HIGH STAKES: HURRICANE MATTHEW THROUGH THE EYES OF A CAREGIVER

By Kasey R. Jacobs, TCS Communications Chair, Partnership and Communications Coordinator for the Caribbean Landscape Conservation Cooperative

Editors’ Note: This story is the third contribution to the TCS Storm Stories series.

Three women sat slightly sweating with the electricity out, wind pounding the hurricane shutters. Each a daughter from a different generation – Generation Y, Baby Boomer, and one born on the cusp of the Greatest and Silent Generations.

Up until that point our time in darkness waiting for Hurricane Matthew had been like a snow day. Cozy together time with coffee, playing cards, watching the local weather man give updates, and reading books aloud to one another.  After two wobbles that took Matthew away from our location, we were relieved to no longer have to think about extreme flooding or whether or not the house could stand up to category 4 winds.

But while others in our area probably went to bed after the second wobble, we stayed up.

One of us had a high stake in the electricity going out.

My 87-year old grandmother, Rae Dolores DePalma (b. 1929 – d. 2017), a long-time sufferer of COPD and congestive heart failure, spent the prior five years transitioning from needing oxygen part of the day, to most of the day, to all of the day. In October 2016, ten minutes off the oxygen could plummet her blood oxygen levels to 50% oxygen saturation – a critical level.  Or as one paramedic told us so crudely, “I’ve seen corpses with oxygen levels higher than that.”  My mother and I needed to stand guard in case the electricity cut out. Even with the electricity on, we would check her levels using an oximeter at least hourly.

Rae Dolores DePalma

Sure enough, not long after Hurricane Matthew’s second wobble, the TV and lights flickered and we were in pitch darkness. We immediately put our contingency protocol into action.

The oxygen concentrator my grandmother depended on, and that we affectionately called O2-D2, couldn’t operate without electricity. Little green tanks were Plan B. Each could last four hours and we had five tanks. If the electricity would be off longer than 20 hours we would have to switch to the large hurricane-supply tank of oxygen in the garage that could last 48 hours. If the electricity stayed off longer than that, Plan C was arranging a ride with EMS to the hospital. Past storms in the area had left my family without electricity for ten or more days. The closest hospital was also in the next town over and in a flood zone, which created additional transportation challenges should the roads be impassable.

At the start of the hurricane season I had made inquiries into the capacity of our area for dealing with special needs patients during hurricanes. I had learned the local senior center was not equipped to allow oxygen-dependent persons into the shelters. And I had been told the County did not have an official special needs shelter.

For us, the only option would be the hospital located in the flood-zone. The hospital administrator assured me the generators in the hospital would be safe as they are located on high ground, not in parking lots, which is sometimes the case for essential facilities in flood-prone areas. (I discovered this to be the case while mentoring a group of Worcester Polytechnic Institute students conducting a critical infrastructure analysis in San Juan’s coastal zone.)

Why didn’t we evacuate? 

During the hurricane, my mother and I would occasionally speak in whispers so as to not to alarm my grandmother that we should have evacuated. I was witnessing risk perception study results come to life. A couple of times prior to the hurricane, I had presented to my family the reasons I felt we should evacuate. I used flood map tools from the county and explained how stormwater infrastructure functions and the uncertainties in flood modeling. Our house is located one mile from the evacuation zone and in the middle of a series of man-made retention ponds and rivers. Our neighbors were claiming that past hurricanes had flooded the streets but none of the floods went up to the doors. To me this meant a Category 4 certainly could have inundated our houses given the right conditions (storm surge direction and height combined with high tide, heavier than expected rainfall, debris clogged sewers, and overtaxed storm water retention basins).  We also had family on the west coast of Florida so, unlike many others, we wouldn’t have to pay for a hotel.

The concern written all over the faces of the local horsewomen of the city had me even more worried in the days leading up to Hurricane Matthew’s arrival. They had been through this time and time again, yet this time seemed different. My sister and her friends spent hours preparing a concrete barn of a friend for extra horses, making sure no flying debris could injure a horse. Those who had non-concrete barns often relocate their horses to concrete barns during storms, if they don’t evacuate to Florida’s west coast.  At the concrete barn, my sister and her friends boarded up the stalls, secured feed and water, and transported horses from other unfortified barns.

In the end, I was out-voted. It was considered to be too much of a production to transport all three of us plus two dogs to the west coast with a car full of oxygen tanks, the concentrator, wheelchair and walker, only to pack it all up again and return a few days later. With most of the coast evacuating we could be stuck in traffic for so long the green tanks would run out before we got there. Plus, in and out of cars for short trips, let alone long trips, was really taxing on my grandmother and the anxiety and stress was not good for her heart. It was already working overtime because of her COPD.

During the storm, before the two wobbles, we realized the big risk we took in the decision to stay. I couldn’t help but think of those studies that discuss how even with information (in this case, coastal scientist family member sitting there in the living room with maps and hurricane data discussing the risks) people will tend to listen to neighbors, local weather men or sheriffs before the scientists. Because we were not directly in the evacuation zone these public figures were not focusing their recommendations for our area. They repeatedly pleaded with residents and businesses in evacuation zones to evacuate. The Governor of Florida even went so far as saying, “If you stay, you will die.” I called the County emergency hotline to get advice for our area but they would not give me a specific recommendation, most likely for liability reasons. They did, however, reiterate the information I already knew and discussed the different scenarios. It was nice to have that peer review of what I was telling my family, but because we were one mile outside the evacuation zone we were left to determine our risk independently.

Our neighbors were all saying before the storm that the last hurricane wasn’t so bad. In my family we have been through so many other storms some felt we could get through anything. Days after the storm it was like memories were jogged and new stories came up about bad damage and flooding from past hurricanes.

