Coastal Training Evolves to Support Changing Needs

May 25, 2022

In 2021, Tribal, locality, and regional stakeholders from Virginia’s Coastal Zone Management (CZM) program did something unprecedented: they signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to collaborate on environmental conservation initiatives while promoting sustainable economic development within the Lower Chickahominy River Watershed. It was a big step, reflecting a little influence from a reinvigorated partnership. The Chesapeake Bay Reserve in Virginia has since signed the MOU as a Supporting Cooperative Partner and is ready to continue engaging both fellow MOU signatories and the even larger group of watershed-wide stakeholders.

“We’ve formed a link tank,” says Cirse Gonzalez, the Reserve’s Coastal Training Program (CTP) coordinator. “We work to connect the dots—between our respective programs, and among those that we serve. All the while, we’re generating ideas and empowering implementation.”

Through workgroups, summits, grants, and courses, these two state-based partners have collaborated as a “link tank” to provide coastal practitioners, including one another, with the tools, capacity, and resources they need for informed decision making on the coast.

For example, Jefferson Flood, a coastal planner for CZM, relies on what he learned at Social Science Basics for Coastal Managers, a NOAA training hosted by the Reserve in December of 2019. The training focused on helping coastal professionals like Flood understand the knowledge, values, and attitudes of local stakeholders and use that information in strategies to engage them.

“You know it’s a meaningful training when you’re able to apply what you learned immediately,” says Flood. “It didn’t take long for me to put course takeaways into practice, though the same can be said for all the Coastal Training Program courses I’ve participated in.”

Meanwhile, Gonzalez assisted Flood and his CZM colleagues in the development and delivery of their semi-annual Coastal Partners Workshop (CPW) during November of 2021. Over the course of three days, she helped the CZM team in their facilitation of the CPW, and presented on cultural communications. She regards this type of engagement as technical assistance—one of her three “pillars” of program delivery alongside capacity building (i.e. training) and community engagement.

“There exists a lot of overlap between these pillars,” Gonzalez notes. “The CPT for example, was an opportunity to engage with a community of coastal practitioners all the while providing technical assistance and building capacity! A three-in-one for CTP.”

Gonzalez sees this three-pronged approach to her program delivery as a raison d’etre for a link tank. “My work can’t occur in a vacuum. It’s predicated on relationships, on trust and exchange. Investing in strategic partnerships with mutual benefits—ones that I’m in and ones that I help foster, helps deliver on all these fronts. Why not leverage existing resources, skills, experiences, etc. in complementary ways?”

The CZM and NERR programs were born out of the Coastal Zone Management Act of 1972—landmark legislation enacted 50 years ago. Celebrating half a century of coordinated coastal management with continued partnership is fitting.

NERRA is proud to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Coastal Zone Management Act—the legislation that led to the creation of the National Estuarine Research Reserve System. Want more Reserve stories delivered to your inbox? Subscribe to our newsletter.

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