Data Tells Storm Story

Data Tells Storm Story

For a community hit by a hurricane, recovery can be a long, traumatic process that begins with understanding the storm’s impacts. The sooner that happens, the sooner communities can address the changes and work to become more resilient in the future. 

To help address this need, a group of National Estuarine Research Reserves are teaming up to transform monitoring data into “Storm Stories” to help communities visualize changes in the local environment after a hurricane hits.

“We already track storm events through the System-Wide Monitoring Program [SWMP], which provides data on short-term variability and long-term trends related to hurricane impacts,” says Kaitlyn Dietz, project co-lead and coastal training program coordinator at Florida’s GTM Reserve. “We saw an opportunity to translate that data into visual stories using infographics, charts, and photos to make it more accessible for local communities.”

Storm Stories leverage wind, rainfall, water depth, dissolved oxygen, and salinity data to describe changes in local estuaries and the time it takes for them to recover from a storm. They put this analysis in the context of information about the storm’s degree and duration, along with comparisons to other storms and physical impacts seen after the storm.

“This is exactly why Reserves were created—to study changes in coastal environments and use what they learn to help communities manage change,” observes Rebecca Roth, Executive Director of the National Estuarine Research Reserve Association (NERRA). “Nineteen Reserves have been affected by hurricanes in the last decade alone. Because they experience these events alongside the communities they support, Reserves are living laboratories that are well-positioned to develop tools like this that are really needed.”

The Storm Stories project is a collaboration of educators, coastal trainers, and scientists at the Delaware, North Carolina, North Inlet-Winyah Bay, ACE Basin, Jobos Bay, and GTM Reserves. With funding and support from the NERRS Science Collaborative, the team is working with Limnotech to develop easy-to-generate templates for printable and online ArcGIS Storm Stories, along with a statistical package to help Reserves quickly analyze data and create graphs and tables. These resources will be available in spring 2022.

“While the Southeast and Caribbean Reserves created Storm Stories for local hurricanes, we hope that any Reserve affected by an extreme weather event will be able to easily adapt these tools to create locally relevant stories for their communities using SWMP data,” says Dietz.

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Calling the Coast Home

Calling the Coast Home

An old-fashioned oyster roast is one of the many benefits of living on South Carolina’s coast—benefits that Reserve staff want to help those new to the area enjoy safely.

Living on South Carolina’s coasts is living with water: water that’s safe to live near, to swim and play in, to harvest food from. To support coastal communities, the ACE Basin and North Inlet-Winyah Bay Reserves collaborated on an accredited professional development program for real estate agents to help them educate their clients—many of whom are new to coastal areas—on living safely and well with water.

“Clean water is what drives people to want to move here and live here,” says Abi Locatis Prochaska, coastal training program coordinator at the ACE Basin Reserve. “It drives the coastal real estate economy. We wanted to  get real estate agents to better understand that relationship and provide them with resources they could share with their clients.”

The Reserves partnered with other members of the South Carolina Coastal Information Network to develop Coastal Lifestyle for Clean Water, part of a four-course series. Earlier this year, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Reserves took the training online, and nearly 100 real estate agents have completed the course so far.

My local instructors were anything but thrilled to venture into the virtual world,” says Kelly Bramble, director of education at the Charleston Trident Association of Realtors. “The Reserve’s courses allowed us to offer continuing education classes when they were needed the most.”

Volunteers work to keep South Carolina’s beaches clean and safe for all to enjoy.

The training walks realtors through topics like water quality, safe and legal seafood harvesting, and sources of bacteria. The Reserves also consulted on and co-taught other trainings in the series, covering topics like disaster preparedness, flood zones, and flood insurance. These courses empower realtors—and by extension, their clients—by teaching them directly how to use online data tools, like the swimming safety tool, to understand their risk and get information to protect themselves. 

“We’re trying to answer the questions: how do we keep people safe? How do we help them enjoy these resources that are so important?” says Locatis Prochaska. “This is part of our mission as a Reserve. We are collecting the very water quality data that people need access to, and our state partner, the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources, works to educate people on responsible recreation.”

Focusing on realtors allowed the Reserves to reach a much broader audience. “Coastal South Carolina is a rapidly developing area with many people relocating to the coast for the first time,” says Maeve Snyder, coastal training program coordinator at North Inlet-Winyah Bay Reserve.