The Human Factor

In the hours leading up to the storm while getting the shutters closed-up, and all the supplies out of the hurricane supply cabinet, including our low-sodium snack options for my grandmother, I started getting really nervous. Thinking of all the possible scenarios, and mostly the worst case scenarios, I started making an emergency bag for us and my grandmother in case we had to rush to the hospital or be rescued. The bag had an emergency whistle and skin suit in case the flooding got to be really bad, first aid kit, extra Depends, change of clothes, money, identification and insurance cards, water, snacks, waterproof bag for cell phone. My mother thought I was nuts, but I just kept thinking of all the possible scenarios and wanting to be prepared for each.

I am so thankful we never had to use the emergency bags. But I remember my thoughts as I was packing them. “This is ridiculous, why didn’t we evacuate?” “Maybe we should have put sand bags at the front door, garage door, and back door” “What if the river behind the house floods and comes in through the back?” “What if the ambulance can’t get through?” “What is my family thinking?”

I have focused on disaster risk reduction for the past nine years, in various roles in school and professionally. I have researched and written about vulnerable populations and have facilitated teams to develop recommendations from scientists, planners, and municipalities to improve conditions along the coasts and enhance resilience. In West Sumatra, Indonesia I helped during tsunami and earthquake trainings of small businesses along the coasts. But going through an acute event with an elderly, oxygen-dependent loved one, opened my eyes to the real challenges individuals and communities face in implementing recommendations. It is one thing to study and synthesize information from subject matter experts, maps, and models or even to go through hurricanes yourself; it is quite another thing entirely to go through a major hurricane as a caregiver.

I think this “human factor” is something I was failing to consider while I was disgruntled with my family members for making what I thought to be a poor decision.

But more than that I think it is something we do not consider enough in disaster risk reduction and climate adaptation work as professionals. We look at vulnerable populations as statistics and identify measurable barriers that prevent them from taking safety precautions to protect life and property. While we are far from cold to the realities and challenges of these populations, we do have the tendency to down-play the human side to the choices people make when it comes to their health and safety of themselves and loved ones.

Academically, we like to state what people should do or should not do in post-storm event analyses, and describe the poor choices that are made. When extending this work to climate change adaptation, this tendency can be more pronounced in that within community of practice  circles we often express disbelief at the decisions made by individuals, businesses, and governments in siting infrastructure, removing natural protective features, or choosing to live in high-hazard areas rather than supporting planned retreat. We tend to think that if they just had the information or if the information was presented better they would choose differently. I don’t think this is necessarily the case. Vulnerable populations need the information to ensure they are making decisions with all the available information, but we need to recognize that affected individuals and communities may still make decisions we disagree with because they weigh certain factors differently than we do as outsiders. When you don’t have a direct stake in the matter, it is not so easy to understand why certain decisions get made the way they do.

In the case of Hurricane Matthew and my grandmother, her discomfort and anxiety and preference to be at home during an emergency rather than in the middle of a gridlocked highway during an emergency, was weighed more heavily than flood and wind risk.

This reminds me of my favorite scene in the movie Sully, about the Miracle on the Hudson. An investigation was launched around the decision made by the Captain to do an emergency landing in the Hudson River instead of trying to make it back to the runway after a flock of birds flew through the engines. The flight simulators showed it was possible to make it back to the runway. But the simulations didn’t consider the real-life response time of a pilot in that situation. Once they did, the simulation results supported the decision made. Tom Hanks, playing Captain Chesley ‘Sully’ Sullenberger, replies in the movie, “We’ve all heard about the computer simulations, and now we are watching actual sims, but I can’t quite believe you still have not taken into account the human factor.”

When the electricity was restored and Hurricane Matthew’s winds were far away, my mother and I were finally able to stop holding our own breaths while trying to save my grandmother’s. I don’t think I will ever look at risk perception or special needs population work in the same way again.

How to Prepare if You are an Older Adult or a Caregiver

A number of organizations and companies have great advice and check-lists for hurricane preparation if you are a caregiver or if you are a senior yourself:

  • For seniors by seniors: American Red Cross
  • For people with lung disease: net
  • Elderly special needs plans to be ready for a disaster: FEMA
  • Personal preparedness for older adults and their caregivers: CDC

Editors’ Note: This story is the third contribution to the TCS Storm Stories series. Due to recent hazards events, Hurricane Matthew and the Baton Rouge Flooding, we want to know how it is affecting you personally and in your work. There’s been lots of attention by national media outlets like NPR story Hurricane Matthew Took a Big Bite Out of Southeastern States’ Beaches but since we are a society of coastal professionals for coastal professions we think we should do our own reporting. Sharing experiences and lessons within our network is what we do best. Submit yours today!

GoldenGate

HOW TO COMBAT “MY NEIGHBOR HAS A BULKHEAD – I WANT A BULKHEAD” SYNDROME

By Lisa Graichen, Climate Adaptation Program Coordinator, UNH Cooperative Extension and NH Sea Grant

In North Carolina, it’s easy to get a bulkhead, and changing the regulatory framework to encourage living shorelines might be a longshot. I recently had the opportunity to talk with Whitney Jenkins, Coastal Training Program Coordinator with the North Carolina Coastal Reserve and National Estuarine Research Reserve (NCNERR) about how to combat bulkhead syndrome. NCNERR has been engaging audiences in creative, effective ways to improve awareness and understanding of shoreline management options and build support for living shoreline approaches. Their innovative approach can serve as inspiration for living shorelines efforts across the country.

A common story is that a homeowner calls up a contractor and says, “My neighbor has a bulkhead – I want a bulkhead.” They often have their mind made up going into the conversation. But they may not know about the living shoreline options available to them and the benefits those approaches have to offer. Rather than attempt to reach every individual homeowner to provide information about living shorelines, the NCNERR is focusing outreach on two key intermediary stakeholder groups: Realtors and marine contractors. This approach capitalizes on the audiences and relationships those stakeholders have in the hopes that the message will trickle down to reach more homeowners, more effectively.

Working with Realtors

The North Carolina Coastal Training Program has been conducting workshops for Realtors since 2002. Initially, workshops focused on septic systems, stormwater management and low-impact development, and barrier island development. Starting in 2011, the Program incorporated a living shorelines topic. To reach the Realtor group, the Reserve offers continuing education credits through the North Carolina Real Estate Commission. Because the Reserve is a State agency program, the Commission does not charge them to offer these workshops and credits, so they are able to offer the credits to the Realtors at no charge. Realtors are used to having to pay for credits, so these free workshops are especially well received. Being able to talk to clients about the values of marshes, oyster reefs, and other natural resources increases Realtors’ professionalism and enhances the information they’re able to provide to potential buyers.

