Benefits and Challenges of U.S. Offshore Wind Development for our Coastal Communities: A Coastal Connections Discussion

By Ashley Gordon, Melanie Perello, and Steven MacLeod

While only two small-scale offshore wind projects are currently operational along the East Coast, the U.S. offshore wind market is quickly expanding. In the coming decades, as much as 26 GW of wind power could be generated within existing offshore leases between Rhode Island and Virginia. To consider how this may affect coastal communities, The Coastal Society’s most recent Coastal Connections session, held on February 26, 2021, focused on the benefits and challenges of offshore wind development. Moderated by Jennifer McCann, Director of U.S. Coastal Programs at the University of Rhode Island and Director of Extension with Rhode Island Sea Grant, a panel of experts highlighted the planning, economic, and environmental considerations associated with offshore wind project development for coastal communities, focusing on recent development along the East Coast.

Our panel of experts held a lively discussion, addressing questions about renewable energy and carbon emission life cycles, capacity building for supply chain and job creation, impacts to fisheries, benefits of regional partnership and marine spatial planning, and challenges for offshore wind development in other regions of the U.S.

You can watch a recording of the panel here, and highlights from each of the panelists’ presentations are provided below.

Mike Snyder, Ocean and Great Lakes Program Manager for the NY Department of State’s Office of Planning, Development, and Community Infrastructure

Mike Snyder provided an overview of the various types and scales of communities involved in offshore wind development. He recognized multiple challenges and opportunities that are nested across different scales related to fisheries, marine navigation, carbon emissions reductions, rate impacts to local taxpayers, recreation/public access, equity issues, and aesthetic impacts. In the state of New York, technical working groups have been created to address environmental, commercial, and recreational fishing, maritime, and jobs and supply chain considerations. Mike also emphasized the importance of an evolutionary approach to offshore wind development. (Presentation available here)

Matt Smith, Director of Offshore Wind for the Hampton Roads Alliance

Matt Smith discussed economic development opportunities associated with offshore wind. While the majority of the current supply chain capacity for offshore wind is in Europe, the Hampton Roads Alliance is focused on building a supply chain in the Hampton Roads region of Virginia. Matt reviewed the multi-year process for U.S. offshore wind projects, which includes siting and development, design and manufacture, construction and installation, and operations and maintenance. Two offshore wind projects, Dominion Energy’s Coastal Virginia project and Avangrid Renewables’ Kitty Hawk project, will be serviced by the Hampton Roads region of Virginia. These two projects combined are anticipated to provide power to 1.4 million homes, avoid about 10 million tons of CO2 emissions, and provide a $1.43 billion direct economic impact from construction alone on the regional economy. (Presentation is available here)

Laurie Kutina, Environmental Scientist at WSP

Laurie Kutina reviewed the environmental considerations associated with offshore wind development and the U.S. agencies and regulations involved, including the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) and National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). She provided examples from the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority’s (NYSERDA) New York Offshore Wind Master Plan, which charted a course to the procurement of an initial 2,400 MW of offshore wind capacity for the state. Anticipated environmental benefits to New York include 5 million tons of greenhouse gas reduction and air quality improvements, particularly in New York City and Long Island. Laurie also discussed wind turbine visibility considerations. In New York, the turbines of the closest planned wind farms would be located roughly 14 miles offshore and would be barely visible. Laurie highlighted opportunities that exist to engage in the offshore wind development process, including the NYSERDA offshore wind outreach webpage. (Presentation is available here)

For more information on previous and future sessions, visit the TCS Coastal Connections webpage. If you are interested in learning more or volunteering to help develop the Coastal Connections series, please contact us at TCSConnections@thecoastalsociety.org.

Marine Plastic Pollution from the Micro to Global Scale – A TCS Coastal Connections Discussion

By: Ashley Gordon and Steven MacLeod

As of 2015, it was estimated that 8 million metric tons of plastic enter the ocean annually, which is about one garbage truckload of plastic per minute (Jambeck et al., 2015). This shocking statistic was shared to kick-off presentations at The Coastal Society’s November 12, 2020 Coastal Connections meeting, Plastic Pollution: Coastal and Marine Trends. Presentations from three panelists highlighted science, policy, and stakeholder engagement efforts related to coastal and marine plastic pollution. The session was moderated by Catherine Tobin, Ph.D. candidate at the University of Massachusetts Boston, whose research focuses on the effects of microfibers on oysters.

Nicholas Mallos provided an overview of the magnitude of the global plastic pollution issue. Mr. Mallos oversees the Ocean Conservancy’s global portfolio of work on marine debris as Senior Director of the Trash Free Seas Program. Even with current plastic reduction commitments from governments and industries, it is estimated about a cargo ship’s worth of plastics (by weight) will enter lakes, rivers, and our ocean daily by 2030, which equals about 53 million metric tons annually (Borrelle et al., 2020). Reducing plastic waste, increasing waste management efficiency, and expanding cleanup efforts are key actions recommended to reduce plastic pollution. This Ocean Conservancy video provides more information on recent plastic research, and Mr. Mallos’ presentation is available here.  

