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

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

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

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

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The Reaction

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

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

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

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

The Discussion

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

Alternative Ways to Use Humor to Inform

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

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

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

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

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

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

What Do You All Think?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PAST PRESIDENT, MATT NIXON, RECEIVES HIGH HONOR

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

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

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

BEACH & COASTAL TALKING POINTS ON HURRICANE MATTHEW

By Thomas E. Bigford, TCS Past-President and Policy Director for the American Fisheries Society

We were impressed by an October email from Derek Brockbank, Executive Director of the American Shore and Beach Preservation Association (ASBPA; www.asbpa.org). Derek was sharing his recent experience with Hurricane Matthew and the messages he conveyed to ASBPA members, coastal professionals, and the public. We thought much of his message applied equally to our coasts. With a gracious nod to our friends working in the dunes and on beaches, we thought it would be valuable to share his ideas. Perhaps you can use some of his points to remind those with coastal interests just how important these issues are.

Derek’s primary message had four parts (adapted slightly here for our consideration): (1) Weeks after the storm, jurisdictions were still assessing damage; (2) Beaches/dunes protected coastal property from greater damage; (3) Beaches are part of the network of geological features that provide broader coastal protection; and (4) Society needs a systemic plan to protect existing coastal features (dunes, beach, mangroves, coral or shellfish reefs, etc.) and to increase natural resilience.

Derek also offered some background on his four points:

1)      Local coastal managers are still assessing damage to determine what will recover naturally and what will need help to be restored to a healthy state.

2)      We know that Beaches and Dunes did their job – they protected property and lives at the expense of displaced sand – communities without beach and dune systems fared much worse.

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Beaches and dunes are the first lines of defense for coastal communities and ecosystems. Photo Credit: Kasey R. Jacobs

3)      Beaches and dunes are the first line of defense, but coastal flood and storm protection takes multiple lines of defense. During Hurricane Matthew, mandatory evacuations saved lives; elevated homes saved property.

a. Bayside flooding can be nearly as destructive as oceanfront, but proper planning – including wetland and bay beach restoration, storm-sensitive building codes and beneficially using navigation channel sediment – can reduce risk.

b. Inland flooding from excessive rain during a coastal storm can be tremendously destructive, so resilience planning must be systemic and watershed-based.

4)      As seas rise and coastal storms intensify, post-storm restoration must be looked at systemically and with the goal of increasing resilience throughout the watershed. Federal support will be necessary to help local communities while ensuring efficient and systemic recovery and restoration, not just piecemeal rebuilding.

The ASBPA continues to spread its message, a task TCS could assist by developing our own recommendations. That work could be handled by one of our stalwart committees, perhaps supplemented by TCS members well versed in these issues. Not surprisingly, the resulting products would probably look quite similar to the ASBPA actions:

  • Issue a press release to enlist help from outlets such as radio and print.
  • Consider submitting editorial pieces to local newspapers.
  • Offer a stakeholder call or special membership to affected communities to share experiences and offer technical advice.
  • As we learn more about this storm, our changing coasts, and possible TCS roles, we will consider:
    • Compiling facts and data to document losses, needs, etc.
    • Join others to organize Hill briefings on coastal impacts
    • Use this unusual event to inspire communications, set priorities, improve strategic plans, and train the next generation of coastal professionals.

TCS members can join this effort by sharing experiences related to any of these ideas. We think a great contribution would be to document in words and images our successes – protective barriers (natural or otherwise) that held through the storm, restoration techniques that survived wind and rain, public messages that resonated with local citizens and governments, and so much more. Be thoughtful. Be creative. Be ready for the next big one!

Please email your submissions to TCS Communications Chair.


Editor’s Note: This story is the second 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!

HIGH SCHOOL TEACHER LEADS WATER QUALITY TESTING BEFORE AND AFTER HURRICANE MATTHEW

By Guest Contributor Keni Rienks, high school teacher at Cape Fear Academy in Wilmington, NC. 

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Photo Credit: Keni Rienks

North Carolina has spent its share of time in the media forefront lately, and thanks to Hurricane Matthew it will continue to make headlines for a bit longer. Extending from the Appalachian Mountains through the Piedmont to the coast, North Carolina’s variety of environments make it an intriguing and characteristic part of the United States’ southeast corner. As a high school environmental science teacher in Wilmington, I tend to gravitate towards curriculum centralized around our estuaries and watersheds. Being at the mouth of the large Cape Fear River Basin provides opportunities for me and my students to share experiences regarding freshwater ecosystems as well as the complexity and importance of our barrier island and estuarine habitats.  One of my most rewarding and impactful lessons is working with my students in water quality tests and monitoring.

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Photo Credit: Keni Rienks

The Advanced Placement Environmental Science topic list requires students to acquire knowledge of and experience in water quality, which I aim to personalize for the students.  The majority of my student body lives well within a short drive of the ocean, and many of them spend a lot of time in and on the water. We travel in the fall and late spring to various locations on the Intracoastal Waterway and the Atlantic shoreline to perform a series of biological, chemical, and physical water quality assessments. The research process begins with students accessing the published 2015 Environmental Quality of Wilmington and New Hanover County Watersheds, by Dr. Michael A. Mallin and Matthew R. McIver from UNCW’s Center for Marine Science.  Dr. Mallin’s advice and communications have been a key component in my teaching and students’ content acquisition regarding the importance of monitoring the health of our local water system.