North Carolina Coastal Reserve and National Estuarine Research Reserve
North Carolina Coastal Reserve and National Estuarine Research Reserve

“As a realtor, I am constantly dealing with properties on marsh and water… so this workshop will help me serve my clients better, help them make informed decisions, and provide them with possible options.” – Realtor who attended a living shorelines workshop


Engaging Marine Contractors

Then the Reserve wanted to try to reach marine contractors, but in the absence of continuing education requirements for this audience, the approach had to be different. In addition, a traditional day-long workshop approach wouldn’t meet this audience’s needs. Instead, the Reserve came up with the idea of doing a “Dinner and a Living Shoreline Movie” event. They pieced together recordings from past living shorelines workshops into a 50-minute movieand hosted three events at restaurants and auditoriums. A permit official was available at each event to talk about the permitting process and answer questions from participants. The first round of this approach was held this past winter and reached 54 people, representing 22 different construction and engineering firms, with very positive feedback from participants.

North Carolina Coastal Reserve and National Estuarine Research Reserve
North Carolina Coastal Reserve and National Estuarine Research Reserve

Making Other Connections

In addition to these efforts, the Reserve offers trainings on living shorelines for field staff in the state’s Coastal Program so that they can then provide information and guidance to homeowners during the permitting process. In the future, the program may also look into reaching homeowners’ associations, in another attempt to leverage resources to reach broader audiences, and also to explore opportunities to implement living shorelines on association-owned property.

Currin_armwaving_NOAALS
North Carolina Coastal Reserve and National Estuarine Research Reserve) Workshop participants visiting a living shoreline on Pivers Island in Beaufort. Dr. Carolyn Currin from the NOAA Beaufort Laboratory explains how loose oyster shells and marsh plantings are protecting this shoreline from erosion.

Understanding Shoreline Decisions

Researchers at UNC Chapel Hill Institute of Marine Sciences have done homeowner perception surveys about shoreline decision-making factors (Smith et al., 2017). These results can inform the Reserve’s outreach and communication strategies to focus strategically on the factors that are most important to homeowners when making these decisions. This work highlights the benefits of advancing local living shorelines research – both natural science and social science – in coordination with implementing outreach and communication strategies so those efforts can be as targeted and impactful as possible.


now


According to Whitney, it takes “a little bit of experimenting and homeowners trusting that these natural infrastructure is going to protect their property.” I was encouraged to hear her report finding more and more contractors who are getting on board with living shorelines and are willing to experiment with these approaches in North Carolina.

Advice from Whitney

I asked Whitney what advice she would give, reflecting back on her experience working on living shorelines in North Carolina. She suggested that it’s critical to recognize and respect that the marine contractors bring a lot of first-hand knowledge about the coastal environment. She recommended incorporating waterman’s knowledge into your workshops if possible. For example, Whitney invited a local commercial fisherman to speak at a workshop about his work creating bags of oyster shells to make into living shoreline sills. At one of the “Dinner and a Living Shoreline Movie” events, one contractor shared his frustration that there is so much research going on in the area but no one had asked for his perspective. Not only do these workshops and events provide opportunities to inform an audience, but they can also serve as valuable opportunities to learn from and acknowledge the experience and expertise these audiences already bring to the table and to build new trust and relationships.

Whitney also mentioned that the state’s Coastal Program has an internal living shorelines workgroup that is very interdisciplinary. They meet quarterly to talk about everything from permitting and research to monitoring and outreach. This group provides a strategy to guide living shorelines work in the state, and also provides a variety of expertise and capacity that can be tapped into for trainings and events. The multi-pronged and creative approach North Carolina is taking to advance living shorelines and meet audiences where they are can likely be modified and replicated in other states. I know I will bring back some ideas from my conversation with Whitney to my colleagues in New Hampshire!


Another article of interest: Scyphers, Picou, and Powers, 2015 

“Along densely populated coasts, the armoring of shorelines is a prevalent cause of natural habitat loss and degradation. This article explores the values and decision making of waterfront homeowners and identifies two interlinked and potentially reversible drivers of coastal degradation. We discovered that:

  • misperceptions regarding the environmental impacts and cost-effectiveness of different shoreline conditions was common and may promote armoring
  • many homeowners reported only altering their shorelines in response to damage caused by armoring on neighboring properties.

Collectively, these findings suggest that a single homeowner’s decision may trigger cascading degradation along a shoreline, which highlights the necessity of protecting existing large stretches of natural shoreline. However, our study also found that most homeowners were concerned with environmental impacts and preferred the aesthetics of natural landscapes, both of which could indicate nascent support and pathways for conservation initiatives along residential shorelines.”

HELPING COASTAL COMMUNITIES THRIVE: INSPIRATIONAL PROJECTS FROM SIX STATE COASTAL PROGRAMS

By Lisa Graichen, Climate Adaptation Program Coordinator for UNH Cooperative Extension and NH Sea Grant

Looking for some coastal inspiration? We’ve got some for you! As a coastal professional and resident, I think it’s so exciting and motivating to learn about the diversity of projects coastal communities and states are working on, whether it be research and vulnerability assessments, planning and zoning improvements, engineering designs for resilient infrastructure, or actual on-the-ground restoration and conservation. Now more than ever, we should be highlighting all the great ways state coastal programs help coastal communities thrive.

