TCS Hosts Forum on Priority Issues in North Carolina with UNC Wilmington and North Carolina Sea Grant

By Ellis Kalaidjian

The North Carolina coastline is a treasure trove of natural beauty and biodiversity. However, with this beauty comes a complex tapestry of coastal issues that are ever-evolving. From the threat of rising sea levels and intensifying storms to the delicate balance of preserving ecosystems while accommodating human activities, the coastal region of North Carolina finds itself at the intersection of environmental challenges and community resilience. Such challenges demand thoughtful discourse amongst the state’s coastal stakeholders, which prompted The Coastal Society to join forces with North Carolina Sea Grant and the University of North Carolina Wilmington (UNCW) to host a Forum on Priority Issues in North Carolina on November 6th, 2023.

The forum was held at UNCW’s Center for Marine Science, where 85 registrants from professional organizations (50 participants) and students (35 participants) gathered for the day.  The forum kicked off with a thought-provoking keynote presentation from the Director of the NC Division of Coastal Management (NCDCM), Dr. Braxton Davis, followed by the first of three plenary panels of speakers hailing from academic institutions, state government, and non-profit organizations. The first plenary panel covered topics in natural and community resilience. Amongst the panel were the Research Director of the North Carolina Policy Collaboratory, Dr. Arthur Greer, whose talk focused on the Collaboratory’s role in facilitating research partnerships and coastal marsh protection; Mackenzie Todd, the Coastal Resiliency Coordinator at the NCDM, who delved into the NC Resilient Communities Program; Ryan Davenport, Carteret County’s Shore Protection Manager, presented on the intricacies of locality beach management planning; and the Executive Director of the NC Coastal Federation, Todd Miller, who covered the policy, strategies, and lessons learned surrounding living shoreline implementation.

Karly Lohan chats with CMS Director Dr. Ken Halanych & TCS Executive Director Judy Tucker in the main lobby of the Center for Marine Science. In the background are TCS planning team members Dr. Larry Cahoon & Dr. Jenny Biddle.

The second plenary panel delivered a series of presentations on the research and management of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), which are among the most pervasive industrial compounds in NC’s watersheds. Presenters included Rachylle Hart, Program Coordinator of UNCW’s Center for Marine Science; Dr. Pingping Meng, Assistant Professor at Eastern Carolina University; Riley Lewis, White Oak Waterkeeper with Coastal Carolina Riverwatch; Dana Sargent, the Executive Director of Cape Fear River Watch; and Emily Donovan, Co-Founder of Clean Cape Fear. The final panel featured three presentations on the ecological, policy, and management dimensions of offshore wind development in NC, given by Karly Lohan, the NC Program and Outreach Manager of the Southeastern Wind Coalition; Daniel Govoni, the Federal Consistency Coordinator of the NCDCM; and Dr. Martin Posey, Professor of Biology & Marine Biology at UNCW. Concurrent breakout sessions for both panels saw active engagement and rich discourse amongst their audiences.

NCDCM’s Daniel Govoni talks about the Federal Consistency review process for offshore wind.

The forum also included a student poster presentation session, where several NC students were able to showcase their research to the forum’s audience of practitioners and fellow academics, and concluded with remarks from TCS’s newest president, Dr. Paul Ticco, and a networking event held at Wilmington Brewing Company to end the day! We would like to congratulate first-place poster presentation winner, Olivia Trahan from UNCW, on her presentation titled “Species Richness and Abundance of Ascidian Species in Larval Collector Bags from Penobscot Bay of P. magellanicus”, and Jillian Eller, a Ph.D. candidate from ECU, whose presentation titled “Exploring the MSP Challenge: A Map for Marine Energy Engagement” won second place .

Once again, TCS and its partners succeeded in facilitating fruitful conversations about coastal conservation measures of ever-increasing importance amongst a diverse landscape of coastal stakeholders. In the end, we were delighted to learn that this event introduced 70 non-members to TCS, a significant milestone in our mission to engage with broad audiences on coastal management and conservation. As always, be on the lookout for upcoming web-based and in-person events on our website!


