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King Tides Project shows how the coast will look if the climate crisis isn't mitigated



King tides are coming to the Central Coast, and you can be part of a community science project to help document them.

Annie Kohut Frankel, manager of the Coastal Commission's California King Tides Project, explained that these natural phenomena—the highest tides of the year—happen each winter.

SPLASH ZONE This photo of a king tide, taken at Eldwayen Ocean Park in Pismo Beach, is one of the hundreds of images that the California King Tides Project has collected. - PHOTO COURTESY OF THE CALIFORNIA KING TIDES PROJECT
  • Photo Courtesy Of The California King Tides Project
  • SPLASH ZONE This photo of a king tide, taken at Eldwayen Ocean Park in Pismo Beach, is one of the hundreds of images that the California King Tides Project has collected.

"They're predictable: They're when the sun, the moon, and the Earth are in alignment, so the moon and the sun are amplifying the gravitational pull for more extreme tides," Kohut Frankel said. "How high the water actually is does depend on whether there is a swell, an offshore storm. When that coincides with king tides, then it can be especially dramatic."

The Central Coast saw its first wave of king tides Dec. 4 and 5, and Kohut Frankel said the next ones will occur Jan. 1, 2, and 3. The California King Tides Project encourages average citizens to help contribute to scientific research on the tides by snapping and submitting photos of the high water levels.

"It's been going for about 10 years," Kohut Frankel said of the California King Tides Project. "But since 2018, we've been collecting them in a map. ... We've tried to get a little bit more scientific over the last few years, and really specific about the location. This is data, [and] it makes them much more usable by planners and researchers."

While king tides are natural phenomena, they can help us understand how coastal communities will be impacted by climate change and sea-level rise. The California King Tides Project implores people to imagine a world where these uncommonly high tides are a constant reality.

"There's a lot of beaches that may be pretty white and sandy most of the year, and they might be totally underwater for king tides. There are places that have roads flood, trails flood," Kohut Frankel said. "Morro Bay definitely has some State Parks land that gets flooded during king tides predictably. It's significant, and the reason why we document it is because that 1 to 2 feet is about what we're expecting to see in terms of sea-level rise within the next few decades."

Anyone can contribute to the California King Tides Project by submitting photos with precise locations.

"It's creating a living record of our coast," Kohut Frankel said. I think one of the most important purposes is that it gets people paying attention to sea-level rise. It gets people talking to their friends and family about it, and that's very powerful."

Local coastal governments looking to plan for and adapt to sea-level rise can apply for grants from the Coastal Commission. Six rounds of Local Coastal Program grant funding have already been awarded since 2014, with local recipients including San Luis Obispo County, Santa Barbara County, Morro Bay, and Pismo Beach. Grant applications for the next round of funding are due by Dec. 22.

Fast facts

• The inaugural Christmas on Main Street is coming to downtown Templeton on Dec. 18 from 4 to 7 p.m. The free event is open to the public and will begin at Main and 8th Street at the American Legion Hall. Children will have the opportunity to meet Santa Claus, parents can peruse a craft fair with more than 30 local vendors, and the whole family can check out the Templeton 4-H petting zoo, according to event organizers. "The Templeton Recreation Department will be hosting various children's activities at Main and 6th, and further down the street, enjoy the winter performance of Main Street Dance near their studio at Main and 2nd Street," organizers added. "Bundle up the family and stroll historic Main Street, where local shops and restaurants will be decked out with lights and holiday decor, serving special treats and opening their doors to the community." There will also be a scavenger hunt map available at the Chamber of Commerce office at 321 Main St. "Find all the trees to win a special treat from Santa!"

• By staying at local hotels, San Luis Obispo visitors will be helping to plant trees in SLO through the new Keys for Trees program. "The San Luis Obispo Tourism Business Improvement District will dedicate 1 percent of its annual revenue to planting trees throughout the community," according to the SLO Chamber of Commerce. "The program is part of a novel partnership with the Environmental Center of San Luis Obispo, a local nonprofit dedicated to protecting and preserving SLO's natural assets." The goal is to plant 10,000 trees by 2035. Anyone who wants to support tree-planting efforts can also donate directly at Δ

Reach Staff Writer Malea Martin at

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