By Paul Dye
I joined Washington Sea Grant last March following a 25-year career with The Nature Conservancy, where I worked on coastal management and marine conservation issues in South Florida and here in the Pacific Northwest. Living in the Florida Keys meant getting up close and personal with coastal hazards. My wife and I experienced four hurricanes that hit or brushed the Keys over the six years we lived there, and it didn’t require much imagination to picture how sea level rise will play out. The Keys are, after all, a string of very old coral reefs that died when past sea levels fell and left them exposed as islands.
The nice thing about hurricanes is that you usually can see them coming in time to respond, but an effective individual response requires advance planning throughout the community. Local officials in the Keys are well prepared for the chaos of evacuations and recovery. People track developing storms on maps taped to their refrigerators, they lay in emergency supplies for hurricane “season,” and they make arrangements with neighbors to help board up windows and secure boats when a storm turns their way. There is a culture of preparedness that increases the resilience of the Keys, even though their infrastructure is highly vulnerable.
We face a daunting range of natural and human-induced hazards in coastal Washington, too. Some are continual and inexorable, such as sea level rise. Some are commonplace phenomena that can be disastrous, such as winter storms, seasonal flooding and bluff or beach erosion. And some are rare events that can be cataclysmic: major earthquakes and tsunamis. Like the Florida Keys, we too need a culture of preparedness that anticipates and deals with all these potential hazards.
Washington Sea Grant and the Department of Ecology have been working in close collaboration for several years to support preparedness and resilience in Washington’s coastal communities. The Coastal Hazards Resilience Network is a product of that collaboration, and I appreciate the way the network is expanding and bringing more perspectives and expertise to this mission. We still have work to do: In a recent meeting, the mayor of a coastal town told us, “I couldn’t find anyone to turn to until we had a crisis.” We are setting out to change that with a broad-based partnership project, supported by a grant from NOAA’s Office of Coastal Management.
In March, NOAA awarded nearly $900,00 to a consortium led by Sea Grant and Ecology for a three-year project to increase the state’s capacity to support local resilience efforts. Known as the Washington Coastal Resilience Project (WCRP), it is a complex effort that depends on a high level of collaboration to create new capacity with existing resources. Many people contributed to the winning proposal, led by Sea Grant and Ecology. Washington Sea Grant Director Penny Dalton captured the vision for the project in a simple statement: “By working together to build on and leverage existing Washington planning and management resources, project partners hope to make real progress in addressing local vulnerability to coastal hazards and changing climate.”
The project is now well underway. Agency and academic scientists are collaborating on research to fill critical information gaps. Three local project teams are preparing to test approaches that show promise for broader success across the state, eventually reshaping statewide guidance and funding programs that support local efforts. The project will increase understanding of coastal risks and impacts and it will improve existing planning and training tools to ensure that new information and approaches are shared widely. The below graphic illustrates how four key project objectives build upon one another to increase support to coastal communities.
In addition to Washington Sea Grant and Ecology, the project partners include the University of Washington (UW) Climate Impacts Group and other UW departments, the U.S. Geological Survey, the Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife’s Estuary and Salmon Restoration Program, Island County Department of Natural Resources, City of Tacoma, Western Washington University and The Nature Conservancy.
Look for more reports and updates on this blog as results emerge from each of the four project teams. I’m very excited to be a part of this ground-breaking partnership project.
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