The award-winning Gulf Coast Vulnerability Assessment (GCVA) — completed in 2015 — is a comprehensive report that evaluates the effects of climate change, sea level rise, and urbanization on four Gulf Coast ecosystems and 11 species that depend on them. The ecosystems are mangrove, oyster reef, tidal emergent marsh and barrier islands. The species are roseate spoonbill, blue crab, clapper rail, mottled duck, spotted seatrout, eastern oyster, American oystercatcher (shown in photo), red drum, black skimmer, Kemp’s ridley sea turtle, and Wilson’s plover.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) recognized the multi-organizational core team that produced the GCVA with the inaugural Sam D. Hamilton Award for Transformational Conservation Science on March 17, 2016 at a ceremony held at the North American Wildlife and Natural Resources Conference in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. This award was created in tribute to the former USFWS director who passed away in 2010 to recognize individuals and teams who are working on big picture challenges, developing collaborative partnerships, and improving how we develop and deliver science for conservation.
Of the species assessed in the GCVA, Kemp’s ridley sea turtle is thought to be the most vulnerable species across the Gulf Coast. Experts identified its main threat as loss of nesting habitat to sea level rise, erosion, and urbanization. Tidal emergent marsh is considered to be the most vulnerable ecosystem, due in part to sea level rise and erosion. In general, avian species were more vulnerable than fish because of nesting habitat loss to sea level rise, erosion, and potential increases in storm surge.