The City of Wilmington’s Stormwater Education Program Manager, Jennifer Butler, is also a great advocate for storm water education. Ms. Butler oversees the “Heal Our Waterways” program with coordinator Geoff Goss.  Mr. Goss monitors two particularly impaired sub-watersheds, and he heads a community outreach program aimed to educate residents within the watershed about protection and monitoring (and, hopefully, the eventual healing) of the watersheds.  Many of my students live within these particular areas, so I have integrated the “Heal Our Waterways” curriculum and resources into my AP Environmental Science Classroom.  This program’s materials help teachers provide students with an applicable, real-world experience.  Being able to monitor and study the water quality of these waterways is a great opportunity for citizen science.

The week before Hurricane Matthew hit the Cape Fear region, a group of 50 high school juniors and seniors performed a series of water quality tests on the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway in an area that is at the mouth of Whiskey Creek. This creek is within a higher-end residential area with an upscale marina, and it is also a public park and boat launch. Students examined the presence of fecal coliform, dissolved oxygen, pH levels, nitrates, phosphates, biochemical oxygen demand, and salinity. They then compared their data with the 2015 Environmental Quality of Wilmington and New Hanover County Watersheds report, and composed an official laboratory report for a grade. Results were then shared with Dr. Mallin and the City of Wilmington.

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Photo Credit: Keni Rienks

At the time of this writing, we are one week past the hurricane, but water and contaminants from the floods are still streaming down the Cape Fear River Basin and into our estuary. Though I haven’t yet taken students to test sites, I have brought buckets of water into the classroom for testing and comparison for a pre- and post-hurricane assessment.  Within the next 3 weeks I plan to get students to the test sites or at least get water into the classroom for examination.  While the storm impacts are unfortunate, this is a tremendous opportunity for students to be taking real data, from real situations, and reporting it to real people!

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Photo Credit: Keni Rienks

As a high school teacher I am so appreciative of the resources and opportunities from local scientists and organizations that can make what I do in the classroom applicable and real to the students. Tapping into your local schools and science teachers are a great way to apply high quality citizen science!

 

Keni Rienks is a high school teacher at Cape Fear Academy in Wilmington, NC. Her classes include AP Environmental Science, Honors Physics and Botany. This past summer she served as the Communications Co-Chair for the 4th International Marine Conservation Congress in St. John’s, Newfoundland, sponsored by the Society of Conservation Biology’s Marine Division.


Editor’s Note: This story is the first 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.

THE GHOST FLEET OF MALLOWS BAY: A NEW NATIONAL MARINE SANCTUARY?

By Kim Hernandez, Coastal Resources Planner at the Maryland Department of Natural Resources. This article is also published on Marine Science Today as part of a TCS-MST Collaboration initiated earlier this year. 

In the tidal Potomac River, about 30 miles downstream from Washington D.C., lay the remains of the “Ghost Fleet of Mallows Bay” – over 100 wooden steamships built for the U.S. Emergency Fleet as part of the nation’s engagement in World War I. Dozens of other historic maritime resources also rest in the Potomac River, as well as 12,000 year old archaeological artifacts dating back to some of the region’s earliest Native American cultures. The significance of the area was enough to warrant its listing on the National Register of Historic Places in 2015. Now, thanks to abundant community support, it is in the running to become Maryland’s first national marine sanctuary.

One of the World War I shipwrecks visible at low tide in Mallows Bay, Maryland. Photo Credit: Kim Hernandez.
One of the World War I shipwrecks visible at low tide in Mallows Bay, Maryland. Photo Credit: Kim Hernandez.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the federal agency with authority to designate an area as a sanctuary, for the first time in two decades has been seeking engagement from the American public to nominate areas with significant community support. As nominations are submitted, NOAA reviews each one in several steps and those that pass the review will be added to an inventory of areas NOAA may consider for potential designation as national marine sanctuaries.

The Mallows Bay-Potomac River National Marine Sanctuary nomination was submitted in September 2014 by the State of Maryland with a broad-base of local government and non-government support. The nomination itself included letters of support from over 60 community organizations and individuals. Sanctuary designation would allow NOAA programs to supplement and complement existing state and local programs that aim to protect, study, interpret, and manage this unique area.

The original nomination cited improved opportunities for public access if the area is designated a sanctuary. Photo Credit: Stephen Badger.
The original nomination cited improved opportunities for public access if the area is designated a sanctuary. Photo Credit: Stephen Badger.

In addition to protecting the fragile remains of the shipwrecks, the nomination also cites opportunities to expand public access, recreation, tourism, research, and education. The area is contiguous to the Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail, the Star Spangled Banner National Historic Trail, the Potomac Heritage National Scenic Trail and the Lower Potomac Water Trail, allowing paddlers a unique glimpse into our Nation’s history.  Below the water, the area offers important habitat for popular recreational fisheries, including Striped Bass and White Perch. Above the water, ghostly shipwreck hulls jut out and provide perches for migrating waterfowl and thriving populations of Bald Eagles. The middle Potomac River truly is a historic and ecological treasure.

Four months after the original nomination was submitted, NOAA announced it would add the area to the inventory of nominations that are eligible for designation. It is important to note that the original nomination in September 2014 did not designate anything; it only suggested that NOAA consider designation. The January 2015 announcement meant NOAA would now seriously consider a sanctuary in the Potomac River – a huge step forward for the dozens of community supporters.

The ghostly shipwreck hulls lure recreationalists and historians to this area of the Potomac to get a unique glimpse into the past. Photo Credit: Kim Hernandez.
The ghostly shipwreck hulls lure recreationalists and historians to this area of the Potomac to get a unique glimpse into the past. Photo Credit: Kim Hernandez.

