While researching the coastal effects of the Great American Solar Eclipse of 2017 for TCS Blog article “Coasts in Shadow“, I reached out to fellow TCS members in Oregon and South Carolina to find out about their eclipse plans. Oregon will be the first state to experience the eclipse and South Carolina the last.
Below are their responses.
We will be following up with these TCS members post-eclipse to capture their experiences. Please share your own plans or experiences in the comments section below.
Oregon State University’s TCS Student Chapter
The Chapter (a.k.a “Fisheries and Wildlife Science Club”) will be attending a lecture by Associate Professor Jonathan Fram on the offshore Endurance Array and the measurements it will be collecting before, during, and after the solar eclipse. We will be broadcasting the lecture live on the TCS Facebook Page on Saturday, August 19th at 2:00PM PST:
The lecture description by Associate Professor Fram is:
View from the Coast: During the eclipse, a vast network of sensors on oceanographic moorings off the Oregon Coast will be measuring its effect on the ocean through tides. Hear from oceanographer/professor Jonathan Fram about how bioacoustic sonars will measure fish and the zooplankton they eat, while other sensors will detect how the eclipse affects light and temperature at the sea surface.
David R. Perry | So. Coast Regional Representative. Department of Land Conservation and Development. Ocean and Coastal Services Division
We live within the path of totality. There is a ton of hype coming from the local chamber of commerce about visiting the coast to view the eclipse. The cost of a room or campsite on August 21st can be 5 or 10 times the usual rate. Even so, we expect to be inundated with tourists coming for the event. The problem is, meteorological records indicate that there is a 50/50 chance that a marine layer will prevail along the coastline at mid-morning when the eclipse will occur, so the sun may not be visible at the beach during that timeframe! If the marine layer is evident that day, my wife and I will head inland with some friends to higher ground in the Siuslaw National Forest where we hope to get above or beyond the cloud layer. For us, the total eclipse presents an opportunity to see one of nature’s most rare and awesome spectacles from our own back yard!
Meg Reed | Oregon Coastal Management Program, Newport, OR
Oregon is expecting about 1 million more people to be here to view the eclipse. I work with emergency managers coast-wide who have been planning and preparing for this event for a year or more. I will be heeding their advice to locals to “shelter in place!” I plan to watch the eclipse from my backyard, but if it’s cloudy or foggy, I will probably just watch NASA’s live stream. It will be exciting, either way, to experience this once-in-a-lifetime event and the sudden darkness that will occur when the moon covers the sun.
Rebecca Love | Coastal Management Specialist at NOAA Office for Coastal Management
I’m going to avoid hitting the roads and stay local to watch the eclipse. My family and I will walk to Hampton Park (in Charleston, SC) with some neighborhood friends. I’m looking forward to the period of totality and being able to experience this event with my two daughters. I’m curious to see how dark it will get and whether we’ll feel a brief drop in temperature.
Margaret Allen | The Baldwin Group at NOAA’s Office for Coastal Management
I am definitely planning to watch and do something fun! There are so many fun events here to choose from. I was thinking I’d stay close to home, but I might go out to my family plantation to watch. Wherever I am, I am just excited to see the look on Lizzie and Ellie’s faces (5 and 3), and I want to make sure they wear their glasses (don’t care to blind my children at this point).
If not out there, we’re going to our local pool club with a bunch of other families. They have a special event with eclipse themed cocktails and food.
Anyway, it is a HUGE deal here. All the local schools are closed. (they start next Thursday, go for 2 days, then are off for the eclipse). Everyone from the county parks, to county libraries, to neighborhood associations, to private clubs/restaurants are hosting events. There’s a yoga event, all kinds of things.
The other funny thing is watching/hearing about everyone trying to get their eclipse glasses–lots of places here are selling them, local libraries are giving them away, but there are a ton of places (esp online) selling fake ones that don’t really work, and that’s been a problem.
By Kasey R. Jacobs, Communications Chair, The Coastal Society. This article is also published on Marine Science Today as part of a TCS-MST Collaboration.
Minutes before any eclipse observer can see the moon commandeer the light of the Sun on August 21st, the Pacific Ocean will perceive the changes first.
