Resilient Lands and Waters Initiative 

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






Introduced by the White House on Earth Day 2015, the Resilient Lands and Water Initiative (RLWI) is an effort by the US Government to support collaborative landscape partnerships where Federal agencies will work with partners to conserve and restore important lands and waters and make them more resilient to a changing climate.

Southwest Florida – a landscape home to precious marine and terrestrial habitats such as the Everglades wetlands – is facing multiple stressors such as climate change, urbanization, land use changes, and invasive species that threaten the integrity of this region. These challenges are stressing this landscape and emphasize the need to understand the role that ecosystem services and key partnerships have in sustaining and increasing the resilience of the region’s natural and built environment.

This site presents the results of an analysis conducted to support the White House’s Resilient Lands and Water Initiative (RLWI) by providing a glimpse into the future, which enables a better understanding of the role habitats play in reducing adverse effects of these changes.

The project was made possible with the support of the Peninsular Florida Landscape Conservation Cooperative, as well as the efforts undertaken by our partners in the region, particularly the 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.


Which partners have been collaborating on research?
Where is the study taking place?

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

What is the time horizon of the study?

The analysis employed 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” or “business as usual” scenario assumes lower density, dispersed residential growth and minimal conservation, while the “Proactive Plus” scenario applies smart growth principles such as higher density development and more extensive conservation [more info and report].

How are we exploring the resiliency of this landscape?

Using the DPSIR causal framework as a conceptual backbone [more info], the resiliency assessment applied previously-developed statewide scenarios and a series of open source vulnerability models to evaluate the expected impacts on natural habitat, and people in alternative futures These models consider how changes in coastal and terrestrial ecosystems have implications on vulnerability to storm surge, and affect the region’s overall resilience. 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 prioritized subset of stressors.

4. Identifies the necessary response (conservation and management strategies) mechanisms that are necessary to protect, conserve or rehabilitate key resilient areas



Understanding the Drivers of Change

Current and future challenges 


Based on a review of scientific studies developed by various partners, 8 primary drivers of change were identified for the landscape and seascape of southwest Florida. The pressures associated with each of the drivers were evaluated on a scale from 1 to 5, and combined into an overall driver impact score for each scenario, “Current”, “2060 Trend” and “2060 Proactive”. For more information on the indicators evaluation, click here (Current, Trend, Proactive).

The graph on the right 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 7 of the 8 drivers. The “Pollution and water management” impact score in the “Proactive” scenario is worse than the “Current” scenario since it is influenced by global phenomena like GHG emissions.

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 benefits that “Proactive” conservation and planning policies could have for the region’s resiliency.

This map is provided for you to explore the drivers and associated pressures for the southwest Florida region. Please note that the visualization of the prospective scenarios was limited to existing data available for the


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Southwest Florida by 2060


+ 118,000 acres

of new development


2,200,000 people

almost double current population

Sea Level Rise

up to 1.8 foot

increase through 2060

Habitat  Change

314,724 acres

habitat lost to urbanization and sea level rise




Services and goods for society and nature


Ecosystem Services Categories

Landscapes and their communities derive multiple benefits from ecosystems. 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

The southwest Florida region contains a multitude of ecosystem goods and services. 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 in this selection of studies were primarily supportive services. Although the four categories of services are often shown as weighted equally, 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 region’s communities and natural environments.


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Analyzing the impacts of future stressors in the landscape



Why are we looking ahead, and how do we analyze changes?

 The intention to evaluate future impacts and the role of certain ecosystem services in the light of climate change is to create an anticipatory strategy that can best inform the identification of areas that should be the focus of key partnerships and non-regulatory conservation mechanisms.