Fred Dobbs focused his presentation on microplastic pollution. Dr. Dobbs is a marine microbial ecologist and Chair of the Department of Ocean, Earth, and Atmospheric Sciences at Old Dominion University. Microplastics (particles less than 5mm) can be manufactured, or result from the breakdown of larger plastics, and are ingested by marine organisms, including even deep-sea amphipods. Dr. Dobbs highlighted emerging research related to microplastics, including potential human health risks from eating raw oysters containing plastics harboring a pathogenic biofilm. Recent research has indicated marine plastics may disseminate antibiotic-resistance genes through biofilms, which serve as a habitat for bacteria and human pathogens. Dr. Dobbs presentation is available here.

Katherine Youngblood provided an overview of the Marine Debris Tracker app, a citizen-science, open-data initiative for collecting geospatial litter data. Ms. Youngblood is a Research Engineer at the University of Georgia New Materials Institute in the Jambeck Research Group and the Citizen Science Director of Marine Debris Tracker. This video provides more information on the Debris Tracker app, which has been used to collect data in multiple countries, including those along the Ganges River as part of the National Geographic Sea to Source expedition. A new Plastic Pollution Action Journal provides guidance for logging individual plastic-use and recommending actions to reduce plastic-use. Ms. Youngblood’s presentation is available here.

Following the guest speakers’ presentations, meeting participants posed questions related to the following topics:

  • Communicating the upstream impacts of plastic pollution.
  • Policies for addressing plastic pollution.
  • Recent trends in plastic pollution as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, including increased personal protective equipment (PPE) waste.
  • Actions for citizen engagement, including reducing single-use plastics, researching local recycling programs, and talking to local officials.

For more information on other Coastal Connections sessions, including our recent February session focused on coastal communities and offshore wind development, check out the TCS Coastal Connections webpage. If you are interested in learning more or volunteering to help develop the Coastal Connections series, please email us at TCSconnections@thecoastalsociety.org.  

References:

S.B. Borrelle, J. Ringma, K. L. Law, C. C. Monnahan, L. Lebreton, A. McGivern, E. Murphy, J. Jambeck, G.H. Leonard, M. A. Hilleary, M. Eriksen, H. P. Possingham, H. De Frond, L. R. Gerber, B. Polidoro, A. Tahir, M. Bernard, N. Mallos, M. Barnes, C. M. Rochman, Predicted growth in plastic waste exceeds efforts to mitigate plastic pollution. Science. 369, 1515-1518 (2020).

J.R. Jambeck, R. Geyer, C. Wilcox, T. R. Sigler, M. Perryman, A. Andrady, R. Narayan, K. L. Law, Plastic waste inputs from land into the ocean. Science 347, 768-771 (2015).

Photo courtesy of Melanie Perello

The Coastal Connections – Professional Spotlight Sessions showcase TCS leaders

By: Steven MacLeod and Ashley Gordon

The Coastal Society’s Coastal Connections Web Conferencing Series was initiated in 2020 with two concepts: Trending Topic sessions and Professional Spotlight sessions. Here we focus on the first two Professional Spotlight sessions, which are members-only events featuring seasoned TCS professionals who share their career paths and provide career tips to student and young professional members. It is also a chance for the guest speaker to reconnect with other long-time TCS members.

The first Professional Spotlight session, which was the second session in the overall Coastal Connections series, was held on Thursday, October 1, 2020 at 5 pm (Eastern) using Google Meet. TCS member Rick DeVoe was the guest speaker. Rick, the recently retired Executive Director of the South Carolina Sea Grant Consortium, provided an overview of his professional career path, including his educational background, his experiences with the S.C. Sea Grant Consortium, and his involvement as one of the earliest members of The Coastal Society.

Rick shared several professional tips, including the importance of communication skills, building a network, and finding a great mentor. He advised us to “be prepared for the worst, and the best will result”. Rick noted that Margaret A. Davidson – the honorary namesake for our TCS career development program – was an influential mentor for him.

Discussion following Rick’s presentation covered advice for identifying a professional mentor, the role of the S.C. Sea Grant Consortium in coastal management, and coastal resiliency planning. For example, Rick noted the importance of restoring habitat in a way that accounts for predicted environmental conditions such as higher sea levels. We wish Rick all the best as he embarks on his retirement adventures!

