Sea Level Rise in St. Augustine:

A Documentary

I am working on a Documentary about Sea Level Rise in St. Augustine. St. Augustine is the oldest city in the country and I believe that it is worth saving. In the past two years the city has been hit by two hurricanes: Matthew and Irma. It seemed as though as soon as everything started to get back to normal after Matthew, Irma reared her ugly head. This is where I will post updates on the Documentary, where you will find the trailer when it is available and where I will eventually put the film for your viewing pleasure. Sea Level Rise is a serious issue under the umbrella of Climate Change. Let's keep the conversation going. 


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4/1/18: Dr. Joseph Joyner

As the recently appointed President of Flagler College, Dr. Joyner had a lot to take on when he was selected. Including the risk that the college buildings are at when it comes to storm surge during the hurricanes, and, in the not so distant future, Sea Level Rise. 

When I interviewed Dr. Brown of the natural science department, he had mentioned that another professor had emailed him asking about the viability of the college in the future. Professors are starting to get concerned regarding the future of their jobs, and that’s huge. 

Most houses in Florida don’t have basements, because of all the swamps and flooding it just makes more sense. However, Ponce de Leon hotel, the main building of Flagler College, does have a basement because the people that built it were from the north. So when Hurricane Matthew came through with up to six feet of storm surge in some places, it flooded the basement of the college. This really increases the vulnerability of the building and the future of the college. “It’s a wonder if Flagler College would, in fact, exist if it were not for the buildings that we have,” said Joyner. 

I hope that with the work of the conference and the city of St. Augustine, combined with Flagler College I hope, as a Flagler Alum, we can not only preserve what makes the city special but preserve the college so it can continue to offer an education to students in the oldest city. To have the college and the city come together to help preserve the city is what I hope this conference centers around. Starting the conversation is vital. Which is why this film has become so important to me. I want to get people talking. 

Sea Level Rise is such an important issue to St. Augustine, not only because of the rich history but also because of how vulnerable we are to it. It’s been creeping up on the coast for years and in my opinion, the hurricanes brought the possible effects of sea level rise to light and showed me that we need to deal with this issue and prepare before it’s too late. 


3/12/18: Reflections 

This is a picture taken of me about three years ago in downtown St. Augustine. I've been reflecting a lot recently on my role in the film. Recently I finished a book about climate communications. Toward the end, the author specifically addresses climate communicators, which I would identify as, and talks about the importance of telling your personal story and connection to the issue because emotional stories are how we can get people to start listening. 

I was a sophomore at Flagler College in this picture, which means I was still trying to transfer to another school. I wasn't a huge fan of Flagler. I was so sure I didn't fit in and didn't belong here. Even if I was right, I'm so glad I stayed. I had such a negative outlook on St. Augustine when I first started going to school here. It was too hot and too different from the small southern Vermont town that I'd lived in my whole life. Looking back now, I was probably just afraid of change and it took me two years to get over that. 

I may not belong in Florida but I definitely belong in St. Augustine. Not forever, but for now. I have fallen in love with this city in ways that I have yet to be able to describe. There are just way too many things that make this city unique and that's a huge part of why I wanted to do this project and why it has become so important to me. 

My background has a lot to do with why I care so much. I'm from a place that is so different. It's because of those differences that I've been able to see St. Augustine with fresh eyes again and again. 

The reason I didn't transfer from Flagler and away from St. Augustine then is because I really couldn't afford to go anywhere else. Now I feel as though there was something much bigger that kept me here. St. Augustine is nothing like your typical Florida. When people think of Florida they think of it as a place where old people retire or Miami. Sure, St. Augustine has its fair share of retirees but it is no Miami. St. Augustine also has a remarkable age diversity because of the college. So not only do we have people that have retired but we also have college age kids and a bunch of 30-somethings that want to raise a family here.

Everybody thinks that their town or city is unique and special. I know St. Augustine is special and that's why I'm making this documentary.  