Nationally, the designation process is a separate public process that, by law, is highly public and participatory and often takes several years to complete. Nominated areas go through four main steps with NOAA before it is determined whether they are designated or not: (1) Scoping: NOAA announces its intent to designate a new national marine sanctuary and asks the public for input on potential boundaries, resources that could be protected, issues NOAA should consider and any information that should be included in the resource analysis; (2) Sanctuary Proposal: NOAA prepares draft designation documents including a draft management plan, draft environmental impact statement that analyzes a range of alternatives, proposed regulations and proposed boundaries; (3) Public Review: The public, agency partners, tribes and other stakeholders provide input on the draft documents. NOAA considers all input and determines appropriate changes; and (4) Sanctuary Designation: NOAA makes a final decision and prepares final documents. Before the designation becomes effective, the Governor reviews the documents. Congress also has the opportunity to review the documents.

Many birds, such as the osprey pictured here, have built nests atop the shipwrecks. Bald eagles are also often seen nesting along the shoreline. Photo Credit: K. Thayer.
Many birds, such as the osprey pictured here, have built nests atop the shipwrecks. Bald eagles are also often seen nesting along the shoreline. Photo Credit: K. Thayer.

For Mallow’s Bay, NOAA considered the nomination action until October 2015 when they issued a formal “Notice of Intent” to designate. Along with the Wisconsin – Lake Michigan National Marine Sanctuary, which is going through this same designation process right now, the Potomac River has the potential to be the home of one of the first new national marine sanctuaries designated in nearly 20 years.

In early spring 2016, a federal, state, and local government committee formed to grapple with all of possible management questions a sanctuary designation could spark. Currently, that committee is developing the draft documents required for the sanctuary – including an environmental impact statement and management plan. If all goes as planned, drafts will be available for public comment sometime in late 2016 and designation of this World War I paragon will coincide with the 100-year anniversary of the United States’ entry into the world war, in April 2017.

Sanctuary designation will allow NOAA programs to supplement and complement existing state and local programs that aim to protect, study, interpret, and manage this unique area. Photo Credit: Daryl Byrd.
Sanctuary designation will allow NOAA programs to supplement and complement existing state and local programs that aim to protect, study, interpret, and manage this unique area. Photo Credit: Daryl Byrd.

If designated, the proposed sanctuary would be managed jointly by NOAA, the State of Maryland, and Charles County, Maryland. The original coalition of organizations and individuals at local, state, regional, and national levels that supported the nomination –  including elected officials, businesses, Native Americans, environmental, recreation, conservation, fishing, tourism, museums, historical societies, and education groups – will continue to help mold the vision for the sanctuary and ensure effective protection and management moving forward.

 

 

For more information about the Mallows Bay-Potomac River National Marine Sanctuary nomination, visit: http://dnr.maryland.gov/ccs/Pages/mallowsbay.aspx

For more information about the National Marine Sanctuary Program and nomination process, visit: http://www.nominate.noaa.gov/

Kim Hernandez is a Coastal Resources Planner with the Maryland Department of Natural Resources Chesapeake and Coastal Service. She assists with the coordination of state and regional ocean planning, with the planning and implementation of the Mallows Bay – Potomac River National Marine Sanctuary, and with programs that address coastal hazards and climate resiliency. She also serves as the agency representative on a number of planning bodies and stakeholder groups throughout the Mid-Atlantic region.

Editor’s Note: TCS members working on a national marine sanctuary nomination are invited to contribute a story on your proposed site and current efforts moving through the nomination process. Story ideas or full submissions can be sent to the TCS Communications Chair at kaseyrjacobs (at) gmail (dot) com.

FIVE LESSONS LEARNED ABOUT THE SURPRISING COMPLEXITY OF BUFFERS

By: Lisa Graichen, Stakeholder Engagement Associate for the Great Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve (TCS Communications Subcommittee Member).

If you ask a handful of people what they think about wetland and riparian buffers, you will likely get quite a range of responses. Some identify a clear connection between buffers and their benefits for protecting clean water and other values; others see it as a significant impediment to development and growth; and many probably have no idea what you’re talking about.

Figure 1. Vegetated shoreland along Sagamore Creek in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. Around tidal wetlands, Portsmouth requires a vegetated buffer strip to 25’ and a limited cut area from 25’ to 50’ (Photo: Lisa Graichen).
Vegetated shoreland along Sagamore Creek in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. Around tidal wetlands, Portsmouth requires a vegetated buffer strip to 25’ and a limited cut area from 25’ to 50’ (Photo Credit: Lisa Graichen).

Wetland and riparian buffers – areas around water bodies in which removal of vegetation and other activities are either entirely or partially restricted – are essentially a tool in the toolboxes of municipalities and states to protect clean water and healthy, functioning ecosystems. At face value, buffers might sound simple and straightforward – if you leave natural space, particularly with vegetation, between water resources and nearby human activities (e.g., residential or commercial development, agriculture, roadways, etc.), you might expect a number of benefits. Buffers are known for quite a few functions, from providing wildlife habitat to protecting clean water by intercepting nutrients and contaminants from runoff, reducing sediment inputs, slowing down flows, reducing water temperature by providing shade, and promoting infiltration. In addition to the associated benefits for drinking water supplies, buffers provide other human-related benefits like flood storage and bank stabilization, aesthetic value, and recreational activities. Some interesting studies have also shown that proximity to green space can improve quality of life and property values.

A significant amount of scientific research has been done to better understand and, in some cases, to quantify the ecological functions of buffers. And while the recommended width of the buffer can vary based on the primary functions that need protection, the benefits of buffers are pretty clear. However, things can get a little murky where buffers intersect with the human dimension. I’m working on a project with the Great Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve and other partners that’s looking at the scientific, regulatory, economic, and social dimensions of buffers in the Great Bay Estuary and its watershed. Here are a few lessons I’m learning about buffers:

1)      Buffer regulations are hard to implement.

