Resilient Lands and Waters Initiative 

Southwest Florida | A regional vision for collaborative conservation efforts and building resilience





Highlighted on Earth Day by the White House in 2015, the Resilient Lands and Water Initiative (RLWI) is an effort by the Department of the Interior (DOI), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administrations (NOAA) to highlight four collaborative landscape partnerships where Federal agencies will work with partners to conserve and restore important lands and water and make them more resilient to a changing climate.

This site serves to highlight the Southwest Florida Region, a landscape that is home to precious marine and terrestrial habitats such as the Everglades’ wetlands. In the face of multiple landscape stressors such as urbanization, land use changes, invasive species, sea level rise and changing patterns of precipitation and temperature, the RLWI will build on the efforts that have already been undertaken by our partners in the region, particularly the updated City of Punta Gorda’s Adaptation Plan and the Comprehensive Southwest Florida/Charlotte Harbor Climate Change Vulnerability Assessment, both developed by the Southwest Florida Regional Planning Council and the Charlotte Harbor National Estuary Program. These reports highlight the growing risks to residents, property, and environmental resources, as well as identifying critical actions that can help to increase the resiliency of coastal communities.

Considering the need to highlight and prioritize the most resilient lands and waters in southwest Florida, GeoAdaptive systematically analyzed how the landscape stressors in the region will affect terrestrial and marine ecosystems and their long-term resiliency. These key resilient areas are essential for the focalization of adaptation measures what will help mitigate the effects of sea level rise, in part by leveraging the essential ecosystem services provided by their natural habitats.



The study was conducted in an area that spans 7 counties in southwest Florida, where a combination of population growth, sea level rise and water temperature threaten coastal, marine and terrestrial ecosystems. [click here to know more].


The analysis employed future scenario modeling to understand the future impacts of development and climate pressures on the region. These snapshots of the future, examine the landscape in the year 2060 under two different policy frameworks. The “Trend” scenario or business as usual scenario assumes low density, dispersed residential growth and minimal conservation, while the “Proactive Plus” scenario applies smart growth principles such as high density development and expanded conservation. [click here to know more].


Using the DPSIR causal framework as a conceptual backbone [click here to know more]. , the resiliency assessment that was created for the RLWI is rigorous and flexible enough to be applied to a diversity of landscapes. The methodology systematically:  

  1. Assesses the state of the landscape
  2. Identifies the pressures and drivers changing the land and seascapes today and in the future.
  3. Analyzes the resiliency and vulnerability of both natural habitats and society given a key selection of drivers of change.
  4. Identifies the necessary response (conservation and management strategies) mechanisms that are necessary to protect, conserve or rehabilitate key resilient areas.


What is the future of the region?


U r b a n i z a t i o n


acres of new development


P o p u l a t i o n


almost double current population


S e a    L e v e l    R i s e

up to 1.8 foot

increase through 2060


H a b i t a t    C h a n g e

314,724 acres

habitat lost to urbanization and sea level rise



Building on previous research efforts and forging new partnerships in the region


The Research

This project benefits from an extensive body of existing research into environmental change and human development in the region, and the broader landscapes of peninsular Florida and the southeastern United States. Research topics and studies range from climate change vulnerability evaluations carried out by the Southwest Florida Regional Planning Council, to statewide urban growth projections by the Peninsular Florida Landscape Conservation Cooperative, and a regional resilience assessment by The Nature Conservancy.


Urban growth scenarios have been developed for the entire state of Florida to help inform conservation priorities and consider a range of alternative future development patterns.

Projections have been developed which consider the latest population trends, as well as development policies that promote more compact growth patterns or existing policies that tend to produce more widespread land cover change.

Impact Assessment for the Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge Contextual Landscape (USFWS, FWC, GeoAdaptive, GeoDesign Technologies, 2015) [popup url=”” height=”600″ width=”1000″ scrollbars=”0″]More info[/popup]
Florida 2060: A Population Distribution Scenario for the State of Florida (UF GeoPlan Center, 1000 Friends of Florida, 2006) [popup url=”” height=”600″ width=”1000″ scrollbars=”0″]More info[/popup]

Conservation Strategies

Numerous studies have been conducted which consider alternatives for protecting valuable and sensitive lands and waters, as well as prioritizing the use of limited funding to optimize conservation efforts.

