Groups to work together on sea-level-rise issues

By: Melissa Schneider / Published: Apr 27,  2010

Effort unites extension, outreach and education professionals on climate


ST. PETE BEACH, Fla. -- About 70 extension, outreach and education professionals met with scientists, communications specialists and local community planners last week to learn more about sea-level rise and possible ways to begin preparing Gulf of Mexico communities for its consequences.

The workshop was part of an effort to create a “storm smart” community of practice, a group that works together to learn the best approaches, techniques and scientific information regarding sea-level rise and other storm-preparedness issues.

During the three-day workshop, funded by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Sea Grant College Program, extension professionals from across the Gulf heard from their peers, sea-level rise experts and planners from communities that have either begun taking  steps to address sea-level rise or are not yet addressing the subject.

Participants collaborated to gauge community opinion about climate change and sea-level rise. They also identified groups that they work with, groups that are asking for climate information and groups that are ready to take action.

“This has been beyond our expectations,” said Buck Sutter, the NOAA Gulf of Mexico Regional Collaboration Team lead and deputy regional administrator of the Southeast Region of the National Marine Fisheries Service. “There is a lot of interest in continuing this effort, building on it and inviting additional groups. I think it will prove to be a valuable investment in preparing the coastal communities for sea-level rise.”

Scientists spoke about factors that contribute to varied sea-level-rise projections in the Gulf, the impacts on existing facilities and structures, policy issues and natural environment impacts.

Speakers also focused on community-based social marketing theories and case studies, as well as community efforts to understand and plan for sea-level rise.

While the professionals at the meeting represented many extension, outreach and education organizations, they quickly identified other organizations that could enhance the community of practice effort.

“If you know folks that should be a part of this, please ask them to engage,” Sutter said.

The extension, outreach and education professionals at the meeting identified several actions that would help communities plan for sea-level rise. The top steps were developing a simple message about sea-level rise, having sea-level rise included when determining flood maps, creating a sea-level-rise visualization tool for the entire Gulf Coast and having officials incorporate sea-level rise into their community planning efforts.

Regulatory Manager deEtte Smythe with the St. Tammany Parish (Louisiana) Department of Engineering gave a presentation about her community’s efforts to become more resilient. She was impressed with the workshop, which was different from most she has attended, she said.

“I thought it was marvelous,” Smythe said. “It’s not the typical meeting I attend. Usually, it’s a one-way conversation.”

An overview of community-based social marketing techniques intrigued Smythe, who said that engineers are not always effective in communicating with the public.

“I’m gonna take that back and think about it,” she said.

Chris Simoniello, the education and outreach coordinator for the Gulf of Mexico Coastal Ocean Observing System, said working with peers who understand education and outreach make this community of practice valuable.

“The amazing thing about this meeting is that education and outreach related to sea-level rise is finally a focus across programs and agencies and not an afterthought,” she said. “After seven years working in the education and outreach arena, this is a major breakthrough.”

The climate community of practice has created a social network on the web. Sign up at and join the Climate Outreach Community of Practice group to participate in the discussion or share resources.

The Gulf of Mexico Sea Grant programs, the NOAA Coastal Services Center, the NOAA Gulf of Mexico Regional Collaboration Team and the Gulf of Mexico Extension, Outreach and Education Engagement Pilot Program organized the event.

Panelist deEtte Smythe, regulatory manager for the St. Tammany Parish Department of Engineering, second from left, talks about what her community is doing to become more resilient. Others who participated in the panel discussion are Tim Tietjens, director of planning for the City of La Porte, left; Phillip West, coastal resource manager for the City of Orange Beach; Seth Blitch, manager of the Apalachicola National Estuarine Research Reserve; Joan LeBeau, chief planner for the City of Punta Gorda; and Eric Myer, director of community development and planning for the City of Ocean Springs.


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