The Coastal Studies Institute (CSI) is a multi-institutional research and education partnership that takes an interdisciplinary and collaborative approach to understand processes and solving problems in the complex human and natural systems that surround us. ECU and CSI faculty member, Dr. Rachel Gittman, and research partners, Dr. Devon Eulie and Dr. Huili Hao (UNC Wilmington), and Carter Smith (UNC Chapel Hill), were recently awarded funding for two concurrent projects that illustrate these core values well. Funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) and NC SeaGrant, the team is collaborating across campuses and disciplines to evaluate the performance of various shoreline protection methods over episodic and decadal time scales. The work will add to a small but critical repository of data on long-term constructed shoreline performance and is designed to specifically evaluate living shorelines in the wake of major storm events.
Hurricane Florence was a category two storm that made landfall in southeastern North Carolina in September of 2018, causing unprecedented flooding and damage in many coastal and inland areas. The impacts of this major storm were largely concentrated in the state’s 20 coastal counties, in which all four scientists have conducted much of their previous work. The NSF-funded RAPID response portion of the project will take advantage of pre-storm geospatial data and resident surveys for comparison against post-storm ecological, physical, and sociological shoreline performance measures. This time-sensitive project allows the group to draw on data from previous work to determine how Hurricane Florence has specifically impacted different types of shorelines as well as the people and communities who use them.
Science-based information on the performance of living versus traditional shorelines over long time scales is also in high demand, as these factors are weighed heavily by property owners who make decisions about them. These decisions, in turn, impact the entire surrounding ecosystem. Lack of such data has led to an enormous state and national interest in research on the longevity of living shorelines as an alternative to traditional structures. The NC Division of Coastal Management (DCM) and US Army Corps of Engineers are among those interested in the results and are the two permitting agencies governing shoreline modification in North Carolina. This call for more data on decadal scale performance is the driving purpose of the NC SeaGrant-funded component of Eulie, Gittman, Smith, and Hao’s work.
“There is an effort in and outside the state to coordinate efforts to increase the repository of shared data across all kinds of shoreline and resilience related issues,” Gittman said. “The exchange of these data across groups is key to understanding the long term trends in shorelines and how people are responding to storm events.” Gittman also emphasized the importance of collaboration within and outside of immediate circles, since growing a larger network is the overarching goal.
The long-term component, running concurrently with the post-Hurricane Florence assessment, is a 5-year follow up on social data collected via survey from recreational fishers and waterfront residents in 2012. The same 6,000 residents will be targeted again in this year’s survey, plus an additional 24,000 coastal waterfront and non-waterfront residents. The survey will identify whether shoreline conditions and resident perceptions have changed over the last 5 years—a period of significant policy changes for shoreline management and a remarkable shift in the general awareness of sustainable alternatives. The study specifically seeks to engage residents who have made an active effort to rebuild their shorelines, as this has been identified as an underrepresented group in past work. The survey, scheduled for deployment in the coming weeks, will be complemented by geospatial and ecological analysis already underway. The sum of this project’s components gets at the overarching goal to build a larger and larger network of shared data to understand episodic and long-term trends in shorelines, how people are responding to storm events, and provide bigger, state-wide picture of our shoreline resilience.
As permitting agencies, the NC Division of Coastal Management and US Army Corps of Engineers are also in a unique position to influence the route of shoreline stabilization that stakeholders choose, guided by the information they have available. This CSI-UNCW research team’s previous work has successfully fueled revision of the DCM permitting process, plus a recently approved general permit for living shorelines at state and regional levels. The current projects add to and draw from growing momentum across the state to create a network that works together on issues related to shorelines and sustainability and add to the repository of data governing today’s decisions that determine future resilience along our coasts. You can learn more about the projects and follow the team’s shoreline resilience work here.