Could Rising Sea Levels Flood Hawaii Famous Beaches?

Rising sea levels could flood Hawaii’s famous Waikiki Beach and the city streets of Honolulu in the next 15 to 20 years.

That information comes from a state climate commission. The commission also shared a video showing how flooding and erosion already affect many parts of Hawaii.

That is not good news for a state where tourism is the main driver of the economy. Hawaiian lawmakers are trying to pass new laws that would involve spending millions of dollars to protect coastlines and cities from rising tides.

State Representative Chris Lee has put forward a bill calling for a coastline protection plan. He said, “The latest data on sea level rise is quite scary and it’s acceleratingfaster than we ever thought possible.”

Lee added that the program would center on Honolulu, Hawaii’s capital. But it could become a test program for other coastal communities around the state.

Hawaii has rarely been directly hit by hurricanes. However, Lee writes in the bill that warming oceans increase the risk of hurricanes for the state. The bill estimates that if a major hurricane made landfall in Hawaii, it would cost $40 billion for the state to recover.

Lee said, “The loss of coastal property and infrastructure, increased cost for storm damage and insurance, and loss of life are inevitable if nothing is done….”

The proposed legislation is similar to action taken by New York City in 2012, after a major storm led to $19 billion in damage in the city. The Hawaii bill also seeks more research into a carbon tax that could raise money and lower the state’s dependence on fossil fuels.

Democrats lead both houses of Hawaii’s legislature. The state traditionally has taken a leading role on climate issues. Lee said state lawmakers are to meet in the coming weeks to discuss final changes before sending the bill to Hawaii Governor David Ige. Ige, who is also a Democrat, has not said whether he would sign the bill.

The bill comes two years after the sea level rise adaptation report was made public as a guideline for future legislative action and planning.

Research included in the report suggests Hawaii will see nearly a one-meter rise in ocean levels by the end of this century. It predicts that more than 6,000 of the state’s buildings and 20,000 people across all of Hawaii’s islands will experience continuing flooding.

The report says roads, bridges and beaches will be washed away. And the state’s seaports and airports will likely also be affected.

The report was updated in September to included newly published research. The new research warns that previous estimates of flooding could be 35 to 54 percent lower.

University of Hawaii researcher Tiffany Anderson led the study. Anderson said she was surprised by the large increase when the effect of beach erosion was added to the study. She said, “We found out it covers a lot more land … I wasn’t expecting such a large increase…”

State Representative Nicole Lowen said people hoping to build near the coast should already be wary. She also warned that sea level rise and climate change would impact “an economy that’s so heavily based on tourism …”