“Although we hope that new residents will make time for a visit to their local Reserve, we know that for many newcomers, one of the first points of contact they make will be a real estate agent. This course equips these professionals with knowledge and resources to help their clients understand how to enjoy coastal natural resources without negatively impacting them.”

As with much of the collaboration that takes place across the Reserve system, the program has been strengthened by partnership. “Cross-reserve collaboration was a natural choice for this project,” adds Snyder “Along with other partners, it allowed us to create a consistent curriculum applicable not just in one area but to the whole coast.”

Fishing is an important local form of recreation covered in the Coastal Lifestyle for Clean Water series.

Reserves Meet Teachers & Students Online

Reserves Meet Teachers & Students Online

In 2020, Reserve educators have rallied behind students and teachers coping with the challenges of learning during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Many have taken to the virtual world, creating new ways for students to learn about estuaries with activities, curricula, video tours, and projects that encourage children to get outside in safe ways. They also are offering professional development opportunities for teachers on topics such as online learning platforms and outdoor schooling. 

As a result, thousands of students and teachers around the country continue to benefit from Reserve education programs. Some of these are highlighted below but there are many more. We encourage you to learn more about your estuary and others here. (Bookmark that page—we update it weekly!)

ACE Basin Reserve, South Carolina

When schools shut down in March, the ACE Basin Reserve’s education staff didn’t skip a beat. They created lessons using local water quality data, which were shared with 840 teachers and several hundred parents across the state. Later, they took children on virtual field trips and hosted virtual summer camps. This fall, they are supporting teachers with activity emails, virtual field trips, educational videos paired with live Q&A, and hands-on training adapting curriculum and teaching methods for an online world. 

“We have provided marine science and environmental education to teachers in South Carolina for decades and have developed close relationships with them,” says Julie Binz, education coordinator at the Reserve. “We’ve been able to reach out to these teachers in times like these, ask them directly what they need, and do what we can to help.”

Chesapeake Bay Reserve, Virginia

Springtime at the Chesapeake Bay Reserve usually means field programs that bring children to the estuary. This year, education staff jumped into action to transfer key programs, like the Discovery Lab, online. They created themed DIY activities, engaged families with online experts, and made educators directly available through Facebook to answer questions. 

They also created a 12-week program, Summer on the Bay, that offers videos, virtual field trips, resources, and activities. Using Reserve materials, they were able to create and mail out free literacy kits to over 50 students from Virginia to California.

“The Reserve is where locals get a lot of information about the Bay,” says Sarah Nuss, Reserve education coordinator. “It was the right fit because we already have that connection with the local community.”

Educators from Virginia’s Chesapeake Bay Reserve film a video outside.

Lake Superior Reserve – Wisconsin

Last spring, local elementary school teachers got vital support from the Lake Superior Reserve’s Rivers2Lake program. The Reserve’s Nature Nibbles videos and worksheets became the sole science curriculum for more than 2,000 elementary school students throughout the Superior school district.

The Reserve also provided a workshop on how to teach outdoors and created a monthly virtual professional development series for teachers. 

“We really want to emphasize the role of nature in the social and emotional wellbeing of kids,” says Deanna Erickson, acting manager at the Lake Superior Reserve. “We have the content, the bandwidth, the relationship with teachers, and the knowledge of these students to really jump in and try to help them solve the insolvable.”

This fall, the Reserve plans to expand its offerings by creating the St. Louis River Field School to provide safe, healthy field experiences for middle schoolers who are practicing home-based learning.

“The Reserve staff are kind, honest, passionate people,” says Sue Correll, a fourth and fifth grade teacher at Lake Superior Elementary. “They are experts but very approachable with questions. People feel like they can come to them.”

Fourth grade Rivers2Lake teacher Jess Gagne special guest stars in a Nature Nibble video about trees.

Virtual Lab Tours at ACE Basin

Virtual Lab Tours at ACE Basin

Through virtual programming, marine scientists at South Carolina’s ACE Basin Reserve reach students who wouldn’t otherwise have access to the estuary.

Inspiring future STEM students with fish science? Nothing fishy about that! 

South Carolina’s ACE Basin Reserve is making sure all kinds of students—regardless of their access to the outdoors—get a firsthand look at marine science with virtual laboratory tours. They get to observe a fish dissection, learn how different scientific tools are used, and ask a marine biologist questions about their field. They even get a peek behind the scenes of the South Carolina Reef Fish Survey, a fish monitoring program whose data supports the state’s $21.5 million fisheries. 

