DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (AP) — In the early 1960s, Jim Swoop couldn't say no to sunset surfing.
After his lifeguard shifts with Volusia County Beach Safety Ocean Rescue on the wide, hard-packed beaches, he'd often go surfing with friends if the conditions were right. Paddling out on his board as far as he could, he said that when he'd turn around to face the shore, the sun would turn the whole ocean golden.
"We called it velvet time. Everything was crushed, golden velvet," he said. "The beauty was undeniable."
But he also said the beach lifestyle or that time, full of boating and surfing and sunbathing, is slowly vanishing.
Born in 1947, Swoop said he has witnessed a change in New Smyrna Beach's shoreline along the Atlantic Ocean since his childhood in the 50's. The beach, he said, has become narrower.
There may be a variety of reasons the beach seems more narrow, including erosion from recent storms, or differences in tides from one week to the next. But scientists have also documented rising seas.
"Rising sea levels are an increasingly negative threat for beach living," Swoop said.
In Volusia and Flagler counties, the beach is an economic and recreational lifeblood.
The beach is where tourism flourishes and independent restaurants thrive; where visitors stay in hotels; where residents spend long winter days and longer summer days walking and jogging, tossing footballs and Frisbees, playing in the waves and getting tanned.
And, the beach is where scientists are trying to understand how the ocean and beach are changing, and why.
Florida's first Chief Resilience Officer is Julia Nesheiwat, appointed by Gov. Ron DeSantis to work with the state on balancing the natural environment with a growing economy.
In a recent visit to Daytona Beach, Nesheiwat said it's no longer a question of whether or not climate change is real. Instead, she said the state needs to proactively address the symptoms of a changing environment.
"Actions speak louder than words," she said at a Daytona Chamber of Commerce speaker series event. "I really think Florida can be a national model when it comes to this."
That includes rising sea levels. Nesheiwat said residents and businesses in Volusia County need to adapt to the change.
Data gathered by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or NOAA, suggests sea levels here have risen as much as 0.8 feet since 1992. The rising seas, according to scientists, are a result of melting polar ice and warmer oceans that take more space.
Based on current climate trends, NOAA's estimate seas may rise as much as 1.85 feet by 2040 compared to 1992.
Historic photos of the beach indicate that the beach is more narrow now than in the past.
A photo from the News Smyrna Beach Museum of History that appears to be from the 1930s or 1940s shows a beach so wide that four lanes of cars could drive down the middle of it, with room for cars to park on both sides.
Another photo in The News-Journal's archives believed to be from the 1960s shows how at low tide the surf receded so much that a car could park on the hard-packed sand on the east side of the building atop the Daytona Beach pier.
In contrast, at low tide on a recent calm day, the surf never receded past the west side of the building on the pier.
Ed Fee, who has visited the area every winter since 1972, said his winter home in Daytona Beach is by a dock on the Halifax River. When he first moved there, the water was at a comfortable level beneath the dock. But now, even on a clear day with flat surf, the dock will go underwater at high tide.
"It's happening more often," he said as he walked on the beach last week. "You won't be able to get on this far on the beach soon," he said. "It's really changed, but I still love it."
Susan Park of Daytona Beach lives about a quarter-mile from the beach. She likes to go walking on the beach. But she said the beach has changed since she was a child.
"The water is getting closer and closer to the sea wall," said Park, 53. "You hit high tide, and you start to run out of beach."
Park said the only time it's easy to walk on the sand now is at low tide. Once high tide starts to come in, she's "constantly having to walk up on the boardwalk."
Because of this, and because Park comes from a mathematically-geared family, she decided to look into the science behind rising sea levels. According to a NASA article she shared with The News-Journal, satellites that have collected 25 years of data from the ocean suggest sea levels are rising .13 inches every year, or about an inch every eight years. In addition, the speed with which the oceans are rising is increasing.
Because of that, the width of the beach is becoming more narrow, she said. That means less walking room, less room for sandcastles and less room for beach driving.
"That part has just gotten smaller and smaller," Park said. "Every day, you have to look at the tidal charts."
William Sweet, an oceanographer at NOAA, said there are two main components to ocean levels rising globally.
"It's about two-thirds due to icebergs melting in Antarctica and Greenland, and about one-third due to warmer ocean temperatures," he said. "There is also evidence that rains are getting heavier."
With the mixture of the ocean expanding from warmer temperatures and the amount of water melting from icebergs, Sweet said NASA's estimate that the ocean is rising an inch every eight years is generally accurate. but in Florida, he said, sea level rise has accelerated to about an inch every five years.
"It's right now that this is a hot spot for sea level rise, and there's a noticeable impact," Sweet said.
Sweet said that for every inch that sea level rises, the beach can narrow by inches, and even feet. The more the ocean encroaches on the beach, the greater the amount of erosion that occurs.
"The wave attacks, rises in height, chews away the sand, and it's lost," Sweet said. "This is the future that we've been talking about for the past 10 years, and it's only going to get worse."
Tammy Malphurs, spokesperson for Volusia County Beach Safety Ocean Rescue, agreed the landscape of the beach has changed. But she added that the beach has a way of balancing itself out. She said rising seas have not greatly impacted beach driving.
Beach Safety tries not to close driving unless absolutely necessary, like when the tide is dangerously high for cars. Malphurs, who's worked with Beach Safety for 23 years, said that since she's been there, rising seas have not led to a significant increase in the number of times the beach has been closed to cars.
"It depends on tides, weather, erosion," she said.
Jim Sherry, 64, enjoys metal detecting on the beach, walking around in the mornings and looking for tiny treasures. He said the beach's biggest issue is sand erosion, not rising seas.
"I would say things have changed a little, but not as much as everybody's worried about," he said.
Sherry said rising seas are a slow process, and it will not have a great effect on the beach anytime soon. Still, he doesn't think it's a good idea for developers to build new homes or condos too close to the ocean.
"Why build in the area when you know you're going to flood?" he said. "There's no way of reversing it. It's not going to happen soon, but it's going to happen."
Realtor Bill Navarra said even with the highest possible amount of rise in sea levels that NOAA has projected, he doesn't believe it will affect many oceanfront homes because most of them are elevated, some by as much as 20 feet.
"I still think we're in a good spot," he said. "It would make it much more difficult to sell homes eastward of the coastal construction line, though."
The coastal construction control line is a program implemented by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, focused on hindering development in areas with sea turtle nests, protecting beach and dune systems and "regulating construction, excavation, dune vegetation removal," according to the Department's website.
Discover, share and discuss the latest in Daytona Beach-area development in the News-Journal's Developing Daytona Facebook group.
Navarra agreed that during the 21 years he's worked in real estate in the area there has been a visible difference in the sea level. But so far it hasn't impacted oceanfront real estate, he said.
But Swoop said his children, who don't live in Florida, are trying to convince him and his wife to sell their house, which sits five feet above sea level. They believe that by the time Swoop's grandchildren are adults, the house will be too dangerous to live in when storms approach.
"It alarms us," Swoop said. "You can't beat mother nature. You're not even going to fight her."
Information from: Daytona Beach (Fla.) News-Journal, http://www.news-journalonline.com