Tropical breezes caress you and the sunshine blinds you on a typical day here in Tavernier, a small town in the Florida Keys.
I’ve spent more than 10 years in and around the Florida Keys and I’ve seen a steady degradation of the environment. The once iconic views of the Keys are being diminished by the sheer numbers of tourists, a growing insensitivity by visitors and residents and by the rising sea.
Within the past year, flooding from high tides and rising sea level have ruined the Keys paradise for many residents. The king tides last fall were so high that some people have given up and moved away.
In some places, entire streets were unpassable. In other places, the water encroached past the mangrove lines. On some days, I would have to drive down the middle of the road to avoid the standing saltwater on either side.
I know residents whose homes were flooded during king tides and some whose vehicles were damaged by the saltwater.
My rented trailer is typical of the Keys. It has a backyard that has a dock leading to water. The king tides pushed water over my dock and into my yard. I had to fish part of my dock out of the water because of the damage it sustained from being submerged for so long.
When you think about living in the Keys paradise, you have to understand that security underlies this dream. I used to think I would settle down in the Keys and start a family.
Now, I am planning to leave. I’ve watched as my community is buckling under too many stressors, hoping that our government will hear us. Each passing day gets harder and we are running out of time.
Some people criticize the folks who live in South Florida. It’s such a high-risk area. Well, throughout history people have lived along the coasts.
But the rising water is threatening my everyday life. Pythons and crocodiles are thriving and moving too close. Simple travel is becoming a chore on some days.
It’s becoming more and more expensive to build roads, bridges and buildings that can withstand the power of the water. Affluent people can afford the rising costs, but many in the Keys can no longer afford to live here.
Governments are taking steps to hold back the water, but for many of us it’s too little and too late. The retreat from the Florida Keys has begun.
Ciera Cox, 24, was born in Tennessee but grew up mostly in the Keys and near Everglades National Park. She advocates for responsible stewardship of the environment.
“The Invading Sea” is the opinion arm of the Florida Climate Reporting Network, a collaborative of news organizations across the state focusing on the threats posed by the warming climate.