A serendipitous event for Jonathan Fram and the array of scientific sensors he manages off the coast of Oregon. Though not designed nor deployed for measuring how the Great American Solar Eclipse affects the ocean, Associate Professor Fram, of Oregon State University, is taking advantage of their location in the path of totality. And he is not the only one. Physical scientists on the coasts of Oregon and South Carolina are gearing up to deploy data-collecting instruments, anglers are scouting for the best fishing spots, universities are looking to draw people into the joy of science, and coastal managers are preparing for the inundation of people in parks and conservation areas.
Most eclipse observers are thinking about the bizarre occurrences they might witness on land and in the sky, and not what they can expect on the coasts and in the ocean. As the entire nation looks up to the heavens and around the land on August 21st, what will be happening off the coasts?
History of ocean-focused eclipse studies
Scientists and eclipse observers for centuries have eagerly observed land-based effects, at least as far back as a total eclipse in 1544, but very few have asked the coastal question. Surprisingly, the published literature remains meager today.
The Boston Society of Natural History conducted an extensive observation project to document the behavior of wild and domestic animals during the 1932 New England total solar eclipse, including coastal and marine wildlife. Their eclipse, like ours, took place in the month of August. In today’s terminology, we would call their survey a large-scale “citizen science” project. The Society partnered with media outlets to publish announcements prior to the eclipse to elicit observations for the survey. The Boston Globe, The Boston Herald and Traveler, The Boston Transcript, The Boston Post, The Boston American, and the Christian Science Monitor all gave important space, often on the front page, and mentioned the study in radio broadcasts. They combined these citizen observations with official reports by game wardens in the northeastern states, and reports submitted by naturalists. They mapped the observations and a special eclipse committee analyzed all 498 data points and published their findings in the Proceedings of the American Academy of Arts and Science of 1935.
The 1932 Eclipse Committee found that harbor seals were unaffected by the eclipse while wild fish were more active. Wild brook trout, white perch, and small-mouthed black bass were eating more during the eclipse and stopped when the light returned. A Mr. H. Bowley in Massachusetts reported that Common Pickerel “always jump out of the water in this part of the river at dark, began jumping out during the darkness of the eclipse.”
Shore birds, like fish hawks, lesser yellow-legs, gulls, terns, willets, and roseate terns may act differently than land birds during an eclipse. Rather than go quiet or roost, they become more active, vocal, and exposed, as is the case for other nocturnal birds. Solar eclipses tend to cause diurnal (day-time) birds to go quiet and nocturnal (night-time) birds to emerge. The committee noted that gulls showed less reaction than the terns and most other shore birds, as some did respond as though night was coming by returning to the mainland to roost. They stressed that reactions appear individual and not species-specific.
In the latter part of the 20th century, scientific instruments began to be used in coastal eclipse studies. A deep scattering layer in the North Atlantic was monitored during the 1972 total solar eclipse using an echo recorder. In 2006, an oceanographic cruise on board a Hellenic Center for Marine Research ship measured, and later modeled, effects on marine zooplankton during a total solar eclipse in the Eastern Mediterranean. The research team found underwater profiles of temperature and salinity remained almost constant yet most zooplankton reacted similarly to the changes in light. Different species responded at different rates and intensities. Ciliates responded to the decreased light intensity by adopting night-time behavior, spreading themselves vertically within the water column. Some copepodites showed a vertical migratory movement while others displayed no significant differences. Previous studies showed the free-swimming larvae of shrimp, clams, snails and barnacles vertically redistribute themselves and/or migrate upwards during total solar eclipses.
As these planktonic crustacea swim to the surface, it would follow that the marine life that feast on them also rise. The night-time behavior of fishes and marine mammals during solar eclipse events could be due to the movement of their food sources or triggered by the decreased light. Not enough research is available on the subject to make this determination. Measuring rapid changes in a short amount of time in the ocean water column simultaneously with changes in animal distributions is no small undertaking.
Fishermen have a propensity to already know about phenomena scientists stumble upon to study. In their renowned nonchalant manner, it seems they are already aware the fish will be biting on August 21st. For over a month, recreational fishermen have been sharing with one another the best fishing spots in the path of totality. Anglers are hoping to fish night-time species during the day. Though the Sportsman Channel reports some fishermen think there won’t be any effect being the change is so brief.