First, a little context: All 35 coastal and Great Lakes states and territories (except Alaska) participate in the National Coastal Zone Management Program, a voluntary partnership between the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and coastal states, focused on implementing the Coastal Zone Management Act (CZMA) and supporting responsible coastal resource management. Many of these programs award projects to coastal municipalities to support climate adaptation and resilient communities. :

Massachusetts Coastal Management Program is funding 19 Coastal Resilience projects in local cities and towns, for a total of $1,824,732. Here are a few examples:

  • The City of Boston will build on a vulnerability assessment to design nature-based strategies to support coastal resiliency (e.g., living shorelines, green infrastructure) for two priority sites.
  • The Town of Dennis will evaluate and design a pilot project to determine whether the beneficial reuse of dredged material is an effective way to address marsh loss and restore storm protection benefits.
  • The Town of Marshfield will evaluate modifications to a culvert and tide gate structure under existing and future sea level rise conditions.
  • The City of Salem will design and permit a living shoreline project at Collins Cove, using coir rolls (cylinder-shaped mesh rolls filled with coconut husk fibers) and natural vegetation to provide more natural protection from erosion.
  • Full project list is available here: http://www.mass.gov/eea/docs/czm/stormsmart/grants/2017-coastal-resilience-grants.pdf
Flooding in Marshfield, MA, in 2013 (Barry Chin, Boston Globe)
Flooding in Marshfield, MA, in 2013 (Barry Chin, Boston Globe)

 

Maine Coastal Management Program is funding five Coastal Community Grant projects, for a total of nearly $186,280.

  • The Washington County Council of Governments will restore commercial river herring fisheries to the greater Cobscook Bay ecosystem.
  • The Town of Vinalhaven will conduct a vulnerability study for its downtown, which is home to 40 businesses, dozens of fishing wharves, and a ferry landing. This project will improve understanding of the flood risk to this area and identify potential adaptation options.
  • The Lincoln County Regional Planning Commission will analyze flood risks for commercial and governmental structures in downtown Boothbay Harbor and provide recommendations to improve flood resiliency and raise community awareness of the flood insurance program.
  • The City of Bath will assess downtown stormwater runoff patterns and management options to mitigate the risk of flash-flooding and the volume of pollutants discharged into the Kennebec River. The project will also develop conceptual designs for improving infrastructure.
  • The City of Gardiner will study its downtown storm drainage system, evaluate options to mitigate the impacts of periodic flooding, and make recommendations.
Vinalhaven, ME (Tom Groening)
Vinalhaven, ME (Tom Groening)

 

New Hampshire Coastal Program is funding four Design Solutions for Coastal Resilience projects, for a total of over $271,000.

  • The University of New Hampshire Cooperative Extension and NH Sea Grant will continue dune restoration work in Hampton and Seabrook, promote a dune grass community garden, and design new strategies to reduce dune impacts.
  • The Town of North Hampton will evaluate drainage issues at the flood-prone Philbrick’s Pond salt marsh adjacent to Route 1A.
  • The Town of Durham will analyze erosion issues at Wagon Hill Farm and design a nature-based erosion control solution.
  • The Rockingham Planning Commission will work with the City of Portsmouth and the towns of Rye, Hampton, and Seabrook to implement high-water mark installations to raise awareness about historical and projected future flood levels.
  • Learn more here: https://www.des.nh.gov/media/pr/2017/20170322-coastal-grant-awards.htm
Flooding during a 2016 King Tide in Portsmouth, NH (Sean Maxwell)
Flooding during a 2016 King Tide in Portsmouth, NH (Sean Maxwell)

 

Michigan Coastal Zone Management Program is providing $332,500 for seven coastal projects.

  • The Harrison Township will develop a Waterfront Zoning Overlay District, a Developer’s Guide Brochure, and a Complete Streets Design for the district. These products will help inform smart growth and development for the coastal area.
  • The Michigan Environmental Council will map the extent of Michigan’s coastal sand dunes and conduct outreach to better understand public values of the dunes and build a constituency of dune supporters.
  • The County of Van Buren will restore and stabilize 20 acres of dunes, improve a public trail system, and develop signage and a video about dunes.
  • The City of St. Joseph will conduct a five-year review and update of their 2012 coastal study to validate the engineering model and evaluate whether current regulations still provide sufficient protection, given rising water levels and potential increases in erosion.
  • Emmet County will construct an accessible pathway and boardwalk in Headlands Park to provide access to the Lake Michigan shoreline to all users.
  • Charlevoix County will develop a comprehensive master plan for a water trail system around Beaver Island, the largest island in Lake Michigan. The project will include a stakeholder summit, data collection and mapping, an asset inventory, an accessibility assessment, and development of promotional materials.
  • The City of Port Huron will improve public access to a constructed wetland through a boardwalk, wetland overlook, interpretive signage, and plaza.
  • In addition, the Michigan Coastal Zone Management Program is funding the second phase of a Coastal Resiliency Initiative project (a $125,000 grant) to work with the Michigan Association of Planning to incorporate coastal resiliency into communities’ plans and ordinances.
Flooding during a 2016 King Tide in Portsmouth, NH (Sean Maxwell)
Flooding during a 2016 King Tide in Portsmouth, NH (Sean Maxwell)

 

Texas Coastal Management Program is funding 17 projects, for a total of over $2.6 million. Here are a few examples:

  • Texas A&M University-Corpus Christis (TAMU-CC) aims to develop a comprehensive database for monitoring living shoreline projects and mitigation sites.
  • The Galveston Bay Foundation will construct a mile-long hike and bike trail, install an irrigation system, and plant native trees and grasses at Exploration Green in Harris County. This project will improve public accessibility and use natural wetland habitats to filter stormwater runoff.
  • The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department will create artificial reef habitat at the Rio Grande Valley Reef Site in the Gulf of Mexico, improving fisheries habitat and supporting fishing and diving.
  • TAMU-CC will generate information related to groundwater discharge rates to improve environmental flow recommendations and nutrient criteria in south Texas estuaries.
  • Learn more about these and other projects here: http://www.glo.texas.gov/coastal-grants/#search/groupcsv=Coastal%20Management%20Program%20%28CMP%29|cycleYearcsv=2017
Artificial-Reef-Red-Baby-Snapper-Fish
Artificial reef (Friends of RGV Reef)

 

Ohio Coastal Management Program is providing over $500,000 to support 12 projects, including the following examples:

  • The West Creek Conservancy will develop an app for mobile devices to promote watershed stewardship and public engagement in the Lake Erie Basin.
  • The Ohio Department of Natural Resources will work with the City of Sandusky to develop a Strategic Restoration Initiative for Sandusky Bay.
  • The Cuyahoga Soil and Water Conservation District will identify and prioritize stormwater options in four subwatersheds of the Rocky River. The project will produce conceptual designs for the top priority projects.
  • The City of Rocky River will develop a master plan for redeveloping Bradstreet’s Landing to improve lake access and water quality.

