Bringing community input to coastal response

A deeper look into a new report from The Water Institute

Water Institute team members speak with community members about coastal restoration

Bridging scientific working groups with community input, a new report from the Institute, “Building community and coastal resilience to a changing Louisiana coastline through restoration of key ecosystem functions,” looks at how local knowledge and values can be used to maximize benefits from ecosystem restoration investments.

Many times, coastal residents feel that their local knowledge is discounted when it comes time for coastal restoration planning, however the approach outlined in this study shows how these two can work together for better solutions. Report authors Tim Carruthers, Director of Coastal Ecology, and Scott Hemmerling, Director of Human Dimensions, wanted to find a way to not only listen to residents of coastal communities, but find a way to capture their knowledge in a measurable way to show how it could be incorporated with technical scientific knowledge into restoration planning.

As part of the study, researchers first convened a workshop with more than 40 social and ecosystem scientists in late 2015 to summarize the value of seven coastal habitat types (such as forested wetlands, marsh, oyster reefs) in terms of the ecological functions they support and how these can provide value for local communities including things like protection of property, economic worth, cultural identity, and employment. Possible ecosystem based restoration options for each coastal habitat type, that could help increase the use, or value, of these areas to communities were also identified.

This science-focused meeting was followed up by four community meetings and mapping workshops in the spring of 2016 in Delcambre (Iberia/Vermillion parishes) and St. Bernard (St. Bernard Parish.)

In addition to small group meetings, the researchers set up mapping tables at the Delcambre Seafood and Farmer’s Market and the Sippin’ on the Bayou Festival in St. Bernard. During these event, researchers asked residents to identify places of value and those places that were currently at risk from a number of factors including land loss or storm damage, as well as identify areas best suited to different restoration actions.

The community input helped researchers develop a “value-threat” matrix to map areas in each community seen by residents as high value, high threat, and a combined high value and high threat.

This project was funded, in part, by the U.S. Department of Commerce through NOAA’s Sea Grant program. Additional funding was provided by the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority and the Baton Rouge Area Foundation, as part of The Water Institute of the Gulf’s Science and Engineering Plan.