Analyzing Resiliency

 To complete the Resilience Assessment, the methodology developed by the [popup url=”http://www.bioversityinternational.org/e-library/publications/detail/toolkit-for-the-indicators-of-resilience-in-socio-ecological-production-landscapes-and-seascapes/” height=”600″ width=”1000″ scrollbars=”0″]UNU-IAS [/popup]in 2014 was used as a reference. The methodology provides an initial overview of Resilience for the study area based on the three different scenarios (Current, Plan Trend, Proactive Plus) considering landscape and seascape change. These ecosystems are 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. Each of the 5 categories measured was analyzed through 6 related indicators scored from Very high (5) to Very low (1). The different indicators were tailored to the specific case study to provide an overview that considers both marine and terrestrial environments. To better understand the selected indicators and their scores, click on the “More info” buttons below.

1. Landscape and seascape diversity
Which ecosystems are protected and what is the form of protection?
[popup url=”http://geoadaptive.com/preliminary_resilience_land-seas” 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=”http://geoadaptive.com/test_resilience” 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=”http://geoadaptive.com/preliminary_resilience_social-equa” 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=”http://geoadaptive.com/preliminary_resilience_governance” 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=”http://geoadaptive.com/preliminary_resilience_economic” height=”650″ width=”1200″ scrollbars=”0″]More info[/popup]

Overall resilience ranks were determined by averaging the scores for each category. These results underline the key roles that economy and governance have and will have on the development of current and future resilience strategies. [click here to look the final results].

 Subsequently the team combined the drivers and pressures analysis and the resilience assessment to understand how the expected resilient strategies (based on the defined scenarios) can reduce the overall impact of the drivers on the seascape and landscape of the area. Using this methodology, we determined which drivers may still have a high impact on the ecosystems. The results of this analysis enable a prioritization of specific categories of impacts, which have the greatest potential to be reduced through targeted resilience strategies. The graphic shown here illustrates how some habitat impacts are more effectively buffered by existing resilience, as well as factors that require further attention. Charts of the final results of this analysis are presented in the following section.

 In the next phase of the project, this resilience analysis will be combined with the spatial impact analysis to provide specific resilience strategies for the key areas selected.

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 Natural Areas Inventory’s Natural Communities of Florida [[popup url=”http://fnai.org/naturalcommguide.cfm” height=”600″ width=”1000″ scrollbars=”0″]More info [/popup]] and The Nature Conservancy’s Resilient Sites for Terrestrial Conservation [[popup url=”https://www.conservationgateway.org/ConservationByGeography/NorthAmerica/UnitedStates/edc/reportsdata/terrestrial/resilience/se/Pages/default.aspx” height=”600″ width=”1000″ scrollbars=”0″]More info [/popup]]. The future scenarios are the modeled results of a study on climate change impacts and population growth 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. The extent of impacts was determined by comparing the areas of overlap from the scenario outputs with the two habitat evaluations (within 5 miles of the region’s coastline).

InVEST model

Stanford University’s Natural Capital Project [[popup url=”http://www.naturalcapitalproject.org/” 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.



Impacts and Resilience Assessment outcomes



“Which driver impacts are not adequately addressed by the region’s resilient capacity?

In order to assess the need for new resilience strategies, the four drivers with the highest average impact score were selected. Each driver was associated with one of the 5 categories developed in the previous resilience analysis (Governance and Livelihoods, Economic Influence, etc.) to determine the relative level of impact to natural habitats under each scenario.


In order to assess the need for new resilience strategies, the four drivers with the highest average impact score were selected. Each driver was associated with one of the 5 categories developed in the previous resilience analysis (Governance and Livelihoods, Economic Influence, etc.) to determine the relative level of impact to natural habitats under each scenario. Current impact was compared with the projected impact anticipated under each scenario to determine which factors are less sensitive to the proposed resilience strategies.

For example in the Proactive scenario, the driver “Pollution and water management” has been associated with “Governance and Livelihoods” resilience category [for more information go back on the Resilience analysis section]. Because of the strong influence of this resilience category in the Proactive scenario, the impact is expected to be reduced by about 24%. The chart on the right provides the results for the others 3 drivers selected [click here to know more].

These results can support decision making to prioritize future resilient strategies. Strategies should address pressures that have both the highest impact rank and greatest potential for reduction. The next phase of the project will combine the spatial analysis with these results, which will help indicate the specific type of resilience strategy that should be implemented, and can better inform the location of critical areas that will be the focus of key partnerships and non-regulatory conservation mechanisms.


