Stories in the Gulf of Mexico

Scaling Up Nature-Based Solutions (SUNS)

Using Nature-Based Solutions to Build Resilience in the Florida Panhandle

Sun shines through a palm tree on the shores of The Gulf of Mexico.
St. Joseph Bay State Buffer Sun shines on The Gulf of Mexico at St. Joseph Bay State Buffer Preserve, Port St. Joe, Florida. © Andrew Kornylak

Scaling up Nature-Based Solutions (SUNS)

SUNS is a multi-year effort to identify and promote nature-based solutions for resiliency in the Florida panhandle. We use nature-based solutions to tackle challenges such as flooding, sea-level rise, threats to wildlife, and economic development. The project brings together local stakeholders to identify and implement the best natural solutions to the unique challenges facing Bay, Gulf, and Franklin Counties.

See the SUNS Report

We have been working on scaling up nature-based solutions in the Hurricane Michael impacted region of Florida.

Hurricane Michael significantly damaged communities in the Florida panhandle when it hit the area in 2018. Those communities are continuing to recover—and prepare for the next storm.

The Nature Conservancy, with support from Northeastern University and the United States Naval Academy, is working with the Northwest Florida Water Management District (NWFWMD) and St. Andrew and St. Joseph Bays Estuary Program, alongside local, regional, state and federal partners on a project to promote nature-based solutions (NBS) for resiliency in the panhandle. The effort is being funded by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation’s Coastal Resilience Fund and the Walmart Foundation.

This project, called Scaling Up Nature Based Solutions (SUNS), has created a portfolio of NBS projects for coastal resilience in Franklin, Gulf, and Bay counties. The resulting regional resilience planning framework will guide investments in restoring and strengthening natural features, such as wetlands and oyster reefs, to reduce flood risk and conserve the exceptional natural resources of the project area.

A digital map of the SUNS Portfolio Projects along the coast of The Gulf of Mexico.
SUNS Portfolio Projects © Darryl Boudreau
Two people work at a table over a map to determine locations for nature based solutions.


  • March - July 2021

    Activity: Information gathering, needs assessment, data compilation | Outcome: Established stakeholder working group and identification of capacity gaps

  • July 2021 - March 2022

    Activity: Convene working group to review and select nature-based solution options in Bay, Gulf, and Franklin counties | Outcome: Draft portfolio of nature-based solution projects and maps

  • April - August 2022

    Activity: Finalize, prioritize, and share portfolio of nature-based solutions | Outcome: Prioritized portfolio of nature-based solutions

  • August 2022 - March 2023

    Activity: Working group sessions and workshops to build capacity to implement the portfolio | Outcome: Improved capacity to implement projects in the portfolio

  • April 2023 - January 2024

    Activity: SUNS team provides technical capacity, proposal development, and financial support to advance a selection of SUNS projects towards implementation | Outcome: Multiple SUNS Portfolio projects are advanced towards implementation

Shoreline with vegetation and a dock in the background.
Gulf Ecosystems Restoring Gulf ecosystems with nature-based solutions helps support the region's natural resilient habitat. © Steven Scyphers/Northeastern

Project Team

  • Chris Shepard smiles for her portrait.

    Chris Shepard

    The Nature Conservancy

  • Jessica Graham smiling for her portrait.

    Jessica Graham

    St. Andrew and St. Joseph Bays Estuary Program

  • Anna Jane Jones smiles for her portrait.

    Anna Jane Jones

    NOAA Digital Coast Fellow 2020-2022

  • Darryl Boudreau smiles for his portrait.

    Darryl Boudreau

    Northwest Florida Water Management District

  • Katie Konchar stands in nature.

    Katie Konchar

    The Nature Conservancy

  • Jeff DeQuattro smiles for his portrait.

    Jeff DeQuattro

    The Nature Conservancy

  • Steven Scyphers smiles for his portrait.

    Steven Scyphers

    University of South Alabama

  • Kiera O'Donnell smiles for her portrait.

    Kiera O’Donnell

    Duke University

  • Jahson Alemu smiles for a portrait.

    Jahson Alemu

    Northeastern University

  • Bob Bendick smiles for his portrait.

    Bob Bendick

    The Nature Conservancy

  • Randall Hughes smiles for his portrait.

    Randall Hughes

    Northeastern University

  • Tori Tomiczek smiles for a portrait.

    Tori Tomiczek

    United States Naval Academy

Hurricane Michael Study: Key Findings

In 2019, following Hurricane Michael, Northeastern, USNA, and TNC conducted a series of studies to assess Hurricane Michael’s impact in Bay, Gulf, and Franklin Counties. The team examined the relationship between open space and storm damage; the performance of natural versus hard infrastructure during the storm; and the resiliency of marshes. This work provided the foundation for the SUNS Project.

    • Overall property damage was extensive with 6% of residents describing their homes as ruined, 26% majorly damaged, and 36% moderately damaged. 

    • Armored shorelines did not provide additional storm protection and greatly increased recovery costs for waterfront residents. On average, recovery costs for vegetated shorelines were $2,937, and $14,117 for hardened shorelines. This suggests that natural and nature-based shorelines are attractive and cost-effective options for individual shoreline protection.
    •  Coastal marshes were largely resistant to storm impacts. Despite being subject to hurricane winds and surge, only 2% of coastal marshes in the study area were damaged.

    • Residents also generally perceived marshes as effective at protecting coastlines against storm waves and inundation.

