaters. They preserve natural shoreline features and make use of carbon sequestration properties of shellfish and plants. In FloridaThese configurations rely heavily on salt marshes and mangroves as well as oysters ( According to NOAAA living shoreline is:

“A shoreline management strategy that provides erosion control; protects and restores natural shoreline habitats; and maintains coastal processes by the strategic placements of plants, stone and sand fill and other structural organic materials (e.g. biologs, oyster reefs, etc.).” ( As you have likely surmised, every LSL should be the result of thoughtful, careful consideration of each project site and strategic placement of natural components along the shoreline profile. The result is that coastal property owners have many options for solving erosion problems. It’s not just about seawalls. Every site requires a “green to gray” assessment to determine the best vegetation, sills and breakwater structures. Many of those terms may sound unfamiliar to you. Sea Grant has worked to promote the use of this technique (and seawall reconstruction) by educating homeowners3 in addition to developing a workforce training module called the Marine Contractors training (). to foster development of a new industry and upscale efforts to combat atmospheric carbon.

This homeowner education program was recently recognized by the National Housing Council. Association of Natural Resource Extension Professionals(ANREP), and received the Gold Award for Outstanding Educational Materials in the Comprehensive Program Curriculum category for the FMNP Marine. Special Topics Course on Habitat Restoration. The program includes detailed information about ecology, benefits and restoration methods as well as monitoring of marine habitats. Florida. Six faculty developed the course curriculum. It focused on restoration of coral reefs and sponges, as well as marine enhancement using artificial reefs. The Silver Award was also given to the companion video series, which consists of four videos that are between 10 and 26 minutes in length.

The ultimate goal of shoreline restoration is easy to forget about the importance of the materials and methods. Sea Grant is committed in helping to clean up nearshore and offshore marine systems, including from plastics. We have a long-standing microplastics awareness program ( programs not only aim to reduce plastics in the environment, but also bring the goal of reducing them into their own programs. PROS is one example. Partnership for Plastic-Free Restoration of Oyster Shorelines (,free%20material%20called%20reef%20prisms.). This partnership was created from a faculty research project. The project sought to improve on the most common LSL configuration. Shell bags are oyster shells enclosed in nylon mesh bags. Due to the possibility of microplastics being released into the marine environment, researchers sought to develop a plastic-free and additive free locally manufactured product. Reef Prisms were born. Reef prisms and other shapes are made of a combination from jute fiber erosion control mats and a rapid-setting, low-shrink grout from your local big box store.

I hope you’re beginning to see the benefits of LSLs both for the environment and the coastal property owners as well as the coastal economies. Investments in habitat restoration can improve the health of coastal ecosystems, reduce erosion and mitigate the economic effects of sea level rise. They also have a lower cost. We need to reach out to local communities and planners to find out more about the potential of these projects. Sea Grant has done a lot to engage the public and local planners through its boots-onthe-ground outreach. We have a Climate Smart Floridians Program ( to provide citizens research-based information about climate change and engage them as volunteers to help reduce household expenses and personal greenhouse gas emissions; topics include landscaping, water resources, transportation, home energy, food and waste and highlights the impacts of individual choices on climate change. One of our agents works closely alongside the Tampa Bay Regional Planning CouncilA member of the Technical Advisory CommitteeThose efforts led to the development of a shoreline suitability map for the location of LSLs. Projects that aim to create flood-resistant upgrades to natural buffers around transportation corridors close to the communities have also been developed by working directly with communities. Space Coast. These projects have the potential to change the appearance of an area. They also require local support from residents and policy makers willing and able to invest in new designs.

This is a great example of a win-win-win situation for the environment (and all its natural dependents), the people who live near the coasts, and the nation’s economy as costs (and lives!) are saved. In order to generate social benefits, many pieces must be in place. I will briefly summarize the steps required to ensure that nature-based solutions can be implemented and are effective. In short, I remain optimistic.

A toolkit for effective natural solutions would include components that include habitat restoration and living shorelines.

* Site specific research on the physical and biological sciences behind carbon capture, storage, and release – for living shorelines and its component species such as seagrasses and shellfish to inform the development of interventions that includes:

* quantifying the net carbon effects,

* estimating the feasibility and economic values of alternative solutions, and

* investigating the promotional, regulatory, or policy mechanism to support projects.

* Education to students to encourage careers in natural coastal solutions to climate change and homeowners, policy makers, and relevant industry sectors (e.g., realtors) with the goal of behavioral change.

* Training and workforce development to upscale our capacity to support community engagement, commercial industries (such as through marine contractors), experts at mangrove trimming, and consultants that specialize in providing material for habitat restoration designs (including mapping technologies) and local ordinances.

I am grateful for the opportunity to share the achievements, priorities, and ongoing activities from our Sea Grant program. You can find additional information on many projects I mentioned through links in my written testimony. However, if you have further questions or need more information, please don’t hesitate to contact me. A final caveat: As a program that is charged (and embraces!) developing partnerships to leverage resources to maximize resources, I speak for not only Florida Sea Grant or the network of Sea Grant programmes nationwide, but also for all our partners in these efforts, since we can’t do it alone. I also want to thank all our unrecognized collaborators.

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1 Seagrasses do not grow as grasses. They are flowering plants that are more like land-growing lilies and ginger. Their leaves are thin, but strong and flexible. This allows them to withstand constant movement from currents and waves. The same movement also disperses seeds and pollen (just like land-based plants that use bees or wind for pollination). Seagrasses are able to grow on sandy, soft seafloors thanks to a network of roots and specialized branching branches that act as anchors and stabilize sediment.

2 Science is clear about the importance of coral reef preservation and restoration, besides carbon sequestration, These benefits include reducing coastal flooding, infrastructure damage, and loss of life. There are also many promising innovations that could be applied to other invertebrates.

3 The FMNP includes three courses with 24 contact hours each, each developed by Florida Sea Grant Extension agents to increase restoration education ( Coastal Shoreline Restoration and (2) Marine Habitat Restoration.

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* Fodrie, J. F., A. B. A. B. Rodriguez, R. K. Gittman, J. H. Grabowski, N. L. Lindquist, C. H. Peterson, M. F. Piehler J. T. Ridge, 2017. “Oyster Reefs as carbon sources or sinks.” Proceedings of the Royal Society B. Available at:

* Kault, J. F. Jacob, and O. Detourney. 2022. “Carbon Balance for Corals.” Coral Garden, Downloaded March 29, 2022.

* National Sea Grant Office. Fall 2021 Sea Grant Smart Investment in our Coastal Economy. Fact Sheet. U.S. Department of Commerce. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association. Silver Spring. MD. Available at:

* Moore, D. 2020. “Shellfish motivation: The climate crisis could be solved by seas and not trees.” The Fish Site. Downloaded on February 28, 21.

* The Fish Site. 2004. “Carbon Sequestration Potentiation Potential of Shellfish” Available at Downloaded 228/21

* Sea Grant. 2021. “Living Shorelines in the Gulf Coast States: Florida Resource Catalog”. Updated on 10/20/2021. Available at


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