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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Talk NERRdy to Me: Jen Plunket

Talk NERRdy to Me: Jen Plunket

Talk NERRdy to Me is a monthly column about leaders and luminaries from across our 29 Reserves. This month, NERRA’s correspondent-at-large Nik Charov checked in with Jen Plunket, stewardship coordinator at South Carolina’s North Inlet-Winyah Bay Reserve, to run through a Swiss Army knife’s array of tools: fish, fyke nets, films, and floods.

Nik: Dr. Plunket, when we set up this call, you told me you actually got your start at the Wells Reserve. Naturally, that’s all I want to hear about. 

Jen: I grew up in South Berwick, Maine. In high school, I somehow discovered the Wells Reserve. I didn’t know anything about the national system, I just knew that Wells was a really beautiful place to go hiking. One day I was out hiking near the edge of the marsh and there were these two women, who must have been graduate students, and they were coming up from the marsh with buckets full of fish. They had their waders on, and some kind of nets with them, and I just thought “That is SO cool! I want to do that.”

That was the first time I thought fieldwork with fisheries and marshes might be what I wanted to go into. I went off to college a couple years later, and when I came home my first summer I got hooked up with Dr. Michelle Dionne [the Wells Reserve’s founding research director] and had the opportunity, for a summer, to do her fyke net surveys in restored marshes. I was doing exactly what those women were doing! And it WAS really cool.

Nik: What took you all the way down to South Carolina, when there were amazing, incredible marshes and marine science schools right around the corner?

Jen: I liked the marine science program at Coastal Carolina University. As much as I loved Maine, I was eighteen, and South Carolina seemed so exotic with palm trees and sandy beaches!

Nik: Just give Maine another hundred years, we’ll get there. But you stayed down south after school?

Jen: After graduation I worked on Sapelo Island in Georgia at the Marine Institute for a couple of years doing more fisheries work. 

Nik: I feel like, in the system, we’ve got plant people, and mud people, and fish people.

Jen: Fish is how I started out. But then in graduate school at Louisiana State University, I was more into plants and marsh mussels. Now I’m more of a bird person!

Nik: I’m fascinated by Louisiana. Is it a good idea to start a new Reserve in a place that’s disappearing so quickly?

Jen: It’s not all disappearing! The Atchafalaya Basin is actually accreting. But it’s definitely an issue in some areas. One of the reasons I went to Louisiana for graduate school is because, if you want to study wetlands management issues, that’s the epicenter. So I think if we want a Reserve that’s studying climate change and sea-level rise in wetlands, Louisiana makes total sense. 

Also, I tell people if you dream of going to the Amazon, you ought to go to the Atchafalaya Basin. It’s an amazing place; you’ll totally get that National Geographic feeling.

Nik:  You helped to transfer the NECAP grant that the New England reserves developed down to Georgetown, South Carolina. Tell me about being a stewardship coordinator and running those role-playing simulations.

Jen: I can’t take any credit for that particular project because that grant was written by our former CTP coordinator Michelle LaRocco.  I was involved in running the grant in the interim before our new CTP coordinator, Maeve Snyder, came on. But it was a lot of fun. When you set a task like [imitating serious grant writer voice] ‘if you can bring people with diverse opinions together in a non-threatening manner, they will suddenly see where each is coming from…’ You gotta ask yourself, is that really gonna happen? Is this just mumbo-jumbo? But no, it really happened! Those activities create an opening for seeing other people’s points of view.

Nik: I think of Stewardship Coordinators [SC] as the Swiss Army knives of the NERR system. They can go anywhere, do anything: repair a truck, survey wildlife, dive into the river or into the community… how do YOU do that at the North Inlet-Winyah Bay Reserve?

Jen: My job as an SC is a little different than at most other Reserves, because we don’t actually manage any of the land that we’re on. I can certainly consult with the land manager, but I don’t make any of those decisions. I get a little envious of people at other Reserves who get to, y’know, do burns, or dig things up, or plant new things! The Stewardship role is to tie together monitoring with management to conserve species and resources. A big part of that for me here is increasing community knowledge and building buy-in to stewarding the land through personal actions.

Nik:  Managing the natural human resources, eh? Even before you were hiking at the Wells Reserve, were you always a nature kid?

Jen: I think so. But I thought I’d be more like an environmental journalist. A friend and I used to write this magazine called Orb. It was before computers, so we cut photographs out of other magazines and pasted them in, and hand-wrote our own articles about saving the Earth. I thought that was the way I would lean, but the whole thing about science is it’s an opportunity to spend your life creative problem-solving. I think that was what appealed to me. You can spend your life pursuing curiosity.