Analysis of trade-offs between fee-simple and easement-based conservation have been evaluated, in addition to application of landscape conservation design principles to key habitat areas.

Climate Change

Both the effects of changing climate on natural and human systems, as well as their relative vulnerability and resilience, have been analyzed at the local and regional scale.

The most accurate available topographic data and robust climate modeling methods have been applied to develop predictions of sea level rise and sea surface temperature change, as well as their potential impacts on the region.

Florida Sea Level Scenario Sketch Planning Tool (UF GeoPlan Center, Florida DOT Office of Policy Planning, 2015) [popup url=”” height=”600″ width=”1000″ scrollbars=”0″]More info[/popup]
Comprehensive Southwest Florida / Charlotte Harbor Climate Change Vulnerability Assessment (SWFRPC, CHNEP, 2009) [popup url=”” height=”600″ width=”1000″ scrollbars=”0″]More info[/popup]

Ecosystem Services

Quantifying the value and supporting functions of various ecosystems has been studied globally, and in specific areas of southern Florida, particularly for the benefits they provide to residents and visitors.

These services have been categorized according to the type of benefit they provide, and many studies have assessed the relative value of these services, as well as identifying ecosystems that cumulatively provide the most overall benefit.

From Research to Action

The robust research efforts in the region are further strengthened by the strong partnerships that the Cooperative Conservation Blueprint for Florida (CCB) and the Peninsular Florida LCC (PFLCC) have cultivated over the years with public and private stakeholders and NGO’s such as the Nature Conservancy. The benefits of these strong, multi-stakeholder partnership are two-fold, on the hand these partnerships facilitate the flow of research into the decision-making process which leads to actionable responses on behalf of local and state governments and on the other they allow for a quicker adoption of the conservation incentives by private and public stakeholders. While research partnerships are essential for the efficiency and quality of science, public and private sector partnerships bridge the gap from research to action, a bridge that the region will need to meet its conservation targets and to ensure the regions resiliency in the face of future threats.




An Ecosystem Approach


Landscape pressures such as those found in the southwest Florida region such as sea level rise and changing precipitation and temperature patterns cannot be contained to administrative boundaries or ameliorated using uncoordinated site based interventions.   It is with this understanding that the RLWI in southwest Florida has taken an ecosystems approach at understanding the current landscape in the region.  Furthermore, an ecosystems services approach makes large, complex systems more relatable to both public and private stakeholders, issues such mangrove conservation can be framed as part of a larger discussion as to how well the landscape can provide flood regulating services for communities and counties and how this is turn affects the regions overall resiliency in the face of sea level rise.  

The following section of the site elaborates on the different types of benefits that societies derive from ecosystems around the globe, followed by an explanation of how key ecosystem services were chosen for the southwest Florida region and lastly, an interactive map that showcases some of the habitats that provide some ecosystem services to the region. 

The Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, conducted by a consortium of scientists at the request of the UN in the early 2000’s, grouped ecosystem services into four broad categories of service types: supporting, provisioning, regulating, and cultural. Each service category indicates the primary function that ecosystem services provide for human benefit. The roles and interaction of these services are dependent on location and scale.

Ecosystem Services in Southwest Florida

Ecosystem services specific to southwest Florida were identified from eight terrestrial and marine research projects conducted in the region. The projects included coastal marine ecosystems, habitat-specific terrestrial ecosystems such as grasslands and forests, human needs/desires-based studies, and a regional Gulf Coast study. Recreation, a cultural ecosystem service, was identified as a priority in all of the projects. Additional high priority services included aesthetic value, the provision of food for human consumption, and biological, nutrient, and water regulation (including filtering or cleansing). Ecosystem services that ranked low for this selection of studies were primarily Supportive services. Although the four categories of services are often shown as weighted equally, the Supportive services primarily ensure the proper function of the other three categories in providing goods and services.


The following interactive map lets you explore some key habitats in the region that provide ecosystem services to the regions people and animals.

Ecosystem services, and the direct and indirect benefits we derive from them, are dependent on the continued functioning of healthy ecosystems. The biological, chemical, thermal, and physical processes that create these complex ecosystems are interconnected in a matrix that works together to sustain the systems. Disruptions to any of the processes that create or drive an ecosystem have the potential to cause negative downstream effects on the ability to maintain its service capacity.