This is just a taste of projects being funded this year. Many thanks to the state Coastal Programs and to NOAA for supporting this impressive and important work!


Sources:

  • Individual State Websites (linked to above)
  • Personal communications with author and state programs

WEST HAVEN, CONNECTICUT TAKES AIM AT COASTAL HAZARDS WITH NEW COASTAL RESILIENCE PLAN

By Christina Wiegand, Coastal Resources Management PhD Student, East Carolina University

If you’ve spent time in West Haven, Connecticut, chances are you’ve spent some time on Beach Street. With beautiful views of Long Island Sound, Sandy Point shorebirds, and lobster rolls from the famous Chick’s Drive-In (RIP Mr. Celentano), it is a destination for residents and tourists alike. However, the one-two punch of Hurricanes Irene and Sandy illustrated the susceptibility of the area to coastal hazards. To address coastal hazard risk along Beach Street and other vulnerable areas, the City of West Haven has been preparing a Coastal Resilience Plan.

Now in the final stages of development, the goal of the Coastal Resilience Plan (CRP) is to address the city’s resilience to impacts from increasing storm frequency and sea level rise. The New Haven Register has quoted assistant city planner David Killeen saying the plan “will develop options for adapting to coastal risks over the long term, with an emphasis on protecting people, buildings and West Haven’s infrastructure.”

Development of the CRP is timely, with NOAA’s most recent report on sea level rise indicating a 1-8 feet rise in relative sea level along the Connecticut coast. Coupled with increases in storm severity and flooding, West Haven is likely to become increasingly vulnerable without improvements to resilience.

Purple areas indicate 5 feet of sea level rise in West Haven Source: Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (CT DEEP)
Purple areas indicate 5 feet of sea level rise in West Haven. Source: Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (CT DEEP)

Planning for the CRP was based on The Nature Conservancy’s coastal resilience program approach. This approach involves: assessing risk and vulnerability, identifying solutions, taking action, and measuring effectiveness. Throughout the process, West Haven ensured there was ample opportunity for public input. Three public meetings were held to discuss the types of hazards facing the city, avenues for adaptation, and finally long-term recommendations. Additionally, a survey of coastal residents was conducted.

The most recent draft of the CRP focuses resilience efforts on 13 coastal communities with an emphasis on underserved communities where income may limit their ability to adapt to coastal hazards. Resilience efforts will vary based on each community’s needs. Structural adaptations are likely to include: beach and dune re-nourishment, bioengineered banks, and flood protection for large residential and commercial areas. Bioengineered banks, where native plants and natural materials are used to stabilize the shoreline, are typically preferred over hard structures. Political changes are likely to include changes in city floodplain and zoning regulations.

With the right motivation and support, hopefully the CRP will ensure Beach Street and the rest of West Haven remain one of Connecticut’s premier coastal destinations.

The CRP is being prepared by Milone and MacBroom Inc. in conjunction with the Black and Veatch Corporation. Funding comes from the US Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Community Development Block Grant Disaster Recovery Program.


For more information: City of West Haven Coastal Resilience Plan – March 2017 Draft

WOOD CHIPS COULD CLEAN AQUACULTURE WASTEWATER

By Emily Tripp, Publisher and Editor of MarineScienceToday.com

Editor’s Note: This article first appeared in Marine Science Today and is reprinted here as part of a TCS-MST Collaboration

Aquaculture is one of the fastest growing sectors of agriculture in the world. It’s seen as a way to handle the increasing demand for seafood without putting additional pressure on wild fish populations. However, it has its own set of challenges, ranging from the food given to farm-raised fish to wastewater treatment.

View from inside a Hawaii offshore aquaculture cage. Photo credit: NOAA.

View from inside a Hawaii offshore aquaculture cage. Photo credit: NOAA.

A new study from the University of Illinois shows that a simple, organic system may clean aquaculture wastewater effectively and inexpensively.

In this new system, water from a fish tank enters a bioreactor (a long container filled with wood chips) at one end, flows through the wood chips, and exits through a pipe at the other end. While flowing through the container, solids settle and bacteria in the wood chips filter out nitrogen, which is a highly regulated pollutant.

The researchers compared four flow rates (the amount of time water has to flow from one end of the bioreactor to the other) and found that the optimal time was about 24 hours.

“The long and the short of it is that the bioreactors worked great,” Laura Christianson, assistant professor of water quality at the University of Illinois, lead author of the study, and bioreactor expert said. “They worked as a filter for the solids and took nitrates out. But for systems that need to move a lot of water in a short amount of time, we recommend an additional microscreen filter to settle some of the solids out before they enter and clog up the bioreactor.”

To learn more:

Reprinted from: http://marinesciencetoday.com/2017/03/17/wood-chips-clean-aquaculture/#ixzz4gmnyaJPi

BEYOND THE MARKETING LINGO: HOW SAFE ARE YOUR PERSONAL CARE PRODUCTS?

By Caitlyn Hayes, The Coastal Society Communications Intern 2016, Eckerd College Undergraduate Student studying Biology and Environmental Studies

Editors’ Note: The mention of certain products does not imply endorsement by TCS members or officers.

Many of you are marine and freshwater enthusiasts in some way, shape or form. Have you ever given thought to your personal care products (lotions, toothpaste, soap, sunscreen, etc.) and how they interact with the systems you love?

