Restoring a shoreline to strengthen coastal communities

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The shoreline of Swan Island, Maryland, isn’t just important to the birds and fish that live there—it also provides protection from waves for the communities living on nearby Smith Island.

These islands in the Chesapeake Bay are vulnerable to erosion and storm surge, so a collaborative project used sediment from nearby dredging to build up Swan Island’s shoreline. Project partners also planted dune grasses to anchor the new soil in place and serve as habitat for wildlife.

During her 2019 Knauss Marine Policy Fellowship, Ali Burgos brought this project to life for congressional staffers and other government officials during a site visit to Swan Island. During the trip, the visitors got to see the restored shoreline area, which is being monitored by researchers from Burgos’ host office, the National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science (NCCOS).

“It’s a chance for policymakers to see where the actual research is happening,” Burgos said. “They hear about this stuff a lot, and they get briefings on [Capitol] Hill, but it’s very rare that they actually get to go out into the field.”

The power of seeing coastal resilience projects firsthand is not lost on Burgos, who saw Hurricane Sandy strike the coast of New Jersey when she was an undergraduate at Rutgers University. As a meteorology student, she recorded one of the last hurricane forecasts that went out to the public before the campus lost power.

This experience kindled her interest in the science behind storms like Sandy and coastal protection, leading her to study sea level rise at Old Dominion University’s Center for Coastal Physical Oceanography and ultimately, her Knauss Fellowship.

The types of site visits like Burgos arranged during her fellowship can require weeks of behind-the-scenes coordination. From arranging boat transportation to choreographing which researchers would share which parts of the story, Burgos coordinated logistics to make sure the day ran smoothly. These events are one way that the office helps provide the most up-to-date science for policymakers.

Ali Burgos brought this project to life for congressional staffers and other government officials during a site visit to Swan Island.

She also wrote project summaries for her host office’s Ecological Effects of Sea Level Rise Program, which provides science to coastal managers about vulnerable habitat and nature-based projects like Swan Island. The fellowship experience taught her how to effectively communicate science for policymakers, while also learning about the behind-the-scenes process for these types of applied science projects.

“A lot of it is looking at different trends, like how marshes are going to change and sea level rise,” Burgos said. “I get to look at all the science, and then distill that down to something that other people can easily read and understand. It was a good mix of science, policy, and the communication side of things.”

TAKEAWAYS

  • Ali Burgos’ Knauss Fellowship gave her experience communicating the importance of coastal resilience research.
  • Working in the National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science (NCCOS), Burgos organized site visits for policymakers and helped with the NCCOS Ecological Effects of Sea Level Rise Program.
  • The fellowship gave her additional science communication skills to build on her experiences as a master’s student at Old Dominion University.

    Video by Aileen Devlin | Virginia Sea Grant

    Written by Madeleine Jepsen | Virginia Sea Grant

    Photos provided by Ali Burgos and NOAA

    Published Feb. 7, 2020.
  • The power of seeing coastal resilience projects firsthand is not lost on Burgos, who watched Hurricane Sandy strike the coast of New Jersey as an undergraduate at Rutgers University.
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    “I get to look at all the science, and then distill that down to something that other people can easily read and understand,” Burgos said