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2/8/18: Nancy Shaver 

Nancy Shaver is the Mayor of St. Augustine and is helping the city address sea level rise. She recently was recognized for these efforts by  Northeast Florida Regional Council with the Quality of Life Award for Excellence. We spoke today about the present and future St. Augustine.

The St. Augustine Mayor is logical in the way she addresses the issue. She mentions that our water treatment plant will be compromised, which will alter the entire city's way of life. This is one of the many reasons sea level rise is important to Shaver.

Shaver mentioned multiple times that she was happy I was doing this project and taking the time to document it all, especially after we've just been hit by two hurricanes in a row. She stressed the importance of creating a dialogue about the issue within the community because it will affect all of us. 

We have a fort right on the bayfront downtown, the Castillo de San Marcos. The mote on the fort is meant to be a dry mote but it will not be in the next 10 years because sea level rise will fill it in. The fort is hundreds of years old and is utterly irreplaceable. The city is not able to move the fort and it can't be put on stilts. Preparations for sea level rise are happening now so that we only lose what we have to lose. 

Shaver mentioned that we are at a point now where the city will have to decide what is worth saving and what will have to be accepted as a loss. 

 If you want to see how sea level rise will affect your area check out this map

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2/6/18: Matthew Brown 

Today I spoke with Dr. Brown, who teaches the climate change class at Flagler College, about sea level rise and the future of St. Augustine. We talked a lot about what St. Augustine will look like with the effects of sea level rise. It's a really hard thing to talk about because we're addressing the possibility of losing some of the things that make St. Augustine so special. 

Climate change and sea level rise are similar topics but both equally difficult to address. It's hard to think about the future and losing natural resources our way of life as we know it. It can be depressing. I'll say it. As someone who has spent just a couple years at the most trying to learn as much as I can about climate change and report on it, it can be really hard sometimes. It can feel as though you're fighting a losing battle and the rest of the world is against you. 

It's people like Dr. Brown that give me hope and remind me why the work I'm doing is important. Whether we're sad about it or not, these changes are going to happen to our planet and we are going to lose a lot. However, It's important to remind yourself that you can make a difference even if you only change one person's mind. If everyone believed they couldn't make a difference because they're only one person, there would be no positive change. The first step in making a difference is believing you can. 

Climate change is a daunting topic that just gets bigger and more uncertain the more you learn about it but it's too important. Pushing forward rather than getting bogged down by the sheer size of the issue is going to be how we learn to adapt to our changing climate rather than letting it consume us. 

1/25/18: Leslee Keys 

Sitting down with Dr. Keys in the Solarium really reminded me of all the historic value that even one building in downtown St. Augustine holds. Whether it was her excited, passionate answers to the future or the beautiful view laid out beneath us, it really made me remember why Sea Level Rise and why St. Augustine. 

I wanted to focus on Sea Level Rise specifically in St. Augustine, not only because it's the nations oldest city but because of that, we have so much to lose. Without these buildings that make-up the St. Augustine skyline, not only would the landscape literally be different, but the community would be different. 

Getting the historic preservation aspect of Sea Level Rise from Dr. Keys is so important to this project because it takes a different angle by looking at what exactly we'll be losing. We can't put the fort on stilts. We can't move Ponce. We already tried building a seawall and the storm surge from the hurricanes jumped over that, no problem. In order to properly prepare for the future we need to look at very realistic options to save our city. 

There have been a lot of short-term solutions for Sea Level Rise, like the sea wall, like raising buildings and like beach nourishment. From Matthew and from Irma St. Augustine has lost a huge portion of their beaches which I understand greatly affects our tourism, but I'm not sure spending millions of dollars to bring in sand from somewhere else is really the long-term solution we need. Not only do these projects cost the city millions of dollars, but they can have negative affects on the natural wildlife. Sea Turtles lay their eggs in the same places every year, if they return and can tell that the sand is different then they will not lay their eggs there. So it's already affecting our Sea Turtle population. 

I'm looking forward to St. Augustine as a whole coming together to find long-term solutions to Sea Level Rise. Keep the Turtles in St. Augustine. 