You would think that, like with any product you use, they are safe for you or your pets. Normally, our worst experience with these products would be getting them in our eyes, causing irritation. Concern for the impact of personal care products (PCPs), however, goes beyond worries of eye irritation as they enter waterways. PCP presence in waste water could pose problems for aquatic life in coastal ecosystems. Human health is also potentially at risk if these substances get into drinking water supplies or are absorbed into your body’s blood stream. But how would you know based on the labeling and lingo presented on the product? Despite these problems, unclear labels on these personal care products can be a barrier for knowing what to use and what is safe not only for the ocean, but also for you.

You hear all the time about pharmaceuticals being monitored and the public asked to not dispose of them down sinks; to avoid their presence in our drinking water since the filters at waste treatment plants cannot filter them out. Now microbeads in facial washes, toothpaste, and body scrubs are also being banned due to their effects on oceanic life. These microbeads increase the amount of microplastics in the ocean, as they are made of plastic fibers. When the ban was made on the microbeads, the companies had two years to remove them to find substitutes, and the stores to pull them off their shelves so consumers no longer could purchase these items. So what is to say about the effects of other personal care products on the market?

Photo Credit: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/microbead-ban-chang-way-you-clean-brianna-drisdale

Imagine it is a beautiful day and you decide you want to go to the beach and bring your family. This is your favorite beach because not only is there fun to be had in the warm sand, but you love to snorkel and just a little ways off the beach is a beautiful little reef where you can explore. The moment you arrive you see the sun is intense today, so you will definitely need to apply a lot of sunscreen to avoid burning your skin. You pull out your favorite brand and apply as much to cover every exposed part of your body. Once smoothed out with no white residue left on your skin, you strap on your snorkel and run to the water. The water is beautiful today, and crystal clear, but you notice that there is a strange film on the surface of the water. The film is shiny, at certain angles has a metallic look, and in some cases looks like an oil floating in water. In the back of your mind you wonder, “What could that be?”

If you are me five years ago, you think it is salt and whale pee hanging out on the surface of the water. Have you ever wondered why sunscreen bottles tell you to reapply when you get out of the water? Like any product, it washes off in water. And as you are making your way to the reef to explore, that film is your sunscreen washing off your body. Have you ever thought about what chemicals are in your sunscreen?

You would think that as a product that has constant contact with the ocean and freshwater due to recreational fun, that it would be safe or tested to be safe for marine life. Unfortunately, while sunscreens require much analysis for skin safety on humans, there is little testing on effects to aquatic life. It is estimated that 4,000 to 6,000 tons of sunscreen enters our oceans from washing off our body every year. There are some products that market themselves as eco-friendly and cause no harm to any species that has contact with them. Consumers should be aware though, that “no harm” can be true for any product based on the type of testing that is done, as well as the concentrations used to test. This can greatly skew the results showing the product is nontoxic or not harmful, if reasonable concentrations or test subjects are not chosen carefully.

Photo Credits: Stream2Sea®
Photo Credits: Stream2Sea®

Autumn Blum, an alumni from Eckerd College, is an active diver and coral reef enthusiast who decided that she wanted to find a better way to create personal care products by removing the harmful chemicals and replacing them with less or non-harmful chemicals. So she created Stream2Sea® the first performance-based sunscreen and bodycare line without using any ingredients known to be harmful. Oxybenzone, a common active ingredient in thousands of sunscreens and lotions, has been shown to be a mutagen, an endocrine disruptor, and a reproductive toxicant for both marine and terrestrial species, and also humans as it is absorbed into the blood stream. It has been found in human breast milk and urine as it lingers in body and blood stream. Not only is this chemical a toxicant to marine species, but you can also look for other active ingredients, such as, benzophenone-2, octinoxate and parabens on the ingredients label. The purpose of these chemicals are for dispersion on the skin, so Autumn replaced those harmful chemicals with non-nano titanium dioxide, non-nano TiO2. This chemical has been shown to not cause harm to other species. When exposed to concentrations higher than what is likely in recreational water supplies, her sunscreen products have resulted in little to no effects on the marine and freshwater fish, and corals that they have tested.

At the moment there is very little research regarding what is toxic and the exact effects the chemicals have on marine species. So there is no standard for what is considered to be safe for marine life. It is up to customers to make the decision to read the label for the active and inactive ingredients already known to cause harm to marine life and to your own bodies. Get rid of the harmful residue coming off your skin as you swim. Look beyond the marketing lingo and read the labels. Think about the ocean, and your own health!


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NATURE AS PROTECTION: ECOSYSTEM-BASED ADAPTATION AND ITS SUCCESS IN THE CARIBBEAN

By Amanda Leinberger, NOAA Coastal Management Fellow with the Puerto Rico Coastal Zone Management Program and TCS Communications Subcommittee Member.

Editor’s Note: This article is also published on Marine Science Today as part of a TCS-MST Collaboration

Ecosystem-based Adaptation is good for communities and the environment as it promotes community engagement, restores natural habitats, and builds local resilience. The experience of a small island in the Caribbean is case in point.

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Map of the Lesser Antilles. Photo credit: Google.

In the turquoise waters of the Eastern Caribbean Sea sits Grenada, a small island of about 105,000 people. The island is the southernmost of the Windward Islands and is located between Saint Vincent and the Grenadines to the north and Trinidad and Tobago to the south. Due to its location, Grenada is prone to natural hazards such as hurricanes, floods, earthquakes, landslides, and tsunamis. The country’s two largest cities, St. George’s and Grenville, are both located on the coast, and people depend heavily on agriculture and tourism for sources of income.

Coastal communities and marine resources on the island have already begun to experience the effects of climate change and are currently at risk from an increase in severe storm events, flooding, sea level rise, coastal erosion, drought, saltwater intrusion of coastal aquifers, and degradation of coral reefs. High coastal population densities, development, and limited land space have made Grenada all the more vulnerable. Damage from events that included two hurricanes, various tropical storms, and multiple extreme rainfall events served as a catalyst for projects focused on disaster preparedness, coastal resilience, and Ecosystem-based Adaptation (EbA) to help protect communities at risk from future coastal hazards.