In New Hampshire, municipalities have the option to develop and implement a wetland buffer ordinance. The state is responsible for enforcing the Shoreland Water Quality Protection Act (SWQPA), which provides for vegetated and managed buffer zones around certain surface rivers, lakes, and ponds. Municipalities can enact requirements above and beyond the SWQPA if they so choose.

There are a number of logistical challenges to implementing buffers at the local level. First, not all communities have a full-time code enforcement officer, and even if they do, this person has a lot of responsibilities in addition to enforcing buffers. Also, “policing” the town for buffer violations would be time consuming and probably not very popular. It often falls on neighbors to report complaints about activities or impacts in the buffer, which is not a very positive or proactive situation. Another challenge is knowing where the wetland boundaries are. Wetland boundaries can be dynamic, and the delineation can have a significant impact on how buffer limits are identified and how the site is ultimately designed.

As an example of the difficulty of implementing buffers, some communities have a “no clearing buffer zone” policy that restricts cutting of trees and vegetation to no more than 50% of the basal area per year. Enforcing this would necessitate knowing what the basal area is and monitoring change annually. (Basal Area is the area of the cross section of a tree stem, including the bark, generally at breast height about 4.5 feet above the ground.) This isn’t to say that communities shouldn’t have this kind of language in their ordinances – it does provide some teeth in the event of an obvious, egregious violation – but it’s important to acknowledge the challenges it presents in implementation.

2)      Buffers can be controversial.

Through this project, I’ve come to realize that buffers are not nearly as straightforward and innocuous as I initially (naively) thought! In some communities, buffer-related initiatives (e.g., efforts to either weaken or strengthen the buffer ordinance) have led to heated public meetings and contributed to strained relationships between municipal boards and even between neighbors. Some see buffers as a positive and necessary tool for protecting clean water and other values; others see buffers in a very negative light, as an infringement on property rights and property values, a restriction on development and growth, and an example of government overreach. The word “taking” comes up frequently, sometimes with threats of lawsuits.

Buffers are a way to protect shared public resources, but the immediate impact can feel unevenly dispersed across the community, as not all parcels have wetlands or shorefront. Sometimes the impacts can be uneven across the watershed as well; for example, downstream communities benefit from effective buffers implemented in communities upriver.

3)      The regulatory framework for buffers varies from community to community and state to state.

Buffer ordinances can vary significantly from one community to the next, from no buffer to a 25’ no cut-no disturbance buffer, to a 50’ or larger limited cut or managed buffer. Implementation capacity also varies between communities, contributing to different results despite what’s in the ordinance. Towns can even differ in their decision-making process, the amount of information they require from applicants, and the strictness with which ordinances are implemented. Buffer regulations and the decision-making process also vary significantly between states.

This variability can be challenging for developers who have to navigate different regulatory frameworks, and also for newcomers who move to a new town and may not be aware that the requirements and processes might be different. In addition, this can create a sense of competition between towns, or a fear, warranted or not, on the part of some stakeholders who want to see more development and growth in their town that if their buffer regulations are stricter than those of neighboring towns, developers may look elsewhere.

4)      Buffers bring up a lot of value judgments.

Wetland buffers around New Orleans, Louisiana like the Central Wetlands Unit, provide a variety of services such as pollutation filtering, natural storm protection for the people living nearby, and others. Photo Credit: Kasey R. Jacobs, The Coastal Society.
Wetland buffers around New Orleans, Louisiana like the Central Wetlands Unit, provide a variety of services such as pollution filtering, natural storm protection for the people living nearby, and others (Photo Credit: Kasey R. Jacobs, The Coastal Society).

Whether intentional or not, buffers are tied to people’s visions for the town’s future and perspectives about growth. There are inevitably some differences of opinion about this, particularly as towns are facing rising development pressures and seeing influxes of newcomers who lack the tie to the town’s past and character. Also, support for protective measures like buffers depends on an underlying sense of connection to natural resources and an understanding of their benefits. For example, one key benefit of buffers is protection of drinking water sources. However, if people lack an awareness of where their drinking water comes from, it might be difficult to see the direct benefits of buffers.

5)      Buffers also bring up the issue of shifting baselines, a challenge that often arises in many coastal management issues.

As memory of the past state of natural resources is lost, the connection to the reasoning and need for buffers can weaken. Many communities are seeing changing population dynamics, with a combination of longtime residents and newcomers. The newcomers may not be aware of how abundant resources were or how healthy ecosystems were in that area’s past, and so the current state becomes their baseline. And with turnover in decision-makers, institutional memory and the original rationale for buffer regulations can get lost as well.

A way forward for buffers?

If nothing else, I hope that this article makes clear how complex buffers can be. There are many different layers – regulatory, ecological, and social – and it’s important to understand them all in order to effectively use buffers as a tool to protect water resources and maintain the many functions they provide. Buffers offer a low-cost way to protect drinking water, reduce damage from flooding and erosion, and reduce the cost of water treatment and stormwater management, as well as a host of other benefits. It’s clear that we need to promote a broad, underlying awareness of the importance of these ecosystem services in order to foster support for buffers.

Comment below to share your stories about how buffers work in your state or communities! What are the perspectives and concerns related to buffers that you encounter? What are the challenges? Any ideas for innovative approaches to buffers? What resources or information would be helpful?


For more information:

Resources from a recent EPA Regional Buffers Workshop: http://www.neiwpcc.org/wetlands/buffers.asp

Buffer Options for the Bay project page: http://graham.umich.edu/activity/32648


Lisa Graichen works as a Community Engagement Specialist with the Great Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve in New Hampshire.  She is working on a number of projects, including Buffer Options for the Bay. Lisa has been with the Reserve since September 2015. She also is a member of the TCS Communications Subcommittee and a volunteer with the Stewardship Network of New England. Lisa is a 2015 graduate of the TIDES program (Training for the Integration of Decision-making and Ecosystem Science) at the University of New Hampshire, a master’s program focusing on coastal ecosystem management, during which she interned at the Hudson River National Estuarine Research Reserve in New York. Outside of the office, Lisa enjoys hiking with her dog Baxter and exploring local rivers by kayak or paddleboard.

