Shared solutions to protect shared values

  • Bowling Ball Beach in Northern California. Credit: Matt McIntosh / NOAA ONMS.

Southwest Florida

The landscape conservation design and mapping of priority resources for Southwest Florida will be the foundation framework to determine where to focus various voluntary and non-regulatory conservation incentives in the future. The strong partnerships involved will provide the needed interagency coordination and landowner and stakeholder involvement to apply incentives to meet the conservation targets for this region and provide resilience from future threats.

The southwest region of Florida consists of a number of diverse habitats including coastal mangroves, sea grasses, oyster reefs, Everglades wetlands, pine flatwoods, and rivers/estuaries. The area hosts a variety of endangered species including the iconic Florida panther. Public lands include the western side of the Everglades, Big Cypress National Preserve, Panther and Everglades Headwaters National Wildlife refuge, as well as other state and local parks. Threats include rapidly increasing urbanization, increased land use changes, invasive species, sea level rise, and changing patterns of precipitation and temperature. Florida has over 20,400,000 people and the population is predicted to reach 36,000,000 by 2060 with the southwest part of the state being one of the fastest growing areas. The Cooperative Conservation Blueprint for Florida (CCB) and Peninsular Florida Landscape Conservation Cooperative (PFLCC) have both designated this area as a focal zone and have developed strong partnerships with private land owners, federal and state agencies, the Southwest Florida Regional Planning Council and NGOs such as The Nature Conservancy.

Figure 17. Interactive visualization exploring drivers and pressures associated with development and climate change through 2060. Credit: GeoAdaptive.
Figure 17. Interactive visualization exploring drivers and pressures associated with development and climate change through 2060. Credit: GeoAdaptive.


This process of evaluating the vulnerability and resiliency of southwest Florida's natural resources has built upon numerous existing partnerships and a series of recent conservation planning projects in the region. In particular, the following efforts and collaborators have been essential in the identification of essential ecosystem services and their contribution towards the resilience of these landscapes:

Project Title



Impact Assessment for the Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge Contextual Landscape

Evaluation of the implications of land use change and future growth on lands surrounding the Florida Panther Refuge to support managers in updating their Comprehensive Conservation Plan

USFWS, FL Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC), GeoAdaptive, GeoDesign Technologies

Impact Assessment & Landscape Conservation Design: Peninsular Florida Landscape Conservation Cooperative (PFLCC)

Development of a spatiotemporal impact assessment and conservation target model methodology for selected species in the central and northern extent of the PFLCC region

USFWS, FWC, GeoAdaptive, GeoDesign Technologies

Implementation of a Scenario-based Model of Adaptation Planning for the South Florida Marine Environment (KEYSMAP2)

An evaluation of the choices and effectiveness of potential management actions, triggered by climate-induced environmental changes, to minimize or prevent negative impacts to coastal marine species across a range of urbanization and climate change scenario conditions.

FWC, GeoAdaptive, GeoDesign Technologies

Southeast Resilience Project

Identification of resilient areas with a diversity of habitats and heightened connectivity, which represent potential conservation priorities

The Nature Conservancy

Comprehensive Southwest Florida/Charlotte Harbor Climate Change Vulnerability Assessment

Examination of future climate change scenarios and their effects on biophysical and human systems in southwest Florida

Southwest Florida Regional Planning Council (SWFRPC), Charlotte Harbor National Estuary Program (CHNEP)

Florida's State Wildlife Action Plan

Outline of species and habitats in need and the strategies that will be required to protect them

FWC, Florida's Wildlife Legacy Initiative (FWLI)

NOAA/COCA ecosystem services and valuation project

Linking ecosystem services to risk and resilience

NOAA's Coastal and Ocean Climate Adaptation Program

City of Punta Gorda Adaptation Plan

Identification of alternative adaptations to address climate change vulnerabilities

City of Punta Gorda, SWFRPC, CHNEP

Critical Lands and Waters Identification Project (CLIP 3.0)

Spatial prioritization of the lands and waters in most critical need of preservation

Florida Natural Areas Inventory (FNAI), University of Florida GeoPlan Center

The outcomes of these previous efforts have been integrated into the process of selecting the most impactful driving forces and pressures generating changes to the region's natural environment, their potential effects on important regional ecosystem services, and the spatial analysis of projected impacts of urbanization, sea level rise, and habitat loss through 2060. An additional analysis of coastal vulnerability, considering the protective capacity of coastal ecosystems, was implemented using the Natural Capital Project's InVEST model to evaluate impacts of storm surge on coastal communities. Conservation priorities were identified based on the results of these assessments, coupled with habitat areas previously indicated as resilient or otherwise critical for preservation.

Building on the robust and diverse range of prior scenario assessments and natural resource prioritizations has been one of the most significant successes of this project. Without the expert input and collaborative analysis of future changes to the natural and built environment of southwest Florida, it would not have been possible to effectively consider the climatic and human development pressures on the region's biophysical assets. Previous partner's efforts have already been incorporated into local management plans and other planning efforts. In addition, the creation of a story-driven visualization tool (Figure 1) provides an effective outreach tool for an audience that encompasses resource managers, policymakers, regional planners, and the general public.

Next Steps

The prospects for future work stemming from this project include expanding the range of ecosystem services to include more complex topics such as water and nutrient regulation, aesthetic value, and recreation, as well as considering more localized impacts on specific habitat types and indicator species. This analysis could also be expanded to cover the entire Gulf region, which is subject to many of the same climatic and development pressures, while encompassing different ecosystems and additional natural and human-induced threats. Final reports and data sets will be included on the PFLCC Conservation Planning Atlas.


Figure 18. Summary of ecosystem services introducing a storymap with examples from Southwest Florida. Credit: GeoAdaptive.
Figure 18. Summary of ecosystem services introducing a storymap with examples from Southwest Florida. Credit: GeoAdaptive.

The final product of this effort is an interactive website that integrates Storymaps, graphics, and written descriptions of the Southwest Florida region and the anticipated changes to natural and built areas through 2060. The site introduces visitors to environmental and development-driven stressors, ecosystem services, and implications for resilience. This tool provides a visual overview of the distribution and function of important natural resources, an analysis of how they help to mitigate the effects of climate change, and an assessment of the impacts of two different development scenarios.


Some of the key challenges encountered in this process have been integrating data produced by projects that addressed a variety of topics and geographic scales. Objectively defining prioritization criteria that consider both high value habitats and more anthropocentric ecosystem services also proved difficult in a region with resources valued for many reasons. Among the lessons learned from this process were, the need to identify the appropriate technological tools early on, including modeling applications and visualization platforms, as well as reaching out to partners throughout the process to collect all the relevant inputs and evaluate the utility of the products.

Lessons Learned

Each phase of the analytical approach implemented through this effort has strong potential to be applied in other regions with differing conservation priorities. Through the evaluation of drivers and pressures, as well as the ecosystem services prioritization, the approach can be customized to the specific issues and habitat types present in other study areas. The use of scenarios to evaluate anticipated changes also has universal applicability, though the specific expertise required and driving forces will be unique to the project area.

Some of the methods applied, particularly the InVEST coastal vulnerability model, are most appropriate for populated coastal areas subject to tropical storms and wave activity. Lastly, the visualization tool and its use of a storytelling approach can be readily adopted by similar efforts in the future, in order to provide a hands-on tool for sharing some of the critical concerns about resilience and the value of natural landscapes.