According to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), adaptation can occur in physical, ecological, and human systems and “takes place through reducing vulnerability or enhancing resilience in response to climate change.” Adaptation activities include increasing community members’ knowledge and awareness about climate change effects to actually implementing adaptation strategies like creating a rain garden to help improve stormwater management.

EbA specifically focuses on “the conservation, sustainable management, and restoration of ecosystems to help people adapt to the impacts of climate change (IUCN)” as opposed to hard strategies that sometimes work against natural processes, such as concrete seawalls. EbA, also known as nature-based adaptation or a soft adaptation strategy, consists of multiple co-benefits as it not only protects livelihoods and communities but also restores natural habitat, supports vital ecosystem services, and boosts economies by increasing tourism.

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Photo credit: Tom McCann, The Nature Conservancy (found in National Geographic Ocean Views, 2014).

The At the Water’s Edge (AWE) project, a great example of EbA work in the Caribbean, promotes coastal resilience and aids local communities in Grenada in responding to coastal hazards. As part of AWE, a partnership was formed between The Nature Conservancy, the Grenada Red Cross Society, and the Grenada Fund for Conservation as well as other local partners to conduct a Vulnerability Capacity Assessment (VCA). Combining the strengths of these different organizations helped make the process not only nature-based, but community-based as well. The VCA focused on four communities in the Grenville area of Grenada on the east coast of the island: Marquis, Soubise, Grenville, and Telescope. Previous assessments of these sites showed them to be the most vulnerable areas in Grenada for various reasons including their location, dependence on marine resources for income, and damage caused by past extreme events and storms. These communities are situated just steps away from the ocean, leaving them more susceptible to future changes.

Example of mangrove restoration on east coast of Grenada. Photo credit: Amanda Leinberger, 2014.
Example of mangrove restoration on east coast of Grenada. Photo credit: Amanda Leinberger, 2014.

The AWE project represents a holistic, community-based approach to adaptation and coastal management processes. For example, the project used participatory 3-dimensional mapping, which is a method of community based-mapping. The map depicts local knowledge and information like landmarks, houses, resources, and ecological features that would be difficult to express on a traditional or even a digitized map. Community members also attended various meetings and trainings as well as formed part of a community committee that was responsible for leading projects and making decisions.

Mangrove nursery. Photo credit: Amanda Leinberger, 2014.
Mangrove nursery. Photo credit: Amanda Leinberger, 2014.

Under this same project, two main EbA approaches were implemented in the Telescope area: mangrove restoration along the shoreline and a pilot coral reef enhancement project off the coast. On an island like Grenada where mangroves occur naturally but have historically been cleared for development, replanting mangroves can bring back a wealth of benefits such as protection from waves, water filtration, and fish habitat. The reefs off the coast of Grenada have also been degraded due to climate change effects as well as land-based pollution sources. The reef enhancement project’s goal was to help with wave attenuation, meaning to
decrease the amount of wave energy reaching the shore thereby decreasing coastal erosion and the risk of damage during high tide and storm surge events.

Climate adaptation often elicits images of giant seawalls separating cities from the sea. Gray infrastructure projects like seawalls are expensive, and they can lead to negative ecological and social impacts like disruption of sand distribution, loss of beach, and elimination of natural habitat. EbA, or green responses, are more sustainable than traditional hard approaches in more ways than one. The work in Grenada demonstrates the importance of natural infrastructure and can serve as an example not only to other Caribbean islands, but to coastal communities around the world.

Sources:

IUCN – Climate Change Adaptation

Ecosystem-based Adaptation and Climate Change 

 

THE OCEAN SUNFISH (MOLA MOLA) STIRS DEBATE IN SCIENCE COMMUNICATIONS

Kasey Jacobs with Caitlyn McCrary and Mary Ella Allen, TCS Communications Committee Members

Two weeks ago, a satirical rant about the Mola mola or Ocean Sunfish spurred an online debate among science communicators, fish lovers, and scientists. And The Coastal Society became an unwitting  contributor.

On February  21st, we shared an editorial from Deep Sea News, titled “Ocean Sunfish are the most useless animal (an epic rant)” on the TCS Facebook page. It included a warning about the vulgar language.

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The Reaction

Shortly afterwards we received the following private message from a follower:

“Your post about Mola mola uselessness was uncalled for, and a bit odd, given TCS’s mission. I’ve unfollowed you.”

This sparked a discussion among a sub-group of the TCS Communications Committee. We analyzed internally whether the post we shared was inappropriate, which led to a larger discussion on the role of satire and humor in communicating ocean science. Turns out, we were not the only ones who were discussing this.

Around this same time, Deep Sea News removed the editorial and in its place embedded a Facebook post by the author that had the original content included.

The Discussion

The TCS Communications Committee welcomed this opportunity to have a healthy discourse about reaching for new, innovative ways to elicit discussion and debate on coastal issues among our members and followers. For decades, the TCS Bulletin and Biannual Conference were our chosen forums but in this age of social media we have been exploring other avenues like this blog, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Blue Room Interview Studio, and even Snapchat. Reaching out to the person who unfollowed us because of the post, we learned that the opposition to the editorial was that it was in “completely poor taste” specifically with regard to how it was written and the language used, but moreover that “we’ve got enough of a problem/challenge in the world of fish getting people to look at climate change, pollution, habitat loss and a host of other issues (including things like overfishing) without kicking species when they’re down.”

Alternative Ways to Use Humor to Inform

The follower also brought up good points about how to use the tactic of sarcasm and humor via social media in a better way. They mentioned that “from a social media perspective, there’s any number of ways to couch things like this so that sarcasm is clearer”.

We love that an example of another Mola mola post was given to show an alternative way to demonstrate the absurdity of the species without going negative or “bad-mouthing the critter”.

(Warning: Very Strong Language used…as in hundreds of curses. Do not click if you are at work or school!)

With a little investigation we found a variety of ways this footage has been used by local fishermen, the Boston Globe, Boston.com, and television outlets in the Boston area that inform the public on the Mola mola. The boaters in the video were even interviewed by Jimmy Kimmel! On the show they were able to discuss just what the fish was and how surprised they were to learn about the Ocean Sunfish.