The second Professional Spotlight session (and fourth session in the overall series) was held on Thursday, December 17, 2020 at 4 pm (Eastern) through Zoom. The session featured TCS member Lisa Phipps, the North Coast Regional Representative for the Oregon Department of Land Conservation and Development. Lisa discussed a career path that began with fisheries research for the Idaho Department of Fish and Game. She then shifted to work in multiple levels of government in Oregon, including positions as a mayor and a judge, after she obtained a Master’s in Environmental Policy with a focus on coastal zone management from Vermont Law School. In her current role, Lisa works with coastal communities to supports the implementation of statewide planning goals.

Lisa shared lessons that she has learned, encouraging us to be adaptable and willing to try a new career/life path when faced with roadblocks. She noted that “sometimes what you thought was the destination is simply a stopover”. She summarized with a Winnie the Pooh quotation: “Life is a journey to be experienced, not a problem to be solved.”

Discussion following Lisa’s presentation touched on the value of seeking a job based on a desired type of work and/or geographic location to help ensure a rewarding experience. Lisa emphasized the importance of listening to and truly considering multiple stakeholder perspectives when working towards a conclusion. Lisa noted that some of her most satisfying experiences involved directly helping to improve the life of one person at a time. To receive invitations for future Professional Spotlight sessions, please be sure your TCS membership is current. Join or renew at the TCS website: Membership – The Coastal Society.

TCS Launches the Coastal Connections Web Series with a Focus on Diversity

Coastal Connections presenters Dr. Brandon Jones, Dr. Corey Garza, and Dr. Noelle Chao, respectively.
By: Ashley Gordon and Steven MacLeod

The Coastal Society held its first meeting in the Coastal Connections Web Series on Friday, August 7, 2020. The Coastal Connections series includes two session types: Trending Topics and Professional Spotlight. The inaugural meeting on August 7 was a Trending Topics session about Improving Diversity and Equal Representation in Coastal Planning and Education Activities. The topic was selected to advance recent TCS Board of Directors initiatives to combat racism and increase diversity, equity, and inclusion in TCS activities and the coastal sector at large.

  • TCS volunteer Trystan Sill, Resiliency Education Coordinator with the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, was the moderator for the web meeting. Trystan introduced the guest presenters: (1) Dr. Brandon Jones, National Science Foundation, (2) Dr. Corey Garza, California State University – Monterey Bay, and (3) Dr. Noelle Chao, Anne Arundel County Watershed Stewards Academy.
  • Dr. Brandon Jones delivered the first presentation, providing an overview of systemic racism impacts on the STEM field and how sociological problems affect participation by minority groups in the STEM field. Dr. Jones recommended critical self-reflection and encouraged the development of cross-racial relationships. Dr. Jones highlighted the importance of mentoring, support, assistance, and allyship, and providing opportunities for people of color to tell their own stories and have their own spaces.
  • Dr. Corey Garza gave the second presentation, focusing on examples of different programs supporting diversity in the geosciences and lessons learned. Dr. Garza is on the Board of Directors for the Society for Advancement of Chicanos/Hispanics and Native Americans in Science. He provided an overview of SACNAS student support through the Geo-Futures program. Dr. Garza also highlighted the Monterey Bay Regional Ocean Science Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) opportunity, and shared an inspiring story about a former student, Paris Smalls, who is now pursuing a Ph.D. in oceanography through the MIT/WHOI Joint Ph.D. program. Dr. Garza also directs the NOAA Cooperative Science Center for Coastal and Marine Ecosystems, that is designed to train a diverse future workforce for NOAA.
  • Dr. Noelle Chao delivered the third presentation, describing her efforts related to congregational engagement in the Chesapeake Bay watershed. Dr. Chao provided an overview of the Anne Arundel County Watershed Stewards Academy’s RiverWise Congregations Program, which focuses of mobilizing faith communities to embrace an ethic of Creation Care through installing stormwater Best Management Practices (BMPs) on congregational properties. The RiverWise Congregations Program engages underrepresented communities in actions for clean water, and Dr. Chao highlighted that 30 congregants have been trained as Master Watershed Stewards and 21 Congregations have installed BMPs. Dr. Chao recommended that when engaging with communities, it is important to listen with an open heart and mind, be patient and keep your word to build trust, and let the community guide the action.
  • Following the guest speakers’ presentations, Ms. Sill facilitated discussion with support from Ashley Gordon of the Hampton Roads Planning District Commission. Meeting participants posed questions related to the following topics:
    •  The development of mentorship programs to reach college students and K-12 students to help them learn about and consider career paths in STEM and instill confidence. The idea of forming a committee of retired individuals to serve as mentors was suggested.
    • The importance of creating a network to support the advancement of equal opportunities for people of color in the coastal sciences and academia.
    • Approaches for encouraging minority owned businesses or individuals from minority groups to apply for grant opportunities

Planning for the next Coastal Connections meeting is underway. If you are interested in learning more or volunteering to help develop the series, please email us at TCSCoastalConnection@gmail.com.