Considering the results of this assessment, more general recommendations should be provided at this phase. For example, in the Proactive scenario the following resilience strategies are higher priorities for implementation:

“Pollution and water management”:  develop more restrictive regulations in terms of GHG emissions.

“Agriculture and Ranching”:  incentivize more sustainable use of land and water resources, support more sustainable economic strategies.

“Population growth”: better regulate the water availability.

“Climate Change”: protect mangroves along the most exposed coasts.





Empowering partnerships for resiliency



Over the next two years, this study will continue to provide scientific and strategic insights that will empower the formation of key partnerships seeking to strengthen the resiliency of land and seascapes of Southwest Florida. The socio-ecological science and knowledge being generated is indispensable in the formation of a common understanding of the complex relationships that determine the resilience of the region. It also identifies critical areas and thresholds that could serve as common arenas for action.

For the past several years, robust and diverse partnerships across federal, state, local, academic, private and non-governmental entities have enabled the creation of a knowledge base that has made this study and initiative a reality. 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 its resiliency in the face of future threats.

The robust research efforts being developed 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 NGOs such as The Nature Conservancy. The benefits of these strong, multi-stakeholder partnerships are two-fold, on one hand these partnerships facilitate the flow of research into the decision-making process which leads to actionable responses by local and state governments, and on the other they allow for quicker adoption of conservation incentives by private and public stakeholders.

Future partnerships and actions will use this effort as a common platform to prioritize and implement strategies to secure the provision of ecosystem services and the integrity of this landscape and implement conservation actions. Key partnerships already taking place are DOI’s Wildland Fire Resilient Landscapes program south Florida proposal and the Landscape Conservation Design of the Panther National Wildlife Refuge Landscape. This partnership and supportive science is enabling the adoption of this framework in NW Florida coastal Big Bend area.




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

This website and its content were developed by [popup url=”http://geoadaptive.com/” 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=”http://peninsularfloridalcc.org/” 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.




Existing research into environmental change and human development in the region


 City of Punta Gorda Adaptation Plan – SWFRPC / CHNEP
Coastal Ecosystems Services in South Florida (COCA) – NOAA-AOML
Comprehensive Southwest Florida / Charlotte Harbor Climate Change Vulnerability Assessment – SWFRPC
Florida 2060: A Population Distribution Scenario for the State of Florida – 1000 Friends of Florida
Florida’s State Wildlife Action Plan – Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission
Florida Sea Level Scenario Sketch Planning Tool – University of Florida GeoPlan Center
Key Marine Ecosystem Services (MARES) – Forest Trends
Integrated Valuation of Ecosystem Services and Tradeoffs (InVEST) – Natural Capital Project
Landscape Conservation and Climate Change Scenarios for the State of Florida – GeoAdaptive et al.
Millennium Ecosystem Assessment
Natural Communities of Florida – Florida Natural Areas Inventory
Southeast Resilience Project – The Nature Conservancy
Toolkit for the indicators of resilience in socio-ecological production landscapes and seascapes – UNU-IAS

Spatial Data

Critical Lands and Waters Identification Project (CLIP) – Florida Natural Areas Inventory
Dasymetric Mapping Toolbox – US Environmental Protection Agency
Florida Geographic Data Library – University of Florida GeoPlan Center
GIS & Mapping Data Downloads – Florida Fish and Wildlife Research Institute
Elevation Contours of Lake Okeechobee – South Florida Information Access (USGS)
GeoDesign Technologies
Coastal Bathymetry – Tim Liebermann, South Florida Water Management District
Coastal Bathymetry – Bob Swett, Florida Sea Grant Boating and Waterway Planning Program
NOS Hydrographic Survey Data – National Centers for Environmental Information (NOAA)
U.S. Coastal Relief Model – National Centers for Environmental Information (NOAA)
Vertical Datum Transformation (VDATUM) – National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)