While the TCS Communications Committee was reaching out to the Facebook follower, Deep Sea News wrote a response to the controversy as well. They went deeper and pulled out information from the scientific literature on the impacts of how we discuss deep sea organisms.

National Geographic and Animal Planet have become known for their presentations of certain fishes as “Monsters of the Deep” and “Sea Monsters” as a way to gain interest, but turns out this trend of using negative humor on social media platforms to further causes is not unique to science communications.  Comedian Jon Stewart and The Daily Show cast and crew are well-known for using this tactic on television and online as ways to raise attention to political issues. But some assert there is a high cost to negative humor, principally creating an “insider” and “outsider” mentality in society.

What Do You All Think?

We want to hear from you! What are your views on the use of humor (positive or negative), sarcasm, and satire in science communications? Can you think of any other examples of its use that you thought were effective?

‘TRUST YOUR JOURNEY’: FIRST URI COASTAL CAREER DAY PROVIDES INSIGHT FOR GRADS

Evan Ridley, Marine Affairs M.A. Candidate & URI Chapter Liaison to TCS National Board

While the prospects of employment are a constant focus for recent graduates and young professionals in areas of coastal and marine studies, very few opportunities exist for potential employers to interact with students and individuals entering those fields. To address this, TCS’ University of Rhode Island student chapter held their first-ever Coastal Career Day at the Narragansett Bay Campus. The event provided both employers and hopeful graduates a unique opportunity to build bridges and network together. Employers present for the day’s events found benefit in gaining perspective into the skills and experience presented by students currently graduating from coastal and marine fields at URI and other schools around New England.

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After hearing the career development stories of panel speakers, students received personal hands-on advice and reflection through resume building activities and breakout group discussions with field-specific interest.  In addition to the opportunities provided by such networking, the insightful philosophy of the event activities allowed for a collective reflection on the state of ‘coastal’ employment moving forward in uncertain times.

The employment landscape is dynamic and ever-evolving in coastal and marine sectors, yet Rhode Island Sea Grant Director Dennis Nixon reflected confidence in the future. “We aren’t going to slide back on (environmental) efforts because we’ve already done too much good.” This sentiment was echoed by many throughout the day, a reminder that room for progress will always remain.

Uncertainty of the economy and political agenda is ever-present, but those in attendance felt reassured by the encouragement of the speakers. “There was almost this collective sigh of relief from listening to the leaders in our fields telling us, basically, ‘it’s going to be ok…and it’s probably going to be great.’” said Sea Grant Knauss Fellow and event organizer Emily Patrolia.

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While other TCS coastal career days have been hosted in North Carolina and Virginia, this was the first to be established in the New England region, and the largest of any TCS coastal career day to date. The varied representation of government, private enterprise and advocacy entities not only drew a great number of interested students but also provided a unique and enlightening event. The planning committee took care to organize speaker panels by focus, which included Betsy Nicholson of NOAA’s Office for Coastal Management, Sarah Smith of the Environmental Defense Fund, Stacy Pala of the Battelle Environmental Research, Peter Moore of the Mid-Atlantic Regional Association Coastal Observing System, Jennifer McCann from the URI Coastal Resources Center, and many others.

Even if things like unpaid internships, year-long fellowships and entry-level positions don’t always appeal to the traditional career path narrative, the employers stressed the significance of seizing every available opportunity. “If you have to take a job as an Uber driver to pay the bills, and volunteer within the community to gain experience, that’s ok” said Jon Torgan, Director of Ocean and Coastal Conservation for The Nature Conservancy. It’s estimated that only 10% of jobs in environmental sectors are advertised. Increasing one’s ability to find these opportunities depends on the connections that can be made during the stops along the way. The overarching message of support reminded students to be flexible and prove your capability to adapt to a variety of roles that may be required from you. In short, employers advised students to trust your journey and reach for your goals. Progress may not always appear as the linear or logical steps you imagined. It will remain a product of hard work, regardless of what that work is.

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Moving forward, the TCS student chapter at URI hopes to use their event model to help other affiliated student chapters host similar events. “We’ve been able to build on the continual improvement of these events, and hopefully URI will also be able to continue to host our own Coastal Career Days in the years to come.” said URI TCS Career Day Director Sara Benson. “This has been a wonderful success and something that be replicated across The Coastal Society network.”

The URI Coastal Career Day took place on November 18th, 2016 with a total of 58 registered student participants from five colleges and universities across the New England region. Overall, 19 different speakers compromised the five focus panels that spanned topics on advocacy, consulting, NOAA, regional science and state agencies. Approximately 17 speakers and employers participated in the “speed dating” and resume critiquing activities aimed at helping students develop self-promotional capabilities. The true success of the event could not have been achieved without the significant financial support of the following sponsors: Rhode Island Sea Grant, TRC Environmental Engineering, Deepwater Wind, Ocean State Aquatics and VHB Consulting.

Additional thanks are due to the Student Planning Committee, led by project manager Sara Benson, who spent many months preparing and organizing. It is the hope of the committee and all members of the URI TCS chapter to continue the support and development of Coastal Career Days in New England and around the TCS network.

PAST PRESIDENT, MATT NIXON, RECEIVES HIGH HONOR

Matt Nixon, TCS President for the 2016 calendar year, received the Manager of the Year for the Department of Agriculture, Conservation, and Forestry, an award given annually to a sole person from each State department for exemplary work.

As the Assistant Director for the Maine Coastal Program, Matt has ensured that the Program is on stable financial ground, and has prompted high-value initiatives including the Maine Coastal Mapping Initiative, salt marsh elevation monitoring, and revisiting the state’s abandoned and derelict vessel program. His vision for coastal and marine management based on sound science has fostered collaborations among the Program and multiple state, academic, and non-governmental partners.

Commissioner Walter E. Whitcomb (left),  TCS Past President Matt Nixon (center), and Maine's Governor Paul LePage (right)
Commissioner Walter E. Whitcomb (left), TCS Past President Matt Nixon (center), and Maine’s Governor Paul LePage (right)