by Dana Habeeb
Sea level rise driven by climate change is one of the biggest challenges facing coastal communities.
With over half of the world’s population living less than 100 miles from the ocean and with coastal cities having a population density that is three times higher than the global city average, sea level rise poses a substantial threat to human civilization.
To this end, I led a graduate level studio, funded by the Georgia Conservancy, where we examined the effects of sea level rise on the Georgia coast and explored potential responses for vulnerable coastal communities such as the Gullah Geechee. Our adaptation responses ranged from full protection to full retreat. We estimated that approximately one-third of the land in the region will be inundated by sea level rise by the year 2100. Buildings valued at nearly three billion dollars would be lost, and a majority of these losses would be residential structures. Sapelo Island, home to one of the longest lasting communities of the Gullah Geechee, an African-American ethnic group with strong cultural ties to West Africa, will be severely affected. Sea level rise will inundate the homes of 95% of the population of Hog Hammock on Sapelo Island forcing the community to flee the island. Their relocation will disrupt the organization and social cohesiveness of this important cultural group. As such, we worked with community stakeholders to derive educational plans on the dangers of sea level rise and helped to identify an inland cultural hub, the Geechee Kunda in Riceboro, Georgia, to serve as a prime location for future educational efforts. The findings and recommendations of our analysis have been used to inform the development of adaptation plans as well as to educate community stakeholders and planners on the potential risks of sea level rise on coastal communities.