Flying Fish

What a Conference Can Do
by Nicole Carlozo -- March 19th, 2014

The final meeting of the 2012-2014 NOAA Coastal Management Fellows at the NOAA Social Coast Forum.

The final meeting of the 2012-2014 NOAA Coastal Management Fellows at the NOAA Social Coast Forum.

As a NOAA Fellow, I’m lucky enough to have professional development funds. This means that careful planning on my part can lead to training opportunities outside of my day-to-day job. If given the choice, I tend to use these funds to attend conferences. After all, conferences are like field trips for adults. We learn new things, see new places, and meet interesting people – all the while networking and collaborating to advance our day-to-day work.

Last month I attended the NOAA Social Coast Forum in Charleston, SC where I heard from New Jersey locals about the impacts of 2012’s Hurricane Sandy. It seems so long ago, but coastal communities are still reeling from the impacts of this storm. I listened, flabbergasted, while a panelist spoke about the luxury of taking a bath in Charleston. Many members of her community are still dependent on bottled water and volunteer food trucks. Piles of trash are an everyday occurrence along their streets – eyesores that serve as a constant reminder of everything that has been lost. Many of these families lost jobs, businesses, and security when Sandy swept through the area. Meanwhile, outside concern disappeared along with the news crews following the immediate storm aftermath.

Sometimes I wonder how we expect to protect our natural resources when we’re still struggling to address the vulnerability of our coastal communities.

Coastal resiliency and vulnerability were hot topics at the Forum. A number of tool demonstration sessions were also held to showcase novel methods of community and stakeholder engagement.

I was able to discuss MD DNR’s oyster aquaculture work on day 1 of the conference. The presentation touched on 1) oyster aquaculture suitability modeling, and 2) participatory mapping workshops we held to collect recreational use data in Maryland’s Choptank River. These workshops were held to collect spatial data, engage stakeholders in discussions about potential aquaculture conflicts, identify public access or land acquisition needs, and develop Bay-wide workshop materials.

Conferences lead to information sharing, which is very useful for academic, state, and federal professionals. I was able to connect with a number of individuals about my aquaculture and marine spatial planning work (and catch up with quite a few Duke alumni and students). I only wish that more atypical stakeholders would participate in the future. As the opening speakers from New Jersey demonstrated, local communities and bottom-up efforts are driving the rehabilitation of vulnerable coastal communities. On the other hand, many Americans are ignorant of the desperate situations caused by intense storm events. Imagine what we could accomplish if we brought local miracle workers and environmental professionals together. Think about the powerful stories we could tell.

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