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THE COASTAL SOCIETY: ECKERD COLLEGE CHAPTER CLEANS UP!

By:  Sara Gordon

The Eckerd College chapter of the Coastal Society has been working to clean up coastal environments on and around our beautiful campus! Eckerd College is a small liberal arts college in St. Petersburg Florida sitting on the beautiful Gulf coast.eckerdcollegeaerial Eckerd College has a small but environmentally conscious student body. The coastal and marine environment proves to be a major draw for Eckerd College students. With over a mile of coastline on our campus alone, students are constantly interacting with the coastal environment. The campus waterfront, situated on Frenchman’s creek near the opening into Tampa Bay, allows students to make regular kayak trips, swimming breaks, and even sailboat rides straight from the school. Service and volunteer work within the community is a high priority for our students, and even part of our graduation requirements. 12784697_10156519038290104_1940983130_nThe Coastal Society is just one important group on campus that includes a variety of volunteer outreach opportunities. As the first undergraduate program to have a Coastal Society chapter, it provides a great resource and opportunity for students.

Our first beach cleanup of the year took place last semester and was set at Fort DeSoto, a Pinellas county park with some of the most beautiful beaches in the area. This natural area is the largest park in the county, with 1,136 acres of land comprised of 5 interconnected islands. Not only is this a popular area for tourists and locals looking to soak up the sun, but it is also a permanently protected area by the state. Even though the park has full time staff to manage the area, they still need volunteers to help keep the area clean. Eckerd’s chapter of TCS joined with the managers last semester to spend one Saturday cleaning up one of the most popular beaches. This area remains a high priority for managers due to it’s close proximity to a bird sanctuary, where numerous shore nesting species are protected.12498449_10156519038465104_1156681241_n

At the start of the Spring semester, we held our second cleanup event on our own campus. A large percentage of Eckerd College students live on campus all four years, making recruiting additional volunteers easy on such a beautiful, sunny Saturday afternoon. While our student body does it’s best to help keep our campus clean, garbage still gets strewn along our coastlines from incoming surf and thoughtless litterbugs.12767390_10156519038360104_562542797_n The volunteers set out to pick up debris along the beaches and in the mangroves on campus. By the end of a few hours, the volunteers had collected 6 full garbage bags and a full size-recycling bin of waste.

Both of these cleanups have not only helped benefit our community’s coastal areas, but also have helped spread the word about what The Coastal Society is and the kinds of things we are involved in. Finding like-minded individuals, who not only work in coastal communities, but also care about the environment that they work in can be extremely beneficial to all parties involved. Eckerd College’s chapter hopes to do more of these kinds of cleanups soon, and keep spreading the word! ?

WELCOME, NEW TCS BOARD MEMBERS!

By Lisa Graichen, Community Engagement Associate for the Great Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve (TCS Communications Subcommittee Member)

The Coastal Society welcomes its newest members of the Board of Directors: Caitlyn McCrary, Tiffany Smythe, Jolvan Morris, and Michelle Lennox. These new board members bring diverse expertise and enthusiasm for coastal management to the organization. Lisa Graichen interviewed each on behalf of the TCS Communications Subcommittee so that TCS Blog readers can learn more about these wonderful people, what they’re most excited about in the coastal management field, what some of their biggest coastal concerns are, why they decided to join the TCS board, and more!

 

Caitlyn McCrary (email)Caitlyn McCrary

Communication Specialist with NOAA’s Office for Coastal Management in Charleston, South Carolina

What has your career path been like leading up to where you are now?

So far, I’d say my path has been short. I’m still early in my career but I do think I’ve learned a good bit in getting where I am now. From undergrad I went straight to graduate school. I knew that bench science wasn’t for me, and I found a program that focused on the business and management sides of coastal science. From there, networking and taking advantage of the resources I had became key. I found alumni from my grad program working for NOAA’s Office for Coastal Management, reached out, and asked if I could be a summer intern. I incorporated that work into my master’s thesis and when I graduated, they created a position for me based on that work.

Do you have any career-related advice for folks working in the coastal management field?

Network! The saying “it’s all who you know” hits the nail on the head. That’s why organizations like TCS and going places to actually meet people are still so key. You can accomplish almost anything with a dedicated network of people working together.

What do you enjoy most about working in this field?

The feeling of making a difference. Helping our coasts reaches to so many other aspects of our lives. It’s amazing to be a part of that.

What are your biggest concerns for coastal management today?

The people who think, “Out of sight, out of mind.” They’re the ones who think their house won’t flood, the storm won’t hit their area, or it won’t happen during their generation. They see the photos of island nations sinking as too far away to really matter because if it’s not happening to them, why does it matter? They therefore don’t invest in the solutions we, as coastal managers, propose, which makes our jobs harder.

What most excites you about the coastal management field today?

That the number of people who don’t understand climate change and don’t think it’s happening to them is decreasing. Our field is doing a great job getting more city and county governments to realize this is a serious issue and they need to do something about it. Hopefully that will turn into a snowball that just keeps growing.

Why did you decide to join the TCS board? What is your main goal for TCS?

I joined because Matt asked me to ? In all seriousness, I want to help keep our organization relevant. There are so few good organizations for people involved in our coasts or ocean but who aren’t doing “hard” science. We need to fill that void and keep up with the strong work we’ve started by fostering the next generation of coastal managers and strengthening the bonds within our field.

