Seeking Awareness for Sea Level Rise

FROM PERSONAL INTEREST TO PROJECT 

For Olivia Saucedo, a biology major and biochemistry minor at the University of Texas at Tyler, researching ecological conservation has always been more of a personal interest than an academic one. She has studied a variety of climate change issues, from weather patterns to increasing levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Yet she realized one topic in conservation doesn’t get as much attention as others. 

“I noticed that the issue of rising sea levels is really on the shadow edge of the conversation,” Olivia says, “but it’s really very important. It impacts a multitude of coastal species, as well as a lot of people who live on coastal lines.” 

As a self-described ocean lover, Olivia had already conducted a fair amount of research around human impact on sea level rise, and when her conservation class at UT Tyler required an extensive research project, Olivia saw the perfect opportunity to take her research to a broader audience. 

“I’ve been watching rising sea levels before I was required to perform any formal research on the topic,” Olivia says. She notes that even in the current media, the negative effects of rising sea levels don’t get much spotlight. “But it’s happening quite frequently. I knew this project would be a great opportunity to raise awareness.” 

CHANGING ENVIRONMENTS 

In order to uncover which species and coastlines are most impacted by sea level rise, as well as the current rate of rise, Olivia turned to several primary research studies conducted on the topic over the last three years. She examined one particular study on a salt marsh that covers land across several states including Louisiana, Texas, and Alabama.

“Whenever salt water rises and causes flooding, that changes the environment,” Olivia says. She discovered a particular species of snail in that area that is unable to survive adolescence due to the change in salt water levels. “Even that changes the environment,” she says.  

Olivia discovered that from snails, to fish, to birds, sea level rise causes many species to migrate to an unhealthy living environment or face extinction. She noticed that even humans are often the victims in sea level rise-caused migration. 

“For many years, people on the Louisiana coastline have had to abandon the place they called home due to rising sea levels,” Olivia says. 

CONTINUING AWARENESS 

Unfortunately, what Olivia discovered through the course of her research, is that humans are very much at the root of the sea level rise issue. As carbon dioxide continues to be released into the atmosphere, the warming of the ice caps will continue to cause a rise in sea levels. 

“There are little things being done, like building sea walls, but that really isn’t dealing with the root of the problem,” Olivia says. “That’s just contributing more.” 

Olivia says that the true solution to slowing sea level rise is to continue studying and bringing awareness and understanding around the topic. 

“When you bring awareness, it doesn’t mean the problem is going to stop in the next year or two,” she notes. “It’s something that has to gradually happen.” 

The gradual shift can happen through any number of best practices to reduce our ecological impact, including recycling, keeping the faucet turned off, finding alternative transportation, and flipping off switches and appliances. Olivia’s hope is that through her research, people begin to see the steps they can take as more than a chore, but something they can do to directly impact the health and longevity of their homes. 

She notes that after her research project was complete, she observed research on the reduction of carbon dioxide in the air due to stay-at-home orders from COVID-19. 

“When we come together, we can help lower our ecological footprint,” she expresses. She continues that as people have rallied together in 2020 to take safe, protective measures for our world, we can come together to continue preserving the planet we call home: 

“We need to be sure we are preserving what we have while we can. If we don’t bring awareness to these issues, we won’t have much of a world left.” 

TOMORROW’S HORIZON 

In the coming months, Olivia wants to continue making the world a better place but now through her future career in dentistry. She will be completing her degree at UT Tyler and then applying to dental school at the University of Texas at Dallas. Her long term goal is to provide dental care through her practice to lower-income individuals who typically do not have access to dental care and resolve systemic issues caused by lack of dental care. She even hopes to take her services abroad through missions trips to other countries, providing education and dental services to people without access to care. 

In the meantime, Olivia plans to continue making conservation efforts a part of her daily life. “This topic was completely different from what I plan to have a career in,” Olivia says. “It’s just something I want to continue to pursue personally. I love the ocean, and I don’t want to see it mistreated. Maybe one day the research I share will bring the attention for someone to learn about this topic, too.”