Gulf of Mexico
Gary Raulerson, an ecologist with the Tampa Bay Estuary Program, shows an upland area in Fort De Soto Park. The Tampa Bay Estuary Program and scientists from the University of Florida are monitoring several sites around the region to observe the effects of sea level rise over time. [SCOTT KEELER | TAMPA BAY TIMES]

FL - Under drone radar, Fort De Soto Park becomes living lab for sea level rise

The Tampa Bay Estuary Program monitors a muddy thicket across from a snack shack, one of nine watch sites in the region.

Across the road from a snack shack in Fort De Soto Park, Gary Raulerson searches until he finds a gap in the cabbage palms. He ducks inside, branches creaking on a bright February morning. He plods a few steps past an orange survey flag.

Sunlight slashes through dead Brazilian pepper trees, brought here more than a century ago for decoration, now invasive. Raulerson tries to avoid poison ivy. Sweat pricks his back.

In the parking lot, University of Florida researchers prepare a spider-like drone, which will fly an $80,000 laser radar device to collect data on the vegetation.

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