Nik: That encapsulates the scientific endeavor right there. It’s inspiration, it’s discovery, it’s working on a problem. It may not be solved in your lifetime, but you’re never bored.

Jen: Or when you are, you just move on to something else!

Nik: You didn’t quite leave science communication behind. You’ve also been a driving force behind the NERRS film festival… Is that an outgrowth of your environmental journalism interest?

Jen: Many years ago I went to a film festival at a conservation biology meeting. That event had more professional filmmakers, showing their award-winning films. Still, it got me thinking about how in the Reserves, we were all getting that first push to do video… I think this was a little bit pre-Jace [Tunnell, the system’s Rob ReiNERR], but when he came on the scene with his awesome [sic] videos, I realized we ARE conservation filmmakers in the Reserve system. I saw some of the things other Reserves were putting together, and I thought, we need to highlight this and learn from each other. Because I think video is the way to reach people these days. We aren’t winning Sundance Awards or anything—yet—but we’re making stuff. 

Nik: We’ve had seven years of the film festival by now, and you’ve seen a lot of submissions. Any advice you’d give to people setting out to make films of the NERRs?

Jen: Use a tripod! Have a decent sound system—invest in a microphone or do a voiceover. Watch a lot of other films and see what works for you. And have a script! I think that’s important too. If you know who your audience is and what you really want to do before you set out, it’ll save you a lot of time. 

Nik: At your Reserve, what are you working on next?

Jen: We’re getting a more robust volunteer program rolling—more community science, more volunteers working with our education program. We had just gotten the ball rolling on that when COVID hit. But we’ll get it re-rolling! 

I want to engage diverse audience sets. There’s a very diverse community in Georgetown, and I’m wrestling with how to make those connections and how to bring that more diverse community into the Reserve.

Nik: As soon as you figure out how to promote unity, please let the rest of the country know. Jen Plunket, what gives you hope?

Jen: I do volunteer water quality monitoring with the Waccamaw Riverkeeper Program. My site is at a local boat landing; I go down there every other week and do basic water quality primers.

One day there was this guy who stopped. It was a really high tide so the landing was flooded. And he said ‘It never used to flood like this when I was a kid.’ And I said ‘No, probably not.’ He said ‘This is really happening. The sea is really rising and we’re going to have to do something about it.’ And this was an older gentleman, the type of guy you wouldn’t necessarily expect to be on board with sea-level rise. And it was that kind of experience that makes me feel like people’s minds are changing, and we’re moving towards finding real solutions to problems. That gives me hope.

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Trading Snow for Pluff Mud

Trading Snow for Pluff Mud

Photos and story courtesy Duane Draper (center, crouching), chair of the Inlet and Bay Stewards, friends group to South Carolina’s North Inlet-Winyah Bay Reserve.

When people ask “What brought you down to South Carolina?,” I tell them six feet of snow in three weeks, in February 2015, was the final straw. My wife and I were living on 30 acres of woodland at the end of a half-mile long private road, and I did most of the plowing. So we traded in New Hampshire snow for South Carolina pluff mud!

After settling in Pawleys Island, one of the first things I did was register for the local Master Naturalist program. I learned about it from our realtor, also a Master Naturalist, and thought it would be a great opportunity to learn about the totally different habitat we had inserted ourselves into. The program was managed by the stewardship coordinator for the North Inlet-Winyah Bay Reserve, Dr. Jen Plunket. 

After completing the 12-week program, I began looking for opportunities to volunteer, which is a hallmark of the program. I signed up to teach Ecology Camp programs for rising second thru fifth Graders, educating them on pond, forest, beach and salt marsh ecologies. I also started leading tours as a docent for Hobcaw Barony, a 16,000-acre private preserve that is home to the Reserve. This preserve has a rich diversity of all the habitats found in coastal South Carolina: ocean beaches, 5,000 acres of salt marsh, maritime forest, upland pine and hardwood forest, bottomland forest, and former tidal rice fields from bygone plantation days. In my spare time, I volunteer for South Carolina United Turtle Enthusiasts (SCUTE), patrolling and monitoring beaches for loggerhead sea turtle nests.

I enjoy working with all of the Reserve staff on various projects, like phytoplankton monitoring, leading salt marsh hikes for plant and animal identification, conducting marsh sweeps to pick up incidental marine debris. Soon, we’ll be starting our own local Nurdle Patrol to track microplastic pollution. All of this activity led me, and other local Master Naturalists, to start up a local Friends Group for the Reserve, Inlet and Bay Stewards (IBIS), for which I serve as chair. We’re small but growing! 