Coastal News from the Field: Nonprofit Organizations’ Roles in Living Shorelines Promotion

By Ellis Kalaidjian

In an era of escalating climate change and rapid urbanization, the vulnerability of coastal communities to the devastating impacts of rising sea levels, intensified storms, and erosion has become increasingly evident. In this precarious context, the significance of nature-based solutions (NBS) in bolstering coastal resilience cannot be overstated. Nature, with its intrinsic ability to adapt and regenerate, offers a blueprint for sustainable strategies that harmonize human development with the natural world. Yet, despite a growing demand for NBS—evidenced by increased attention to NBS in climate change policy 1—traditional, hardened infrastructure is still the mainstream for coastal resilience projects. This disconnect requires, among other things, reflection on the roles that many stakeholders will need to play in the promotion of NBS alternatives, given the multiple jurisdictions involved in coastal management. In a recent publication in Coastal Management, a group of researchers from Old Dominion University, including TCS member Michelle Covi, investigated the roles that environmental nonprofit organizations can play in the promotion of a particular type of NBS, living shorelines.

The study employed a qualitative research approach to analyze the roles of several Virginia-based environmental nonprofits and the activities they undertake in encouraging living shorelines over shoreline hardening. The researchers conducted a series of interviews with senior-level staff of each nonprofit, in which they probed information related to the organizations’ work related to shoreline management and the centrality of this work to their mission, collaborations with other nonprofits and contractors, and their advocacy activities at the local, state, or federal level. Interview recordings were transcribed and then qualitatively coded to identify overlapping themes related to roles amongst the transcripts.

Five roles were identified in their analysis: (1) public education about living shorelines, (2) advocacy for living shorelines, (3) technical assistance to design and install living shoreline projects, (4) training for professionals to increase capacity for living shoreline projects, and (5) access to funding. The first role, education, is the primary role played by environmental nonprofits in promoting living shorelines, and public education activities mentioned in interviews included holding standalone information sessions, workshops, and other events targeted at the general public. Advocacy, the second main role, came in many forms in the study sample, ranging from local-level advocacy efforts to, e.g., incorporate NBS in local zoning ordinances, to national-level advocacy efforts to mobilize resources for living shorelines. Several nonprofits in their sample also emphasized the roles they play in assisting with the permitting, planning, design, and construction phases of NBS projects, often acting as intermediaries between property owners and contractors. Along with offering technical assistance, nonprofits offer training to prospective NBS actioners through specialized certification programs. And, lastly, several interviewees’ organizations underscored their roles in mobilizing funding for living shorelines in the form of, e.g., localized cost-share programs to help incentivize living shoreline implementation on private properties or assistance navigating the expansive landscape of federal grant programs.

While maintaining recognition of the local specificity of this study’s results, their findigs allow us to confidently speculate about the potential roles, both upstream and downstream of the living shorelines regulatory process, that environmental nonprofits can play in NBS promotion nationwide. As the authors conclude, the practical implications for promoting greater involvement by the nonprofit sector in shoreline management include the following:

  • Extensive involvement in public education – identifying best practices for improving how effectively nonprofits engage with and educate the public.
  • Encouraging advocacy at different levels of government to receive feedback regarding effectiveness of permitting process and regulatory specification on the ground.
  • Ensuring nonprofits have adequate and up-to-date scientific and technical knowledge to design and build living shoreline projects.
  • Support in publicizing training programs and partnering with more nonprofits on defining training standards and delivering training programs.
  • Expanding nonprofit partnerships that focus on funding access for property owners and construction professionals training to incentivize more living shoreline projects in coastal areas.

Citation:

Saitgalina, M., Yusuf, J. E., & Covi, M. (2023). Shoreline Management and Coastal Resilience in Virginia: Analysis of the Roles of Environmental Nonprofit Organizations in Encouraging Living Shorelines. Coastal Management, 51(3), 172-185.

Disclaimer: This post does not serve as an endorsement of the author’s opinion, nor does it express the views of the Coastal Society.


