Miami is basically screwed. Half the city’s population lives within four feet of sea level. Depending on who you ask, that level is expected to rise between three and 30 feet by the end of this century. And the projections seem to get worse and worse.
It’s bad news for Floridians, but good news for the future residents of Miami: sea creatures. Scientists already know that marine life is willing and able to colonize man-made structures underwater. Sunken ships, piers, and abandoned offshore drilling platforms evolve into artificial reefs, supporting a variety of organisms by providing shelter where there had been none. Soon, parts of Miami become a modern Atlantis, harboring a diverse colony of underwater life.
It doesn’t take long for algae and other microscopic life to start to grow on undersea structures. These early colonizers pave the way for things like shrimp, snails, and some types of fish. Corals, urchins, sea stars, mussels, and clams will begin to move in, attaching themselves to Miami’s rotting corpse.
As the colony grows, those higher up on the food chain will certainly take notice. Fish will come for food and shelter, and bigger fish will come to eat the smaller ones. Soon the seals, whales, and dolphins will come, too. One recent study found that seals actually cruise offshore wind farms looking for grub, which is pretty decent evidence that a good thing is going on there.
How diverse, productive, and resilient undersea Miami will be as an ecosystem remains to be seen. Ocean acidification, another horrible side effect of humanity’s fossil fuel addiction, treatens the survival of shell-forming sea life, and could destroy food webs dissastrously and irrepairably. Corals, which form the reefs that are the foundation for so much coastal life, are also particularly vulnerable. But for the creatures that can adapt to the oceans of the future, after the natural reefs die off, submerged cityscapes may provide a safe haven.