    • However, damaged marshes were slow to recover. Only 16% of damaged marshes recovered six months after landfall.  Because marshes are important for coastal protection,  they should be proactively managed post-storm to increase recovery.
    •  Increasing green space surrounding a home was associated with higher probability of recovery, after controlling for social and hurricane-impact factors

    • This demonstrates the importance of considering green spaces and natural and nature-based features as part of a holistic portfolio of investments for promoting resilient coastal communities.
Ocean view through sea oats and dunes with pink skies at sunrise.
Panama City Beach The Gulf Coast at Panama City is a region where nature-based solutions have the opportunity to make a positive impact. © Darryl Boudreau

SUNS Dashboard

Our SUNS Team has created a portfolio of nature-based solution (NBS) projects for coastal resilience in Franklin, Gulf and Bay counties. This regional resilience planning framework will guide investments in restoring and strengthening natural features, such as wetlands and oyster reefs, to reduce flood risk and conserve the exceptional natural resources of the project area.

Working Group

The Working Group is a group of approximately 25 people with representatives from Bay, Gulf and Franklin Counties; municipal governments; environmental organizations; state and federal entities; and the public. The first Working Group session reviewed the benefits of nature-based solutions as a resilience strategy and was tailored to the Working Group members’ level of knowledge. Members of the Working Group drew upon their own expertise,  as well as suitability maps generated by the TNC/NU/USNA teams, to create a prioritized portfolio of NBS investments across the project area, taking into account both risk reduction and habitat benefits.

The purpose of the Working Group is to:

  • Advance resilience planning in the wake of Hurricane Michael across Bay, Gulf and Franklin Counties by facilitating increased coordination across jurisdictions and agencies
  • Identify potential projects and opportunities for policy-change to support nature-based resilience solutions 

More specifically, the Working Group sessions developed a portfolio of nature-based resilience projects by defining:

  • The types of NBS that are locally appropriate and feasible within the region 
  • Selection criteria for prioritizing NBS projects, and
  • The specific types and locations of NBS projects that should be prioritized

The Working Group finalized the SUNS Portfolio in 2022.

Coastal area with a road along the beach.
The Gulf Coast Our work to Scale Up Nature-based Solutions along the Gulf helps support both coastal communities and ecosystems. © Darryl Boudreau

SUNS Map App


  • Scaling up Nature-Based Solutions

    See a one-page fact sheet for the SUNS Project. Learn more

  • Hurricane Michael Study Executive Summary

    This summary covers the various dimensions of the Hurricane Michael Study, which examined the ways nature buffered the storm’s impact in Florida’s Panhandle. Download

  • Collecting and Synthesizing Existing Data about Hurricane Michael

    In the early aftermath of Hurricane Michael in October 2018, Northeastern researched and gathered available data and reports to understand the broader landscape of impacts and ongoing assessments. Download

  • Effects of Green to Gray Space on Storm Impacts and Recovery

    This study found that during Hurricane Michael, an increased amount of green space around homes predicted a higher probability of home and mental recovery. Download

  • Storm Perceptions, Impacts, and Recovery of Coastal Households

    This study compared the performance of hardened shorelines to vegetated shorelines. While the two performed similarly in the Panhandle during Michael, vegetated shorelines offered significant savings in repair and maintenance costs. Download

  • Damage, Resilience, and Recovery of Salt Marshes

    This study found that Florida marshes were largely resistant to storm damage from Hurricane Michael—offering important implications for the roles marshes can play as coastal buffers. Download

Resources for Nature-based Solutions

  • Naturally Resilient Communities

    The Naturally Resilient Communities website provides a guide to nature-based solutions and includes case studies of successful projects from across the country Learn more

  • Promoting Nature-Based Hazard Mitigation Through FEMA Grants

    A TNC guidebook that offers a framework for identifying nature-based solution mitigation projects eligible for FEMA funding Learn more

  • Green Infrastructure and Post-Disaster Recovery

    The APA’s Green Infrastructure and Post-Disaster Recovery (Planning for Post-Disaster Recovery Briefing Paper 10) demonstrates the important role green infrastructure plays in building resilience to natural hazards Learn more

  • Engineering with Nature

    The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Engineering with Nature: An Atlas offers two volumes of projects highlighting a range of applications for nature-based engineering solutions Learn more

  • Tyndall Coastal Resilience and Sustainability Strategies

    As part of Tyndall Air Force Base’s broader coastal resilience strategy, this guide offers a framework for nature-based solutions relevant to the Florida panhandle Learn more

  • Plan4Resilience (LinkedIn)

    The Plan4Resilience is a LinkedIn group that connects professionals interested in advancing nature-based solutions and community resilience Learn more

Additional Resources

  • NOAA's Digital Coast

    Brings together the resources of the nine member-organizations in the Digital Coast Learn More

  • CRS Green Guide

    The Association for State Floodplain Manager’s Community Rating System (CRS) Green Guide highlights the elements of the CRS program that offer benefits beyond flood risk reduction Learn More

  • CRS Explorer

    TNC’s CRS Explorer allows communities to visualize and prioritize undeveloped areas in the floodplain to improve their CRS score. Learn More

  • SUNS Meetings

    Information and links for SUNS Working Group meetings. Learn More


For additional information, or to sign up for the SUNS newsletter, contact Chris Shepard, Director of Science for TNC in The Gulf of Mexico:

Trees reflect off the flat calm waters of a cypress swamp.
FL061220_D057.tif water lilies, cypress, Black Creek, Betty and Crawford Rainwater Perdido River Nature Preserve (2300 Acres on the Florida side of the Perdido River below I-10) © Beth Maynor Young