Anglers in partial eclipse areas shouldn’t be discouraged at the missed opportunity. In 1906, in a letter to the editor of Nature, an A. Mosely wrote about the partial eclipse of August 30, 1905 seen in England. “All the morning the sport had been indifferent, but as the eclipse neared its maximum the fish suddenly became ravenous, and I took more in that hour than all the rest of the day. My experience was also that of all the other boats out there at the time.”
There is still little information on deep-sea or coastal fishing as most of the fish-spot-sharing online has been focused on rivers and freshwater species.
Gary Lewis, host of Frontier Unlimited TV and book author, wrote in an article on The Register-Guard, “When the light goes down and the caddis pop, the fish, like the rest of us, will be looking to the sky.”
“From physics to fish.” Ocean observation during eclipse
Jonathan Fram is hoping the massive network of sensors on oceanographic moorings he helps manage, called the Endurance Array, will be able to collect data useful for fisheries and other ocean subjects. The array is operated by Oregon State University and the University of Washington for the Ocean Observatories Initiative. Bioacoustic sonars will measure fish and their prey, zooplankton, while other sensors, like gliders and profilers, will detect how the eclipse affects light and temperature at the sea surface. Fram tells The Coastal Society it can “measure everything from physics to fish.” These sensors are part of a twenty-five-year NSF-funded project that became operational in 2015. The array can monitor parameters at depths inaccessible to satellites, like oxygen, water velocity, and chlorophyll. Associate Professor Fram’s job is to keep the non-cabled infrastructure functioning, refurbishing and calibrating the sensors, and ensuring the data stream is continuous and available to any interested researchers, free of charge.
The array’s engineer will present two lectures on the capabilities of the array for observing eclipse effects during a three-day eclipse celebration by Oregon State University. His goal is to make sure researchers know about the array, the partnerships that make it function, and the existence of the data. He doesn’t analyze the data himself, but points researchers or collaborative teams to the data so they can make discoveries and write papers to further science. (Eclipse-related data can be found on a special eclipse webpage of the Endurance Array.)
Fram’s excitement over the possibility of collecting ocean data on the eclipse began twenty-six years ago when he traveled to the Big Island of Hawaii and was wowed by the 1991 solar eclipse. When he found out the Endurance Array was in the path of totality for the 2017 eclipse he started thinking about what instruments could capture the effects. The instruments today are sensitive enough to observe reactions not previously documented in past solar eclipses.
The instruments measure three different frequencies and can distinguish between different size classes of fish. If fish follow the zooplankton upwards and begin feeding as though it was night the sensors will be able to perceive this behavior. If a whale passes through the array, “we can see that as well.” The array has great potential for use in fisheries research. Instruments normally mounted on the bottoms of ships are now moored in place with cables in the portion managed by the University of Washington. The extra power allows for long-term monitoring not previously attainable.
The next closest thing
While the Endurance Array collects Pacific Ocean data during the eclipse, Dr. Cassandra Runyon, Planetary Geologist with the College of Charleston, will be observing the moon’s shadow as it crosses South Carolina from 80,000 to 100,000 feet. Dr. Runyon is leading a team of six students from the College of Charleston to conduct a high-altitude balloon flight, sending live video and images from near-space to the NASA website. This will be the first time she has remotely sensed a total solar eclipse. Her launch is part of a network of launches being conducted across the country in the path of totality.
A team of students from Oregon State University and Linn-Benton Community College will also be launching a balloon. Their flight will take place 30 miles offshore from onboard OSU’s research vessel Pacific Storm. For NASA, these coordinated balloon flights are also a first. Live coverage has never been done, nor has live footage been recorded across a continental network.
Motivating the College of Charleston’s Dr. Runyon to participate is “In short…curiosity” and the fact that she is not able to witness the eclipse from the International Space Station. “This is the next closest thing for me.”
The tides during the total solar eclipse
Dr. Runyon told The Coastal Society that the eclipse is not expected to affect the geomorphology of the coasts. However, there will be coastal flooding as the eclipse falls on a King Tide day in South Carolina. King Tides are exceptionally high tides that occur naturally and are predicted beforehand. Twice a month, during new and full moons, the moon, earth, and sun are aligned and the gravitational pull of the sun adds to that of the moon causing the ocean to bulge a bit more than usual. This means that high tides are higher than normal and low tides are lower than normal. For coastal areas in the path of totality this means that these bimonthly Spring Tides will be at their maximum Sunday, August 20th, and Monday, August 21st. The solar eclipse may cause the King Tide intensity to be “slightly higher, but not significant,” according to Dr. Runyon.