A more detailed examination of these disruption in the Understanding Change section will reveal the landscape pressure southwest Florida faces and the drivers that threaten to disrupt the ecosystem services of the region.



Exploring the pressures and drivers of change



With the state of the landscape examined using an ecosystem approach, the RLWI team then moved to a systematic identification of the drivers and the pressure that are changing the landscape today and up to the year 2060 under the “Trend” (insert link/photo) and “Proactive” (insert link/photo) policy scenarios.  The concept of drivers and pressures comes from the DPSIR framework (insert photo), where drivers are defined as a social, economic, or biophysical phenomena with broad regional or global effects that may induce changes in the state of the landscape. Each of these drivers create pressures which are the forces that physically change the environment such as residential development or pollutants that might be released because of resource extraction activities in the area.

  Our analysis identified 8 drivers and 4 of their associated pressures for the southwest Florida region.  Pressures were characterized temporally and geographically to determine their effects on resiliency using a set of 20 indicators adapted from the Resiliency Index developed by ARUP for the 100RC Project (INSERT LINK).  The pressures that have been associated with each of the drivers have been evaluated on a scale from 1 to 5, the average of these pressures culminating in the overall driver impact score.  Lastly, using the policy assumptions from the “Trend” and “Proactive” future scenarios, a driver impact score was calculated for each driver under each scenario.  The following wheel graphs illustrate the result for all drivers under each scenario:




The graph on the left highlights the overall impact score for each of the 8 drivers in the analysis under current and future scenarios.   The analysis showed that the “Trend” scenario has the highest impact scores across all 8 drivers, in contrast the “Proactive” scenario revealed the lowest impact scores across all 7 out of the 8 drivers.   The “Pollution and water management” driver stand out in the “Proactive” scenario since it is influenced by global phenomena like GHG emission: in this case the “Proactive” scenario is worse than the “Current” scenario.  

In summary, under the Trend Scenario the analysis revealed a 15-point increase in the total impact score for the region, a difference that highlights the importance of the impacts of “Proactive” conservation policies could have on the regions resiliency.

If you want to know more about the methodology and the indicators selected, click here (Current, Trend, Proactive). 

This map is provided for you to explore the drivers and associated pressured for the southwest Florida region.   Please note that data is only visualized for the prospective scenarios according to the data available for the region:

With the ecosystems and their respective services explored, this section sought to analyze the drivers and pressures and the resiliency of the region in the face of such drivers and pressures. Using established frameworks and previous research, we were able to also temporally dimension the evolution of these drivers and pressures into the year 2060. With an overview of the region examined, the RLWI team needed to identify specific areas where non-regulatory conservation incentives could be implemented to increase or rehabilitate key resilient areas in southwest Florida.


Understanding the Process

Analyzing Resiliency and Vulnerability in Southwest Florida



Analyzing Resiliency

To develop the Resilience Assessment, the methodology developed by the UNU-IAS in 2014 was used as a reference. The methodology developed provides an initial overview of Resilience for the study area based on the three different scenarios (Current, Plan Trend, Proactive Plus) considering landscapes and seascapes change. These two ecosystems are usually characterized as dynamic mosaics of habitats and uses where the interaction between people, species and landscape, generate impacts that can reduce or increase the specific resilience capability.

These impacts were measured using 5 different categories: Landscape/seascape diversity and ecosystem protection, Biodiversity (including agricultural biodiversity) and innovation, Social equality and well-being, Governance and livelihoods and Economic influence.

Each category was analyzed through 6 related indicators scored from 1 to 5 replying to specific questions (Very high – 5, Very low – 1). The different indicators were developed tailored on the specific case study with the goal to provide an overview able to consider both the environments. To better understand the indicators selected and their score click on the different “More info” tab.