The virtual tours program was designed to reach students and classrooms who lack access to laboratory experiences. It promotes coastal science to students who are traditionally underrepresented science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields and may have little knowledge of career opportunities in marine or environmental science.

Race Against Time

Race Against Time

Archaeologists and ACE Basin Reserve volunteers are racing to uncover ancient secrets hidden under Pockoy Beach before they are swept away by rising seas. Photo courtesy Taylor Main.

This is an epic story about archeology. (Sorry Indiana Jones fans—this is not a story about a mystical ark and a swashbuckling archaeologist who battles nefarious villains to protect said ark. However, we can promise some plucky archaeologists, LIDAR, and a race against time to uncover precious artifacts.)

The story begins in 2016, after Hurricane Matthew hit South Carolina, causing flooding, power outages, property damage and more. In the aftermath, emergency responders and scientists used aerial light detection and ranging imagery (LIDAR) maps to better understand the impacts of this Category Five storm. As analysts from Northern Kentucky University were reviewing the maps, they spotted something unusual on Pokoy Island in our ACE Basin Reserve: circular formations that appeared to be remnants of ancient Native American shell rings.

“Reserves are designated to protect areas that are special, ecologically and geographically,” says Blaik Keppler, manager of the ACE Basin Reserve. “These are the same qualities that have attracted people to live in these areas for centuries, so many Reserves also protect precious cultural resources. The shell rings uncovered by Matthew, however, had been buried under a maritime forest, so it was a surprise to learn they existed on Pockoy Island at all.”

The LIDAR analysis revealed that if these were indeed shell rings, they were in danger of being swallowed by the Atlantic. Pokoy’s remote shoreline is experiencing extremely high erosion rates, making it likely that the rings—and everything they could tell us about ancient native culture in South Carolina—would disappear in a few years.

Erosion on the shores of Pockoy Island have left a “boneyard” of dead trees along a rapidly changing coastline. Photo courtesy Taylor Main.

Archaeologists from our Reserve’s partner, South Carolina Department of Natural Resources (SCDNR), knew they would have to race against time to excavate the rings. They joined forces with experts from across the Southeast to begin fieldwork in June 2017. Through shovel testing, systematic probing, and excavating a sample area, the team successfully recovered some animal bone artifacts that were necessary to conduct radiocarbon dating. By December, results were conclusive: the rings were created by Native Americans more than 4,000 years ago.

Most of the excavated bones found by the team have been remains of animals that were eaten, but some were made into objects for everyday living like this pin. Photo courtesy Bess Kellett.

Throughout 2018,  SCDNR Heritage Trust archaeologists and partners mobilized to continue to learn what they can from the ancient middens. The work is painstaking and calls on a small army of archaeologists, student interns, and volunteers who are carefully excavating trenches in the shell ring, shaving layers of earth, sifting through the soil, bagging the artifacts they find, logging the bags, and taking photographs to document their process.  Hundreds of paper bags have been labeled in this systematic way. Inside each one are smaller sealed bags that are individually marked to describe the contents: remnants of animal bones, shells, and pottery.


Photos courtesy Taylor Main.

SCDNR Heritage Trust archaeologist Karen Smith sees the ring primarily as a site where people processed and consumed massive amounts of shellfish. “They consumed what they processed and maybe dried and saved food, but we are also finding animal bone pins and shell beads. They appear to have been making things, as well as eating here. All this was happening about 4,400 years ago.”

Time is running out—in early December part of the excavation was overwashed by a storm—but fortunately, Reserve volunteers and school groups have stepped up to help.

“Our volunteers have been excited to become part of this historic research,” says Keppler. “They’ve helped sift through the excavated dirt and they also became docents. Each day, volunteers led groups on a tour through the site, exposing visitors to a unique experience.”

Photo courtesy Taylor Main.

Photo courtesy Bess Kellett.

Keppler sees this effort as a perfect example of the many ways that we can learn from the lands that Reserves protect.

“ACE Basin is steeped in cultural history and we at the Reserve are glad to be a part of learning about this newly discovered treasure,” she says. “It is incredibly important that places like Reserves exist as living laboratories. We can use them to learn about the past, conduct research about today’s coastal systems, and provide places for residents and visitors to learn and play now, and in the future.”

—With thanks for story contributions to South Carolina Wildlife Magazine



ReservesACE Basin, South Carolina