In 1932, the Boston Society of Natural History emphasized how the tides affect shorebird behavior during a total solar eclipse. When making observations of abnormal eclipse behaviors in wildlife you first need to know what is their normal behavior. For coastal organisms, this means an observer also should know what their non-eclipse behaviors are during low and high tides. In 1932, for instance, some gulls were observed to return to the mainland to roost, while others flew to feeding grounds exposed by the receding tide. Was this unusual behavior? During the eclipse the tide was falling and so some gulls decided to feed rather than return to their roosting areas because of the quick onset of darkness.
Inundated by eclipse observers in Oregon and South Carolina
The coasts of South Carolina will be inundated not only with water during the eclipse, but also eclipse chasers. Millions of people will flock to the coasts of Oregon and South Carolina on August 21st, 2017 to witness the first time in the nation’s history a total solar eclipse with a path falling entirely above the continental United States. The coverage has been intense and the enthusiasm is skyrocketing.
Universities are capitalizing on the excitement by organizing educational events and watch parties. The motivation is to enhance the public’s science literacy and showcase the capabilities of university researchers and labs. The College of Charleston will be hosting NASA’s national eclipse broadcasting. These university activities have been in the works for a while. “Members of the Oregon State University NASA Space Grant team, Astronomy Club, and other interested faculty and staff began planning for an OSU eclipse event” well over a year ago, according to Jill Peters, Eclipse Event Manager for the University Relations and Marketing department of Oregon State University. “This is like a dream come true for the scientists, engineers and astronomers on our Corvallis campus and [Hatfield Marine Science Center in] Newport to be directly in the path of a total solar eclipse.”
For coastal managers, the eclipse might be bittersweet. Managing the large influx of people is proving to be a challenge for both emergency management, traffic control, and conservation.
Margaret Allen, a member of The Coastal Society, reports that Charleston developed an emergency safety plan and South Carolina emergency officials issued a warning about crazy heavy traffic. “I guess they are worried that people will be driving and not paying attention and wreck. They’re saying locals should do their best to stay off the roads (which makes me prefer to stay at my local pool club). They expect upwards of 1 million out of state folks to come to SC!”
The high tides are one of the big concerns for government officials. “We’re going to have visitors who have no idea what our waters are like or even, as crazy as it sounds, that we have tides,” said Jim Kusz, North Lincoln Fire & Rescue spokesman told the Oregonian/Oregon Live. “We’re probably going to do a sweep the evening before and tell people if you are planning on being on the beach that night you might want to consider being higher up or off the beach completely.”
Oregon State Parks and Recreation warns in an official statement that the new moon on August 21st will bring very high and very low tides. Not sugarcoating the dangers, they continue: “A very low tide exposes a lot of beach, which is deceptively dangerous when the high tide rolls in. This will happen late on the night of Aug. 20 into the early morning of Aug. 21. Don’t camp on the beach because the high tide of more than 9 feet will cover most of the normally dry sand. The best scenario is that you and your sleeping bag will get wet. The other scenarios are far worse.”
Eclipse observer safety is not the only safety concern during total solar eclipses. In 2012, visitors from around the world headed to the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park around Cairns, Australia to view the total solar eclipse. Because many islands offshore of Cairns were predicted to be the best locations to view the event there were concerns about disturbance to nesting seabirds. At the time, the Marine Park Authority Director John Day said it was “important visitors were aware of the environment around them when making the most of the rare opportunity”. For the 2017 eclipse, TravelOregon.com asks observers to “keep Oregon safe and beautiful” and provides tips for how to be a good steward while watching the eclipse.
Oregon State Parks and Recreation told The Coastal Society they are warning observers not to climb or dig into cliffs, to comply with posted signs and officials/volunteers, and to protect rocky shore habitats and sensitive wildlife areas. There are sensitive coastal habitat areas (marine reserves, rocky intertidal areas, bird nesting areas) within the path of totality. “It is important to not harass wildlife and be a good steward while enjoying these special places. The general message is to be safe – the Oregon coast is beautiful but can be dangerous if you’re not paying attention. Especially with large crowds, it is important to be aware of your surroundings, be prepared, and be a good steward.”
