Climate Change and the Florida Keys

Created: 12/14/2010 - Updated: 7/30/2021


This project - Climate Change and The Florida Keys - was modeled after a similar one conducted in the Great Barrier Reef, Australia. It identifies community perceptions on how to address mitigation and adaptation, and analyzes the likely socioeconomic and biophysical impacts of climate change on the region.


The U.S. Coral Reef Task Force recommended this study in the Florida Keys after the completion of a similar project in the Great Barrier Reef in Australia in 2004 by Ove and Hans Hoegh-Guldberg - The Implications of Climate Change for Australia's Great Barrier Reef. In 2005, NOAA's Coral Reef Conservation Program (CRCP) funded a scoping study to determine the feasibility of such a project. It was included in the Socioeconomic Research and Monitoring Program for the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. At the local level, the project became a companion to the 12-year update of NOAA’s economic study on the recreation and tourism value of the Florida Keys. To achieve this, however, it proved necessary to analyze the global background in more detail than originally intended, because the project coincided in time with a growing scientific consensus that global climate change was becoming a more urgent issue to address.


The project has four main components:

  1. Use scenario planning for climate change impacts from global to local levels;
  2. Estimate the value of economic activity in the Florida Keys;
  3. Analyze adaptive management options for the Florida Keys along with coral reef managers and local stakeholders; and
  4. Recommend climate change policies.

The project updated the four main global scenarios of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change to assess the projected climate change impacts to the Florida Keys, concluding that only a concerted change towards environmentally sustainable global policies and continued efforts to increase the resilience of the reef and other natural resources can save the socioeconomic viability of the Florida Keys.

The Florida Keys economy depends on tourism to an unusual extent. The 12-year replication study shows that the pattern has changed toward the historic center of Key West away from marine and other nature-based activities. The main perceived threats include sea level rise, rising temperature,, ocean acidification, and increased extreme weather events. The main perceived strength is the integrated management approach of the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, working with other local and regional authorities with strong support from the local community.

Outcomes and Conclusions

The Florida Keys are among the most vulnerable places in the United States to climate change. This project included the following policy recommendations to increase the resilience to climate change:

  • Develop a binding international agreement on mitigation of greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Support national, state, and local efforts that attempt to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Encourage development of integrated marine and coastal zone management in the region.
  • Create a climate change fund specific to the Florida Keys that can support adaptation measures.
  • Incorporate climate change, conservation, and resource protection into local master plans.
  • Enhance socio-ecological resilience of the region and encourage community participation.
  • Educate stakeholders on climate change, mitigation, and adaptation.
  • Incentivize climate change adaptation.


Updated December 7/21.


Score, A. (2021). Climate Change and the Florida Keys [Case study on a project of Economic Strategies Pty Ltd. and NOAA’s Coral Reef Conservation Program]. Version 2.0 Product of EcoAdapt’s State of Adaptation Program. (Last updated August 2019)

Project Contact(s)

Economic Strategies is based in Oberon, New South Wales, Australia, and specialises in cultural and ecological projects in a national and international economic context.

The NOAA Coral Reef Conservation Program (CRCP) is a partnership between the NOAA Line Offices that work on coral reef issues: the National Ocean Service, the National Marine Fisheries Service, the Office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research, and the National Environmental Satellite, Data and Information Service. The CRCP brings together expertise from across NOAA for a multidisciplinary approach to managing and understanding coral reef ecosystems.


Scale of Project
Community / Local
Sector Addressed
Conservation / Restoration
Development (socioeconomic)
Tourism / Recreation
Target Climate Changes and Impacts
Air temperature
Ocean acidification
Sea level rise
Water supply
Water temperature
Climate Type
3-5 years
Type of Adaptation Action/Strategy
Capacity Building
Conduct / Gather additional research, data, and products
Taxonomic Focus
Sociopolitical Setting
Effort Stage

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