Is there anything else you’d like to share with TCS members as a new board member?

Don’t be afraid to reach out if you have questions or comments. I know our new members often feel a little overwhelmed and lost or maybe older members have great insight on things we could be doing –email me, please!

What are some of your favorite things to do outside of work?

Running, hanging out with friends and family, watching University of South Carolina football, and traveling as much as possible!

Tiffany Smythe
Photo Credit: Tiffany Smythe

Tiffany Smythe (email)

Coastal Management Extension Specialist, Coastal Resources Center/Rhode Island Sea Grant, and Adjunct Professor, Department of Marine Affairs, URI Graduate School of Oceanography

What has your career path been like leading up to where you are now?

I am a Coastal Management Extension Specialist with the Coastal Resource Center and Rhode Island Sea Grant at URI Graduate School of Oceanography, and I’m also an adjunct professor of marine affairs at URI. I have my master’s and PhD in marine affairs from URI, so I’m an alum, too. Along the way I’ve also worked in the nonprofit sector, in government, and in academia, trying to gain experience in many different sectors. Other places I’ve worked include the U.S. Coast Guard Academy and Sea Education Association – two very different academic institutions.

I’ve devoted a lot of my recent career to marine spatial planning/ocean planning and offshore renewable energy development. I was a co-author of Rhode Island’s ocean plan, which we developed back in 2008-2010. That plan led to the siting of what will be nation’s first offshore wind farm here in Rhode Island. We’re now supporting other organizations doing similar kinds of planning, and we’re doing research and outreach related to the wind farm because it’s such an important, historic effort. The wind farm is under construction right now and is scheduled to be operational by late 2016. It’s super exciting!

Do you have any career-related advice for folks working in the coastal management field?

I’ve found it valuable to let my career take me into different sectors related to coastal management – nonprofit, government, academia, and even consulting (I ran my own consulting firm for a little while). It’s been really helpful to have that diversity of experience to understand the ways different organizations interact in the coastal management sphere. For example, the nonprofit I worked at was much more advocacy-oriented, whereas being an academic or working in extension like I do now, there’s much more of an emphasis on objectivity, and in government there is an emphasis on staying out of advocacy. It’s important to see coastal management issues from the perspective of all the different sectors.

What do you enjoy most about working in this field?

Well, I love the ocean. I got into this field because I’m a sailor. I used to work professionally on sailboats. I love getting to work on, near, around the ocean with people who care about it, with people who use it.

What are your biggest concerns for coastal management today?

There are tons! One concern I have is the lack of political will and associated funding to support effective coastal and ocean management and planning. I think it’s important for us to figure out how to maintain a strong bipartisan constituency for ocean and coastal protection.

What most excites you about the coastal management field today?

I’m excited by offshore renewable energy. It’s been a privilege to get to be front and center on our nation’s first such project. Also, I’m excited by what I think is becoming broader public awareness and support for climate change-related issues. We have a really long way to go, but I think I’ve seen a bit of a shift over time to broader recognition of this as a problem we need to deal with.

Why did you decide to join the TCS board? What is your main goal for TCS?

I was involved with TCS first as a grad student and by attending TCS conferences. Taking advantage of some of the student opportunities really helped me in my career, and I made some key professional contacts I still utilize. I felt that it was a good time for me to give back to the organization and to help current students and future professionals. I also think this is a transitional time for TCS, so my goal is to help the organization figure out how best to support the coastal management community, given all of the changes, financial and otherwise, in our field.

Is there anything else you’d like to share with TCS members as a new board member?

I would ask for TCS members to think actively and be vocal about what they want to see TCS do or offer to the community. Really think creatively and share your ideas with board members, and then get involved on committees. The only way we’re going to grow the organization and make it relevant for the next generation is if people say what they want and step up to make it happen.

What are some of your favorite things to do outside of work?

I’m pretty outdoorsy and athletic – stand-up paddleboarding, sailing, kayaking. I spend a lot of time on the water recreationally.

Jolvan Morris
Photo Credit: Jolvan Morris

Jolvan Morris (email)

Environmental Specialist, NOAA Fisheries Greater Atlantic Regional Fisheries Office

What has your career path been like leading up to where you are now?

I just finished a post-doc in the NOAA Living Marine Resources Cooperative Science Center at Savannah State University. While at Savannah State, I was doing a little bit of teaching but mostly helping on student research that focused on socioeconomic impacts of fishing in coastal communities. I conducted my own research that focused on historic African American fishing communities, and during the summers assisted in collecting brittle stars for ongoing research in the benthic lab. It was a good mix of the research, teaching, and fieldwork. I recently accepted a position with the Greater Atlantic Regional Fisheries Office (GARFO), so I’m going to be working in the Protected Resources Division on Section 7 consultations and related tasks for energy projects. I’ll also be working on projects for the ongoing K-12 Sturgeon outreach program in the region. This new assignment connected back to my master’s research. I participated in an NOAA internship when GARFO was called the Northeast Regional Office. Back then I worked with the sturgeon team on projects related to Section 7 consultations for shortnose and Atlantic sturgeon. My master’s work was based on that internship experience. My recent career transition is a good way to revisit what I did in grad school and to put that knowledge to use.

Do you have any career-related advice for folks working in the coastal management field?

Find an awesome mentor. Build your professional network. Go to conferences and meet people who might be able to help you get those internships, and just learn as much as you can from every experience because you never know what direction you’re going to be heading.

What do you enjoy most about working in this field?