Jonathan Fram, and his oceanographic array that will observe the eclipse first before the rest of the nation, welcomes the masses. He reminds us that the eclipse is about experiencing the world around us. “I am looking forward to thousands of people coming to Corvallis and millions of people coming to the whole path of eclipse that are excited about science because of the eclipse. The people coming to Corvallis and our whole weekend of events will be exposed to not just eclipse-related stuff but all the neat science done here. Places all across the country are doing the same types of events are great opportunities to engage people in science.”
For those coastal enthusiasts who want to observe and report on bizarre occurrences of coastal and marine wildlife on August 21, 2017 the California Academy of Sciences is taking a page from the book of the Boston Society of Natural History’s 1932 Eclipse Committee. They are soliciting citizen scientists to record their observations of any animals they see using the academy’s iNaturalist app.
Perhaps scientific and citizen observations recorded during the Great American Solar Eclipse of 2017 will solve the mystery of how solar eclipses affect our coasts and oceans.
~Meg Reed contributed to the reporting and editing for this story.
M. Allen, personal communication, August 10, 2017
Economou, G., E.D. Christou, A. Giannakourou, E. Gerasopoulos, D. Georgopoulos, V. Kotoulas, D. Lyra, N. Tsakalis, M. Tzortziou, P. Vahamidis, E. Papathanassiou, and A. Karamanos. 2008. Eclipse effects on field crops and marine zooplankton: the 29 March 2006 total solar eclipse. Atmos. Chem. Phys.
J. Fram (Oregon State University), personal communication, August 10, 2017
J. Peters (Oregon State University), personal communication, August 9, 2017
M. Robertson (College of Charleston), personal communication, August 9, 2017
C. Runyon (College of Charleston), personal communication, August 9, 2017
Oregon State Parks and Recreation, personal communication (by Meg Reed), August 15, 2017
Wheeler, W.M., C.V. MacCoy, L. Griscom, G. M. Allen, and H.J. Coolidge Jr. 1935. Observations on the Behavior of Animals during the Total Solar Eclipse of August 31, 1932. Proceedings of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences Vol. 70, No. 2 (Mar., 1935), pp. 33-70
Coastal Oregon must consider the risks of earthquakes and tsunamis. However, moving development out of harm’s way is not possible when it is flanked by the ocean and steep, forested hills. This poses some major challenges for local officials looking for ways to make their communities more resilient. Meg Reed, a coastal hazard specialist with Oregon’s Coastal Management Program, is helping coastal cities and counties increase their resilience to tsunamis through land use planning programs.
The land use planning process takes time. This public process aims to engage many people, which means it doesn’t happen quickly.
Give people something to start with. By receiving a sample plan and development code language in the tsunami land use guidance, communities have something to build on.
Maintain relationships with people in the community. It doesn’t have to be business all the time. Meg says that sometimes she stops in to a local partner office “just to say hi and see how folks are doing. That helps build rapport and trust.”
A lot can be done with a little. For this project, three communities are each getting a small grant ($5,000), along with help from NOAA, to do the tsunami land use work. The communities can get a lot done with this small amount of money.
Disasters can be motivators. When disasters happen, awareness and urgency are heightened, even if the disaster isn’t local. After the 2011 Japan tsunami, Oregon residents made planning for a major earthquake and tsunami a priority but needed resources to help them prepare in different ways. The Oregon Coastal Management Program used this opportunity to develop the Tsunami Land Use Guide, a tool to help municipalities modify their land use planning programs to be more resilient to tsunami risks.
Letting folks know about hazards doesn’t have to be bad for business. Many coastal communities are destinations that rely heavily on a tourism economy. Messages can be framed positively, as in: “We care about our tourists. We want you to be safe when you are here.”
In Oregon, residents may not have much time to get to high ground before a tsunami arrives. That is why state and local government efforts are focusing on changing land use to make development safer during an earthquake and tsunami. Meg Reed, coastal hazards specialist at the Oregon Department of Land Conservation and Development’s Oregon Coastal Management Program says, “Our main focus is to get people out of harm’s way as quickly as possible. We are trying to balance how you make a community safer from tsunami hazards without changing a community’s character. Life safety is the first priority when working toward resilient communities.”