Every Reserve is special. And everyone has a Reserve story to share. Why do you care about your Reserve? How has it made a difference in your life? Have a few minutes today? We want to hear your story.

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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.

Role Play Accelerates Climate Action

Role Play Accelerates Climate Action

Participants roleplay community climate action in South Carolina.

In South Carolina’s Georgetown County, climate action takes a village. Supported by the North Inlet-Winyah Bay Reserve and partners, more than 300 community members came together in role play workshops to better understand risks like intensifying storms, rising sea levels, and extreme heat—and weigh the trade-offs of various policy solutions. 

“This training was eye-opening for me,” says Yolanda McCray, a workshop participant and president of the Georgetown community nonprofit Black River United Way. “I remember saying, ‘What are they going to do about it?’ but quickly, in the simulations, ‘they’ became ‘me!’”

For a community that has endured increasing high tide flooding, thousand-year-rainfalls, and Hurricanes Matthew, Irma, and Florence in the last four years alone, solidifying community understanding and participation in climate action is more vital than ever.

“That’s what this was all about,” adds McCray. “We’re able to create a vision and come together and work together and find a solution that is not only beneficial for the other, but beneficial for the whole.”

The workshops immersed participants in fictional Riverway County, where they role played a realistic climate planning process informed by climate projection data at a relevant scale and a consensus-based approach. The Georgetown Climate Adaptation Project team led the workshops, which were adapted from a model first used by the New England Climate Change Adaptation Project and funded by the NERRS Science Collaborative.

For many, the experience helped demystify the role of government in hazard planning as well as foster empathy across community divides. Relationships forged during the workshops enabled the North Inlet-Winyah Bay Research Reserve to craft a resilience training for the Georgetown County Department of Public Services that made emergency response and planning abilities even stronger.

Other communities can use the project’s simulation tools and briefing document to fine-tune their own hazard planning processes.

The workshop team included the NOAA-sponsored Carolinas Integrated Sciences and Assessments and Georgetown RISE, which was recently designated a United Nations Regional Centre of Expertise on Education for Sustainable Development. The work was sponsored by the NERRS Science Collaborative, a program that’s managed in partnership with the University of Michigan.

Welcome, Robert & Sylvia

Welcome, Robert & Sylvia

Two recent additions to the NERRSDr. Robert Dunn (left), research coordinator at North Inlet-Winyah Bay Reserve; and Dr. Sylvia Yang (right), research coordinator at Padilla Bay Reserve.

Please join NERRA in welcoming two new NERRds to the family: Dr. Robert Dunn, the newly-appointed research coordinator at South Carolina’s North Inlet-Winyah Bay Reserve and Dr. Sylvia Yang, research coordinator at Padilla Bay Reserve in Washington.

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Robert is an ecologist who studies species interactions, population dynamics, and the effects of fisheries on coastal ecosystems. Hee comes to the Reserve from the West coast, where he completed a PhD (UC Davis) and postdoc (San Diego State University) on Caribbean coral reefs, kelp forests, and California’s spiny lobster fishery. He also has a Master’s degree from North Carolina State University where his research focused on oyster reef ecology and restoration.

“I’m excited to be joining the NERRS because of our focus on combining research, education, and stewardship of coastal ecosystems,” says Robert,  whose first experience with NERRd life goes back to 2007 when he was a summer intern at the North Carolina Reserve. “The diversity of habitats at North Inlet-Winyah Bay is an amazing place for a marine ecologistI feel like the research possibilities are endless! I’m looking forward to contributing to the NERRS-wide effort to improve coastal ecosystem management through applied science.”

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Sylvia is a seagrass ecologist who has worked in the estuaries of Washington for 14 years. Most recently she worked at Western Washington University as a marine scientist at the Shannon Point Marine Center and director of the SEA Discovery Center. 

Wherever she has been, Padilla Bay has been a consistent part of Sylvia’s work. She holds a PhD in Biology from the University of Washington and was a postdoctoral researcher at the University of California (Davis, CA) studying saltmarsh ecology. To the Padilla Bay Reserve she  brings her enthusiasm for integrating authentic scientific investigation into educational settings and engaging community members in environmental science.

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Please join NERRA and the crews at our Padilla Bay in welcoming Sylvia and Robert to the NERRS family.

ReservesNorth Inlet-Winyah Bay, South Carolina