I enjoy working with people who have the same interests and passions as I do as far as being outdoors, on the water, and working in the environment. I earned my graduate degree in environmental science, and I chose fisheries because I have a passion for the water and environmental stewardship. I enjoy just being around people who share that common interest and being able to make a difference.

What are your biggest concerns for coastal management today?

One of my concerns is development – people building on the coast without regard for the impacts that it’s going to have later on down the line, especially with climate change and all of the uncertainty involved. We don’t really have that great of a grasp on the future impacts of what we do now, so I think we should take a precautionary approach. We need to make sure we’re making the best policy and management decisions that we can so that we’re not creating more problems than we solve.

What most excites you about the coastal management field today?

Coming from a background of environmental science and having worked in outreach and education. What excites me is the fact that a lot more schools are educating younger people on it. Those opportunities for outreach and getting the next generation involved in being proactive – that’s what excites me.

Why did you decide to join the TCS board? What is your main goal for TCS?

I joined the TCS board because of a mentor, Tom Bigford. I had a chance to meet Tom at a NOAA Educational Partnership Program conference that I attended during my post-doc and again at an AFS meeting in Savannah. In conversation, I mentioned to him that I had been the recipient of the Thomas E. Bigford Award for Best Student Presentation at a TCS forum during grad school. He later encouraged me to apply for the TCS secretary position and to be more involved. I did, and I was able to learn more about the organization and become an active member. I’m interested in moving the organization forward and continuing the good work. Also I’m interested in being a voice to represent more diversity in TCS. We’re a diverse country, so we should have that reflected in our organization as well.

What are some of your favorite things to do outside of work?

I’m a new mom, so I’m spending time with my little one. I also like to travel, go to the beach, go hiking with my dogs, take rides on my motorcycle, go fishing, and just be outdoors.

Michelle Lennox
Photo Credit: Gwynn Schultz

Michelle Lennox (email)

Biologist and National Transportation Liaison, NOAA Fisheries in Silver Spring, Maryland.

What has your career path been like leading up to where you are now?

I’ve worked in state (mid-Atlantic) and federal government (Canada and U.S.), in academic and nonprofit institutions, and at an environmental consulting firm. I’ve worked on a range of issues over the past 20 years, including ecotoxicology, climate change, Chesapeake Bay restoration, environmental regulatory compliance, marine and coastal conservation finance, ocean planning, and marine protected resource conservation. This mix of experiences has led me to my current position at NOAA Fisheries, Office of Protected Resources, where I get to work on trying to reach a balance between conservation and much-needed infrastructure through advancing sound science, partnerships, policy, and management.

Do you have any career-related advice for folks working in the coastal management field?

Solicit and develop relationships with the individuals you come across in coastal management (through school, volunteer opportunities, internships, jobs, etc.), and nourish and maintain those relationships over the years. It’s a small and connected community, and the connections you build will benefit you at times when you least expect them. Also, conferences and coastal management events end up feeling like a family reunion!

What do you enjoy most about working in this field?

I get to work with wonderful, smart, and passionate people. Our field draws talented and selfless people who work tirelessly on the important mission of coastal management, conservation, and protection. That shared drive to protect our environment makes for a wonderful community of incredibly cool people.

What are your biggest concerns for coastal management today?

How our leaders and decision-makers choose to address climate change will dramatically affect the future of our coastal environments, economies, and communities. My biggest concern is that dramatic changes to reverse the trend of climate change and its impacts will happen much too late.

What most excites you about the coastal management field?

I’m excited by the development of spatial and visualization digital tools. Being able to tell persuasive stories is an important element of our work. Using mapping and visualization tools to demonstrate scenarios (for issues like sea-level rise, expanding ocean uses, and changing ocean temperatures) to decision-makers and stakeholders is an incredibly powerful storytelling method.

Why did you decide to join the TCS board? What is your main goal for TCS?

It was an opportunity for me to engage with respected experts outside of my immediate coastal management network, and a chance for me to use my fundraising skills to help identify sustainable funding mechanisms to support this organization that has such a rich history in our community.

What are some of your favorite things to do outside of work?

Spending quality time with my awesome husband and our elderly rescue Chihuahuas, sampling microbrew beers, enjoying the great outdoors, going to rock n’ roll shows, and napping.

Thank you, Caitlyn, Tiffany, Jolvan, and Michelle, for bringing your knowledge, ideas, and dedication to the TCS board. To other TCS members, these board members want to hear from you, so please feel free to reach out!

OREGON TAKES ON EXPENSIVE AND HAZARDOUS COASTAL ISSUE: ABANDONED AND DERELICT VESSELS

By: Meg Gardner, Environmental Programs Coordinator for the Oregon State Marine Board (TCS Communications Subcommittee Member).

When most people think of marine debris, they think old fishing gear, plastic bags, or cigarette butts. But another category of debris exists that challenges coastal managers throughout the U.S. – abandoned and derelict vessels (ADV’s). This term covers anything from a 10-foot aluminum dingy left on a public boat ramp all the way up to a 100-foot former commercial fishing vessel with barrels of unknown hazardous materials onboard and anchored out on a river. Typically, an abandoned vessel is defined as one that has been left without authorization on public or private lands, and a derelict vessel is one that is sinking, sunk, leaking pollution, or a threat to public health and safety.

This vessel fell apart soon after being removed, evidence of its poor conditions. The vessel in the feature image of this article had to be contained due to leaking oil and then removed. Photo Credit: Oregon State Marine Board
This vessel fell apart soon after being removed, evidence of its poor conditions. The vessel in the feature image of this article had to be contained due to leaking oil and then removed. Photo Credit: Oregon State Marine Board

Vessels become abandoned and/or derelict for many reasons, which can vary from state to state; however, most states still share many similar challenges when it comes to preventing and removing these vessels. For example, keeping track of ownership of a vessel as it changes hands between people can be difficult, especially if new owners do not know the registration or titling requirements of their home state. Most people do not think about the end of their vessel’s useful life when they first buy a boat. As a vessel ages and does not receive the maintenance it needs, it can become a liability. New owners with “boat dreams” may buy a secondhand vessel and do not fully realize the amount of money or skill required to make a vessel run well again. These situations can lead to more boat ownership transfers and eventually abandonment.