Oregon state law guides land use planning through statewide planning goals. Each city and county meets these standards through adoption of a comprehensive plan and zoning and land-division ordinances.
The state’s coastal management program saw communities struggling with their tsunami preparation. To help meet this need, they developed the Tsunami Land Use Guide. Meg is working with a number of local coastal governments to address this issue.
“It just made sense to develop a tool that helps local governments amend their land use plans and digest new hazard information about tsunamis,” Meg says. “This work is also a way to have communities assess their land both inside and outside of tsunami inundation areas for present and future uses and development.”
Meg says this work is notable, as not many people are doing this type of planning. “We don’t have a model to follow; we are piecing together from experiences, other hazard planning processes, and examples from Japan on how to approach this risk.”
Communities are taking the sample code language from the land use guide and using it as a starting point to create development codes and identify where the focus needs to be in terms of resilience projects. “It helps people get over that initial barrier of where to start,” Meg points out.
Meg helps the communities customize the guide’s sample policies and codes to meet specific needs. Another big part of what she does is coordinating and administering the projects for each community, and finding and applying for grants to provide additional resources. “By doing the project coordination, it lifts the burden off the communities so they can focus on the issues and how to customize the approach to their community,” she says.
It is a partnership between the state agency and local governments to work toward tsunami resilience. Meg and other agency staff members provide digested hazard information, GIS and funding support, and sample land use codes, while the local governments lead the effort to update their land use planning documents through the public engagement process.
When asked how they approach communities to do this type of work, Meg attributes it to relationship building and maintenance. Meg says it has a lot to do with just showing up. Her predecessor, Laren Woolley, who retired last year, was well loved and respected by the local communities. Meg is following in his footsteps by building her own relationships with these communities.
“It’s about stopping by the office to chat. They see you are interested in their community. It builds trust,” she notes. “I think what also makes it easier for communities to use the Tsunami Land Use Guide is that many of their staff were on the development team and understand its benefits since they helped write the chapters.”
Digging into the Tsunami Guide
Communities use the guide’s sample land use policies and provisions related to tsunami risk reduction and recovery. They can use the language as is or modify it as needed. The guide contains a chapter that provides sample comprehensive plan policies and a chapter with development code provisions, including a model tsunami hazards overlay zone. Another chapter provides tsunami financing and incentive tools for implementing some of the tsunami evacuation improvements identified by the community. The guide also contains information resources for developing a tsunami-evacuation facilities improvement plan and preparations for post-disaster recovery.
“Getting to high ground is not always an option, depending on where you are and how bad an earthquake is,” Meg points out. “Therefore, vertical evacuation can be an important consideration in certain communities.”
The City of Newport, Oregon, saw this as an opportunity to increase its resilience in a vulnerable area, and used the guide to amend a building height restriction to allow for the construction of vertical evacuation structures. The city will also ensure that a newly proposed Oregon State University marine science building is constructed to withstand the worst-case scenario earthquake and tsunami event, serving as a vertical evacuation location open to the public.
Other communities are getting close to adopting amended land use plans that include tsunami provisions. Meg says, “Since this is a public process, it takes time. You want to ensure that people get a chance to review and provide input on this important issue.”
Communities throughout Oregon are amending their current land use plans to incorporate tsunami resilience measures. The hope is that they will continue to look at how their land use plans and policies can reduce risk by locating essential development (such as schools, hospitals, and police stations) out of harm’s way and improving evacuation measures (such as hardening paths, providing lighting, and maintaining vegetation).
A new mapping effort called “Beat the Wave” shows how fast someone would have to travel to beat tsunami waves. This type of analysis will help municipalities pinpoint their most vulnerable areas and assets (e.g., a bridge that will fail during an earthquake and make river crossing impassable). They can then use this information to prioritize evacuation improvement projects to ensure that people know where to go and can get to safe ground in time. “Beat the Wave” provides a tailored evacuation analysis for each community’s specific geography and social context.
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.
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:
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!
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.
“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.
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.
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.
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!
“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.”
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. :
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
Individual State Websites (linked to above)
Personal communications with author and state programs
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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?
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.