Sea Level Rise, Wetlands, Adaptation

Sea levels are rising in Virginia at the highest rate on the Atlantic Coast.  Warmer waters expand, warmer air melts glaciers, and our land is sinking – a combination that has produced 1.5 feet of sea level rise over the last century and is expected to produce 3-5 feet over the next.

Wetlands, mudflats, underwater grasses, shoreline buffers are all at risk from this inundation.  Shoreline development taking place now will block the migration option in coming decades, dooming our tidal shoreline habitat to drowning in place.

In 2007, Wetlands Watch estimated that our current rates of sea level rise would result in the loss of 50 – 80% of Virginia’s tidal wetlands.  We then set out to do something about this.

In 2008, Wetlands Watch’s executive director was appointed to the Virginia Commission on Climate Change.  In this work, we were able to develop a road map for Virginia to use in adapting to sea level rise. 

We also began work with local governments throughout Virginia, using land use planning and other tools.  We wanted to keep shorelines open and undeveloped in advance of inundation.  We developed a “toolkit” of approaches that can be used in Virginia today to address sea level rise and increasing storm surge inundation.

Today we are engaged in a statewide campaign to raise awareness and action on sea level rise, inundation threats, and the future of Virginia’s coastal communities.  We have worked from Lewisetta, around the Bay and ocean front to Chincoteague and over to Tangier.  Without state support for sea level rise adaptation efforts, we have served as a virtual state agency, connecting localities and planning districts, hosting the climate change website after the state took it down, providing public outreach and education, and in many other ways.

 Everyone in Virginia needs to better understand sea level rise and its impacts.  We need to begin today to adapt to this reality – in our lives and in our communities.


If you live in a tidal community, ask your local planning department what they are doing to deal with sea level rise in

  • Comprehensive, long-range land use plans
  • Plans to site parks, schools, fire and police stations so that they stay dry during storms – today’s storms and those to come
  • Flood and storm planning required by the federal government

Find your city or county’s floodplain plan (every locality has to have one in order to get federal flood insurance) and read it.  Does it include sea level rise?  It should.  More and more cities and counties in tidal Virginia are dealing with these issues.

Observe and record evidence of increased flooding – streets that used to be dry that are now wet with every full moon, buildings that flood regularly now, etc.  Let us know about these problems – we are documenting the issue to get the federal government to help.

Learn more about the issue to stay informed - see "Sea Level Rise Adaptation"

Contact us for more information