1/24/18: Downtown 

This morning I decided to wander around downtown with the video camera and get some nice shots for the documentary. Between Ponce, Lightner Museum, Casa Monica, the town green, there's so much that makes downtown so easily to identify. 

One of the reasons I wanted to do this project was because I believe that there's too much value in St. Augustine, especially downtown, to let it be washed away. Since starting this project I've been thinking a lot more about why I feel this way and why St. Augustine is special enough to save. 

A couple weeks ago I asked one of my roommates why he thought St. Augustine was special and why he loved it here. He said there was no other place like it. When I asked him we were sitting on the front porch of our apartment, which is on the second floor, looking down on MLKing Ave where Dr. King himself once marched down. We live across the street from a family that has lived in Lincolnville for generations, and next door to a cuban woman with an amazing story. "I just feel like you can't find that in many places, that's why I love St. Augustine," he said. 

Sometimes I feel as though there are so many things that make St. Augustine unique. Like the guy that plays the didgeridoo on St. George Street, then sells them at the farmers market. Or, that you can walk a few blocks away from campus and hop on a sailboat if you want to. Or, Chris, the homeless man that sits in front of the cathedral and plays the recorder, but calls it a flute. 

I am determined to make this project into something that will have people around the country fall in love with St. Augustine the way I have. They will walk away knowing they should do something to keep it above water. If anyone wants to tell me why they love St. Augustine or a story about something that would only happen here, please send it to me with the form at the bottom of this page! I love hearing other peoples answers because they're all different. 


1/22/18: Barbara Blonder 

This afternoon I had the pleasure of sitting down with Flagler College Natural Science Professor, Barbara Blonder. She has taught at Flagler for 15 years and has plenty of impressive experience under her belt. I chose to interview her for this film because not only has she lived in St. Augustine for 17 years and seen the effects of Sea Level Rise grow, she was also personally effected by Hurricane Matthew. 

Currently Blonder is studying Fire Ecology in the Coastal Strand System, which does pertain specifically to St. Augustine. In her interview she mentioned that Sea Level Rise could have such an effect on the Fire Ecology that it could result in a great loss for local species. 

Afterwards, we talked a little bit about the phrase 'Climate Change' and how it's forbidden in a lot of settings currently, even just social ones. I'm currently reading a book called "Don't Even Think About It: Why Our Brains Are Wired to Ignore Climate Change" by George Marshall. 

The book has really made me think about the way people refer to Climate Change, or lack thereof. It has become such a taboo topic, and people tend to just change the subject. I think that something important that I want to start doing, and I think that anyone who is on the side of positive progress for Climate Change should start doing, is rather than getting angry at anyone who is a 'denier' or 'skeptic' we need to start having rational respectful conversations across the aisle. 

I hope that we can move in a direction of positive change and this interview today has me excited for what's to come. 


This morning, my alarm went off at about 6:30am because I had been wanting to shoot the sunrise for my first day of filming. Apparently I had other plans because my feet didn't hit the floor until about 8:30. This was an especially cold morning here on the northeast coast of Florida. Which is probably why I didn't want to leave the comfort of my covers. With the wind-chill it was about 27 degrees in some places. 

By 9:00 I found myself assembling my camera in the backseat of my car because I knew as soon as I got outside my fingers wouldn't work as well. I got out and began to film off the left side of the pier. I got a few weird looks from people and I could hardly feel my fingers but I did get some of the shots I wanted. 

I didn't take much time to look at the footage because I was getting ready for my hands to fall off, but I took a look at it after I got back into the sanctuary of my backseat. In about half of the useable video that I was able to capture, there is a very noticeable spec in the shot. Which I imagine was between the lens and the body that I forgot to check and clean before assembling the camera. 

I'm not going to lie, I was pretty bummed, but also this is something that excites me about the whole process. I am by no means a production expert and I'm really looking forward to learning as much as I can throughout this semester. Even if it means having to reshoot some of my footage. You can be sure I won't be making that mistake again and we'll just have to see what the next one is. 

If you have any questions or suggestions for the project: 

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