Enhancing Coastal Adaptation Planning at Gulf Islands National Seashore

Project Information

Erin Seekamp, Department of Parks, Recreation, and Tourism, NC State University
Jim Flocks, USGS St. Petersburg Coastal and Marine Science Center

Proposed Project Completion: June 2021

Implements Science Plan Theme: Adaptation

Cooperators: Xiao Xiao (Arizona State University),  Max Post van der Burg (USGS Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center), Mitch Eaton (USGS Southeast Climate Adaptation Science Center)


Barrier islands are exposed to a range of natural and human-caused changes, including hurricanes, sea-level rise, and dredging. These changes have the potential to influence the ability of barrier islands to serve as a first-line of defense for the mainland during storm events. Gulf Islands National Seashore, a National Park Service unit in the northern Gulf of Mexico between Florida and Mississippi, is predominantly comprised of barrier islands and faces immediate challenges, including erosion that washes out roads and sand dunes and the adverse impacts on cultural and natural resources from exposure to saltwater. Managers require realistic estimates of both the vulnerability of the park’s natural and cultural resources to these threats, as well as the likelihood of the potential harmful consequences of exposure to these threats.

The goal of this project is to support efficient adaptation planning of vulnerable coastal resources in the Gulf Islands National Seashore region, and to identify research priorities that will help predict future changes to barrier islands. First, researchers will implement an existing adaptation planning framework designed to assist the National Park Service in making effective cultural resource adaptation decisions under a range of budget constraints. This framework includes the use of Optimal Preservation (OptiPres), a model that considers the combined effects of the exposure of resources to threats such as storm surge, and the costs and benefits of various management actions taken to address these threats. Researchers will improve the model by developing better estimates of the frequency of storm events that would result in saltwater inundation of forts and historic buildings at the park. Researchers will also bring together managers and technical experts to evaluate the science-based information needs related to sediment dynamics in the Gulf Islands National Seashore region, and to explore paths forward for addressing these needs. This work will advance the Secretary of the Department of the Interior’s priority of conservation stewardship by providing science to inform management of its natural and cultural resource at Gulf Islands National Seashore.