TCS Coastal Connections Web Meeting on Natural Marine Sanctuaries

By Ashley Gordon

From the majestic depths of the ocean to its vibrant coastlines, our planet’s marine ecosystems have long captivated the human imagination. Recognizing the profound significance of these underwater wonders, national marine sanctuaries (NMS) emerged as beacons of conservation and exploration. Serving as underwater havens for biodiversity and cultural heritage, these sanctuaries embody our commitment to safeguarding the natural treasures that lie beneath the waves. As our world faces mounting environmental challenges, the importance of these sanctuaries has never been more evident. This vital conservation measure was the topic of the fifteenth session of The Coastal Society Coastal Connections Web Series, held on Thursday, February 23rd through Zoom.

This session saw twenty-one attendees that included both current TCS members and non-TCS members. Steve MacLeod, TCS Past President, kicked off the session by providing a brief overview of TCS and the Coastal Connections web series. The session was then moderated by Ellen Brody, Regional Coordinator of the Eastern Region of the NOAA NMS Program. Ellen provided a brief history of the NMS. NOAA’s National Marine Sanctuaries Program recently celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2022. In 1972, the National Marine Sanctuaries Act was passed, which also coincided with the Coastal Zone Management Act. In 1974, the first NMS was designated after the discovery of the USS Monitor. Ellen then touched on the current state of the NMS Program and how it works. As she explained, the current NMS landscape covers more than 620,000 square miles of ocean and Great Lakes waters (map of current sanctuaries available here). NMSs support resource protection, research and monitoring, education and outreach, and community engagement. Sanctuary Advisory Councils are established for each NMS that bring together a variety of interests and provide advice to the NMS program.

This session’s panelists included Paul Michel, Regional Policy Coordinator for the West Coast Region, and LeAnn Hogan, Regional Operations Coordinator for the Eastern Region, who shared examples of how NMS make a difference. On the west coast, the NMS program supported research and the establishment of the West Coast Vessel Speed Reduction (VSR) Program to reduce the number of whale ship strikes. Over 18 global shopping companies and 559 ships have participated, resulting in a 50% reduction in ship strikes on whales and the additional benefit of greenhouse gas reduction. In the Florida Keys, the Damage Response and Restoration Program of the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuaries supports addressing impacts from vessel groundings, including vessel and debris removal and seagrass and coral reef restoration.

Another key discussion topic was the evolution of the NMS system over time. In 2014, a new approach to NMS system expansion was established that focused on a community-based process. Communities submit a nomination to NOAA that is then reviewed and, if accepted, placed on the NMS inventory. In addition to recent sanctuary expansions (Flower Garden Banks) and new NMS designations (Mallows Bay-Potomac River and Wisconsin Shipwreck Coast), the panelists discussed the following proposed NMS:

  • Chumash Heritage (lead by Paul Michel) – Located in the Pacific Ocean off the San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara County coastlines, this area is ecologically rich and dynamic with unique geomorphological features and historic shipwrecks. Proponents of the sanctuary, the Sierra Club, Surf Rider, and the Northern Chumash Tribal Council, highlighted a myriad of issues the NMS could address and the importance of recognizing Indigenous heritage and cultures. The NMS program is working to involve Tribal Bands in collaborative management approaches.
  • Hudson Canyon (lead by LeAnn Hogan) – Located in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of New York and New Jersey, this ecological hot spot serves an important economic role for commercial and recreational fisheries. The Wildlife Conservation Society submitted the nomination. Given the large number of stakeholders engaged in this area of the ocean, the Hudson Canyon process has included a collaborative public scoping process to identify the potential NMS boundaries.
  • Eastern Lake Ontario (lead by Ellen Brody) – The nomination was submitted by four counties and the City of Oswego with support from the State of New York and focused on maritime heritage resources. As part of this designation process, NMS is working with the Haudenosaunee Confederacy to re-establish their connection with their ancestral lands. The notice of proposed rulemaking was recently published, and it is anticipated the designation will be finalized in a year.

