BIG PINE KEY, Fla. -- Treasure salvors searching for an 18th-century wreck in the Florida Straits a few years ago made a fascinating but little noticed discovery.
Not buried treasure. Buried land. Some 35 miles west of Key West, in 45 feet of water under a five-foot layer of dense mud lay an 8,500-year-old shoreline not unlike today's coast of the Florida Keys. There were well-preserved mangroves, pine cones and pine tree pieces, some amazingly still fragrant when brought to the surface.
The prehistoric past paints a sobering picture of what many experts see as an all-too-near future for the string of low-lying islands that make up the Florida Keys. By 2100, under the best-case predictions of a seven-inch sea-level rise by an international climate panel, the Keys would lose about 59,000 acres of real estate worth $11 billion, according to the nonprofit Nature Conservancy. Under the panel's worst-case projection of ocean waters rising 23.2 inches, about 75 percent of the Keys 154,000 acres and nearly 50 percent of its $43 billion property value could become submerged. Consequences also include the loss of habitat for many endangered plants and species, including Key deer. And the panel's predictions are conservative in comparison to some scientists' more recent calculations.
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