Mariana reflects on the ecological changes to the Carmel River ecosystem and its interesting history. Along with Professor Monica Galligan, Mariana is focusing on predicting how climate change will affect the Carmel River. … Continue reading Predicting the Carmel River Ecosystem during the Pandemic and Beyond [Mariana Filip IEP ’22]
While standing on the beach that buffers the Carmel River Lagoon from crashing waves of Monterey Bay, one could spot a sea otter on a lucky day. Just a couple centuries ago, an individual would have been able to witness more than a single sea otter floating beyond the shoreline. The area we know as Monterey Bay was teeming with marine life for thousands of years prior to Spanish colonialism, and California’s Native Americans lived alongside the flora and fauna as sustainable stewards of both land and sea during those many centuries. Consequently, today’s bay may be a shadow of what was before the Spanish came and the generations of exploitation that followed, but its surrounding environment and its ecosystems are recovering thanks to the conservation efforts of local organizations.
The lagoon area through which the Carmel River empties out into the Pacific Ocean is home to more than a real-estate goldmine with ocean-front views: it also provides habitat for the critically endangered California red-legged frog and the steelhead trout, as well as holds great cultural significance for Ohlone Native Americans.
Down the coast from the more popular Carmel Beach, the lagoon next to the Carmel River State Beach is the site of a recent restoration project that turned artichoke farmland back into a coastal wetland, an ecosystem that is becoming increasingly rare. Current stewardship of the Carmel River Lagoon is managed by California State Parks, with lands upstream owned by the Big Sur Land Trust (BSLT). My MIIS IEP colleague Ellie Oliver and I have been working with BSLT Associate Director of Conservation, Nicole Nedeff, on a GIS project since the first wave of COVID-19 lockdowns began in March 2020. In light of the pandemic, this place has proven to be an especially fascinating climate change case study within Monterey County because of the various stakeholders involved. The lagoon area through which the Carmel River empties out into the Pacific Ocean is home to more than a real-estate goldmine with ocean-front views: it also provides habitat for the critically endangered California red-legged frog and the steelhead trout, as well as holds great cultural significance for Ohlone Native Americans.
The onslaught of climate change and sea level rise further exacerbates flooding of the Carmel River Lagoon ecosystem and the surrounding residences.
However, past human development combined with the geographic nature of the lagoon has made this location prone to flooding. Flooding of the lagoon occurs seasonally, so the county must get an emergency permit to breach the dune berm that prevents the water from emptying into the ocean and re-directs the flow inland. In 1995, there was an especially serious instance that inundated the nearby commercial district and destroyed a section of the Highway 1 bridge. The onslaught of climate change and sea level rise further exacerbates flooding of the Carmel River Lagoon ecosystem and the surrounding residences.
Starting as a semester-long project for the Advanced GIS class taught by Professor Monica Galligan, our map aims to demonstrate 1) how sea level rise will affect the lagoon, and 2) which properties will be most vulnerable to future flooding events in order to reduce risks for homes and business in the lower Carmel River watershed. Going forward, I would recommend that incoming IEP students align their team projects and/or individual assignments to local NGOs or governmental bodies in order to gain both insight and professional experience. As members of the IEP MIIS community, we cannot bring back the unexploited abundance of the past, but we can make it abundantly clear that conservation and environmental justice is at the nexus of people, planet, and sea otters.