Following these presentations, the group discussed topics that included regulations and enforcement within NMS, the selection of NMS and pace/prioritization for going through the designation process, and coordination with fisheries management and offshore wind development.

Overall, this session facilitated a fruitful conversation about a conservation measure of ever-increasing importance. NMS stand as vital guardians of our marine heritage, inspiring us to protect and preserve these fragile ecosystems for future generations. We learned a lot from our panelists, and the results from our post-event survey revealed that our participants did too—100% of respondents found the event to be extremely informative! With another successful TCS Coastal Connections in the books, we look forward to seeing you at the next one.

The session was recorded and posted on the TCS YouTube channel here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bB6IH2Cvmo4

Coastal News from the Field: Adaptive Management of the Indian River Lagoon, Florida

By Ellis Kalaidjian

This blog post is the first of a new monthly series, tentatively titled “Coastal News from the Field,” which highlights new coastal management/conservation-themed research that makes us tick. We are excited about this new development for the blog and encourage our readers to reach out to admin@thecoastalsociety.org with any research or topics they would like to see featured in this series.

This month, we highlight a study from a research team in Florida, titled “Adaptation Actions to Reduce Impairment of Indian River Lagoon Water Quality Caused by Climate Change, Florida, USA,” as published in February 2021 in the Journal of Coastal Management. The motivation for this work comes from the increasing vulnerability of estuaries to climate change impacts of salt-water intrusion from rising sea levels, hydrological regime changes, water temperature increases, and so forth. The Indian River Lagoon (IRL) was designated as an Estuary of National Significance by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in 1990 and, more recently, a Climate Ready Estuary in 2008, following a collaboration between the EPA and National Estuary Program in the form of the Climate Ready Estuaries Program.

Map of the IRL watershed (Source: EPA, 2004)
Aerial view of the IRL (Source: US Fish & Wildlife Service, 2006)

The core objective of this research was to assess the vulnerability of the IRL’s management program to climate change and prescribe adaptive actions designed to improve the program’s efficacy and protect the estuary from further climate-change-induced impairment. The research team first compiled and reviewed a list of the program goals (e.g., “water quality” or “healthy communities”) within the IRL’s Comprehensive Conservation and Management Plan (CCMP) that were most likely at risk from climate change and the associated climate stressors jeopardizing those goals. The team then weighted each risk in a matrix based on parameters of consequence, likelihood, spatial scale, and timeline. A total of 472 risks were identified. Of those, 50% were associated with impacts to impaired waters, wastewater, and surface water. Nearly all (97%) of these risks were induced by three prevalent climate change stressors of altered precipitation regimes, increasing storminess, and sea-level rise.

From here, the research team was able to identify nine adaptation actions to mitigate water quality impairment caused by climate change. Each action focused on mitigating the major sources of elevated pollutant loadings anticipated to accompany climate change, including wastewater treatment plants, on-site treatment and disposal systems, and surface water storage and conveyance infrastructure; for example, one action was to create a GIS-based inventory of vulnerable infrastructure supporting the three systems. In addition, the team devised a five-step action plan that could be used to achieve each of the nine adaptation actions and proposed an integrated management regime based on the existing symbiosis between the state of Florida and the IRL National Estuary Program.

In the face of the emerging circumstances presented by climate change, it is paramount that we continually review and adapt the programs that we have instituted to protect our coastal resources. The research highlighted in this article showcases how adaptive management—a concept based in theory—can be operationalized to satisfy long-term conservation agendas. The study also demonstrates how vulnerability assessments can be used to prioritize and continually monitor program action areas that harmonize mutual interests of a diverse stakeholder network. Most importantly, the deliverables of this applied research have direct utility for future policymaking, community engagement initiatives, program financing, and other efforts that may otherwise have been hindered without recognition of the future management challenges posed by climate change.

Citation:
Parkinson, R. W., Seidel, V., Henderson, C., & De Freese, D. (2021). Adaptation Actions to Reduce Impairment of Indian River Lagoon Water Quality Caused by Climate Change, Florida, USA. Coastal Management, 49(2), 215-232.

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