Some abandoned or derelict boats are located in challenging locations. Oregon State Marine Board removed this boat by dismantling it in place through an inmate work crew. Photo Credit: Oregon State Marine Board
Some abandoned or derelict boats are located in challenging locations. Oregon State Marine Board removed this boat by dismantling it in place through an inmate work crew. Photo Credit: Oregon State Marine Board

Abandoned and derelict vessels are a concern for many reasons. They can impact the environment through petroleum spills, leaks of hazardous materials or sewage, and they can break apart and become debris fields. These vessels can also impact navigation and safety if they are drifting freely or lurking just under the water out-of-sight. They might be beached near shore where they prevent water users from accessing certain areas. Likewise, these vessels can become a site of illegal activity such as dumping or drug use, especially if they are in remote or rural areas.

In Oregon, once a vessel has been identified as abandoned or derelict, an enforcement agency (such as a law enforcement body or public agency) can start the seizure process, which can lead to removal, storage, and disposal of the vessel. The last known registered owner remains responsible for an abandoned or derelict vessel and liable for any costs incurred by the enforcement agency for removal. However, if the State does not have enough funding to front the costs of removal and disposal, a boat may remain where it is for years, especially because most owners do not have the resources to pay for a boat’s removal or are unknown because its ownership is difficult to trace.

A vessel is removed in Oregon State waters. Photo Credit: Oregon State Marine Board
A vessel is removed in Oregon State waters. Photo Credit: Oregon State Marine Board

Depending on the size, hull material, location, or debris onboard a vessel, removal can be a challenging and expensive process. Large vessels, commercial vessels, vessels with steel or concrete hulls, or sunken vessels are examples that can cost a significant amount of money to remove and dispose. The average cost of an abandoned recreational boat (under 30ft) is about $3,500 in Oregon, while some vessels that the State has yet to remove are estimated to cost several thousand or hundreds of thousands of dollars. In some cases, there are known derelict vessels that may cost several million dollars to remove, which far exceeds the current budget allocated to these removals and would take a special allocation of funds from the state or federal legislature.

Obviously, not having a funding stream proportionate to the problem is a common challenge for most states. Having appropriate legislation or an established ADV program are also important in being able to combat the issue of abandoned and derelict vessels. Oregon’s ADV legislation and program were established in 2004. An update in 2013, streamlined the process of vessel seizure and clarified definitions. However, some of our regional partners do not have established programs, such as Alaska or British Columbia, which can greatly hinder the government’s ability to respond to ADV issues.

Prevention is another key issue in addressing ADV’s, which can come in many forms. One tactic that has shown promise in many states, including in Oregon, is a Vessel Turn-in Program. This is a program in which owners with older vessels they do not want anymore, or marinas who have ended up with abandoned vessels can turn their vessels over to the state (or other public body) and have the boat disposed of at no cost to them. The details of this type of program vary by state but the concept is the same across the board – prevent vessels that are older or in poor condition from entering the water and becoming abandoned or derelict down the road. These programs help to reduce the cost of removing ADV’s and have shown there is great demand for an inexpensive boat disposal option. While this program shows great promise in Oregon, lack of funding to support the demand remains a limitation.

A vessel in the process of getting dismantled. It was turned over through the Vessel Turn-in Program, a prevention program in Oregon where boat owners and marinas can turn over an older boat to be disposed of properly so it will not become an abandoned or derelict vessel. Photo Credit: Oregon State Marine Board
A vessel in the process of getting dismantled. It was turned over through the Vessel Turn-in Program, a prevention program in Oregon where boat owners and marinas can turn over an older boat to be disposed of properly so it will not become an abandoned or derelict vessel. Photo Credit: Oregon State Marine Board

A new effort happening in Oregon now is a Task Force focused on prevention and removal funding ideas specific to abandoned and derelict commercial vessels on the coast. Commercial vessels can be much more challenging and expensive to remove than recreational vessels because of their size, associated equipment, and potential for hazardous waste and pollution. While the Oregon State Marine Board removes both categories of vessels, removal funding comes solely from recreational boater registration and titling fees and is insufficient to adequately deal with commercial vessels. This group of stakeholders is meeting now to try to think through ways to prevent abandoned and derelict commercial vessels and potentially fund their removals through additional means than what currently exists.

For more information about ADV programs around the country from NOAA’s Marine Debris Program, visit: https://marinedebris.noaa.gov/discover-issue/types-and-sources/abandoned-and-derelict-vessels.

For more information about Oregon’s ADV program, visit: http://www.oregon.gov/OSMB/boater-info/Pages/Abandoned-Derelict-Boats.aspx.

 

Meg Gardner manages the abandoned and derelict vessel removal program, clean marina and clean boater programs, and the foam encapsulation certification program for the Oregon State Marine Board, a recreational boating agency. She also serves as the agency representative on a number of groups for marine debris planning and removal, small oil spill prevention, and derelict vessel management. She has been at the Marine Board since May 2015.

Editors’ Note: This is a ubiquitous issue in all coastal states. One resource to learn how other coastal states are managing ADV’s is the symposium proceedings from the National Working Waterfronts and Waterways Symposium in 2015. They had a session devoted to how different states are handing this issue showing there is a variety of approaches. See presentations from Washington State and Florida