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Tybee Island acts against rising seas and a warming climate

Tybee Island is the first Georgia community to officially acknowledge the threat posed by a rising sea and a warmer climate.

The city council voted unanimously Thursday to accept a report by three research institutes detailing the harm expected from sea level rise over the next century. Council members also vowed to undertake the far-sighted — and expensive — actions needed to prevent a warming world from destroying the residential and tourism enclave near Savannah.

“There will be significant costs associated with this problem, but the sooner we start to address these issues the better,” Mayor Jason Buelterman told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution via email. “This is an issue that is already affecting our community in many ways and we will continue to do all we can to address sea level rise in a practical, cost effective, forward-thinking manner.”

A tidal gauge just off Tybee's western edge shows that the Atlantic Ocean has risen, on average, an inch every decade since 1935. Since the 1990s, though, the degree of sea-level rise has tripled, according to the nearby Skidaway Institute of Oceanography.

U.S. 80 is the only road on and off Tybee and it floods, in spots, about a half-dozen times a year, usually during spring high, or “king, ” tides. By 2060, according to Georgia scientists, the road is expected to flood 50 times a year due to climate change and its impact on sea levels.

Two-thirds of the island could be under water within a century if current predictions of sea-level rise prove true, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The report, by Stetson University, the University of Georgia's Marine Extension Service and Georgia Sea Grant, recommends replacing portions of U.S. 80 and implementing other municipal measures to combat rising seas. State transportation officials are considering a $100 million upgrade to flood-proof the only road onto Tybee.

“Both in leadership and risk, Tybee Island is at the front lines of sea-level rise adaptation,” said Jason Evans, an assistant professor of environmental science at Stetson University.