Experts say rising sea levels pose major threat to Hawaii

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One of many climate change issues officials are worried about is rising sea levels.

Risk management officials discussed that and more when they gathered for the first day of the 13th annual PRIMO conference.

PRIMO, which stands for Pacific Risk Management Ohana, is a consortium of local, national and regional organizations such as National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Federal Emergency Management Agency, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, U.S. Geological Survey and others.

USGS officials say sea levels are changing, which leads beach erosion, and a new study from the University of Hawaii found the state’s coastal erosion rates will double by the year 2050.

Officials say this will affect tourists and residents.

“As the sea level rises, the waves get up above the reefs, the shore breaks,” explained David Helweg, director at USGS Pacific Islands Climate Center. “The waves may break further up the beach. Of course, this is an issue for us living along the coast.”

That means more beach erosion and sand buildup in rivers on the windward side, which could lead to dredging issues. Roads and thousands of homes along the coastline will be affected.

“The coast may be much closer to them in coming decades,” Helweg said.

“It’s the price we have to pay for living in a beautiful place. We also live in a place that is hazardous,” said PRIMO vice chair Karl Kim. “We are an island community. Much of our development is based on the coast. The threat of sea level rise threatens our tourism industry and the livelihoods we have here. It’s something we need to take seriously.”

Helweg is also worried about fresh water meeting saltwater. “Places like in Mapunapuna and Kapahulu, the storm drains may back up during high tides. That’s what’s predicted to be coming,” he said.

PRIMO is committed to strengthening the resilience of Pacific communities to climate- and weather-related hazards including sea level rise, hurricanes, tsunamis and disease outbreaks.

When asked if the state of Hawaii was prepared for such disasters, Kim replied, “We’re better than some, but not as good as others. One of the problems we face is we are so isolated, one of the most isolated in world. It’s not like we’re connected by super highways and railway lines, so it’s important for us to be more prepared and resilient than other communities.”

Officials are working on evacuation plans and studying sea level rise risks and hazard planning.

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