1. Landscape and seascape diversity
Which ecosystems are protected and what is the form of protection?
[popup url=”” height=”650″ width=”1200″ scrollbars=”0″]More info[/popup]
2. Biodiversity  and  innovation
Which innovative practices are used in managing agriculture, fisheries and forestry?
[popup url=”” height=”650″ width=”1200″ scrollbars=”0″]More info[/popup]
3. Social equality and well-being
Is decision-making fair and equitable for all community members at all levels?
[popup url=”” height=”650″ width=”1200″ scrollbars=”0″]More info[/popup]
4. Governance  and  livelihoods
Are there agreed rules and regulations for effectively doing so?
[popup url=”” height=”650″ width=”1200″ scrollbars=”0″]More info[/popup]
5. Economic influence landscape/seascape
What activities generate income in the landscape or seascape?
[popup url=”” height=”650″ width=”1200″ scrollbars=”0″]More info[/popup]
Analyzing Vulnerability

Future Scenario Impacts on Florida’s Natural Communities and

The Nature Conservancy’s Resilient Areas

Two statewide spatial habitat evaluations were chosen in order to conduct impact analyses for the Plan Trend and Proactive Plus 2060 future scenarios: Florida’s Natural Communities (Insert Link-More Info) and The Nature Conservancy’s Resilient Sites for Terrestrial Conservation (Insert Link-More Info). The future scenarios are the modeled results of a climate change impacts and population growth study conducted for the PFLCC. For these analyses, the urbanization and land development models were used from the scenarios, modeled sea level rise (SLR) of 0.5m was used from University of Florida, and tidal saline wetland (TSW) migration models based on 0.5m SLR were used from USGS. 


InVEST model

Stanford University’s Natural Capital Project [popup url=”” height=”600″ width=”1000″ scrollbars=”0″] [More info] [/popup] has developed a suite of models, known as InVEST, to estimate the importance of ecosystem services using science-based, qualitative and semi-quantitative methods. For this project, the Coastal Vulnerability model was selected, due to tropical storms affecting the southwest Florida study region roughly once every three years (FEMA, 2005).

This model uses locally-derived, high resolution spatial data to calculate a storm surge and wave vulnerability index, which considers geomorphology, nearshore bathymetry, and natural habitats that provide protective capacity. The model was run based on current (2016) conditions, as well as evaluating changes to the shoreline due to sea level rise through 2060, and increased vulnerability due to population growth along the coast.

Damage to homes in Punta Gorda from Hurricane Charley (FEMA, 2004)

Spatial coastal vulnerability factors considered in the InVEST model.



This project benefits from an extensive body of existing research

into environmental change and human development in the region


Resilience assessment

To determine the resilience ranks we calculated the average between the rank’s indicators for the different categories. The spider graphs below provide these final results.

The category 1 looks the most affected by the variation of the scenarios: decreasing for the Plan Trend, increasing for the Proactive plus. The variation on the conservation policies strongly influences also the categories 5 and 4.

These results underline the key roles that economy and governance have and will have on the development of current and future resilience strategies. These values were used together with the drivers and pressures analysis to determine the less resilient drivers.

Impact assessment results

In order to assess the impacts of anticipated changes due to climate and development pressures in the region, a geospatial analysis was developed which considers how marine, coastal, and land-based habitats may be altered. The effects on these natural systems have subsequent implications on many of the ecosystem services discussed previously – particularly food provision, recreation, water regulation, and coastal protection – which are likely to cause negative consequences for the region’s current and future residents.



This project benefits from an extensive body of existing research

into environmental change and human development in the region


The InVEST model shows the uneven distribution of vulnerability along the coastline of the study region, due to differences in geomorphology and the presence of habitats such as marshes and mangroves that provide a protective buffer.

The habitat change assessment also highlights which terrestrial and marine habitats could experience the greatest impacts, based on the urban growth and sea level rise scenarios. Areas where resilient habitats may be displaced or protected from development were also identified.

This study illustrates how different development and conservation policies may influence the resilience of southwest Florida’s lands, waters, and growing population. Further research should focus on how critical ecosystem services help to ensure the well-being of locally significant species, protect lives and property, and buffer these valuable ecosystems from the pressures of a changing climate.



Additional information about this project, including datasets and complete results is available through the [popup url=”” height=”600″ width=”1000″ scrollbars=”0″] PFLCC Conservation Planning Atlas [/popup].

This website and its content were developed by [popup url=”” height=”600″ width=”1000″ scrollbars=”0″] GeoAdaptive, LLC [/popup]. We would like to acknowledge the funding and support of the US Fish and Wildlife Service and [popup url=”” height=”600″ width=”1000″ scrollbars=”0″] Peninsular Florida Landscape Conservation Cooperative [/popup], as well as the wealth of knowledge from past research that helped to guide and inform this effort. A complete list of references and links is provided below.




This project benefits from an extensive body of existing research

into environmental change and human development in the region