One of our partner networks, the Down East Resilience Network, hosted an event to remember hurricane Florence and to take a look at how prepared Down East North Carolina is for the next big event. The community conversations started with memories of where Down East was five years ago, asking the big questions of “were we ready then?” and “are we ready for the next one?” Community members shared their concerns with the chronic flooding they are facing now, highlighting the fact that if it floods on a sunny day it will be even worse during a storm.
This event brought a mix of researchers, media, elected officials and community members together to listen and talk to one another. Members from our own SWISLR RCN were there to talk about ghost forests, a ghost forest sentinel site, the sunny day flooding project, and partnership opportunities. There were multiple panels and talks to share the changes that Down East is seeing, what the potential reasons behind these changes are, and how Down East is handling these changes. Local fishers spoke on the shifts in their fishing industry, Dr. Emily Bernhardt talked about the increase of ghost forests and what they mean, and Dr. Katherine Arnade and Dr. Chris Voss talked about sea level rise and flooding. These changes people are seeing in their surroundings give insight into the reality of living so close to the edge of the ocean. One community member said that the “beauty and abundance of water define our communities.”
The next big question was “now what?”, more specifically “are we really ready for the next one and what can we do now to prepare?” To start answering these questions, the second half of the event focused on the resilience of Down East’s infrastructure and personal risk mitigation. There were two panels asking representatives from NCDOT and NCDOI what the plan is for a more resilient Down East. These two sessions had many specific questions from the community all circling the topic of what can people do to protect their homes and families. Many highlighted the issues they have with drainage ditches not controlling the flow of water away from their homes. Instead, people are finding their yards flood through this modification that was originally created for draining water.
Participating in this conversation was very insightful and rewarding. It was interesting to hear from the whole system of a coastal area - the people living there, the researchers studying there, and the managers making decisions there. New members from this resilience network have now joined our SWISLR RCN to help bring this full systems thinking to the entire North American Coastal Plain. Chris Yeomans from the Core Sound Waterfowl Museum, Jennifer Allen from Coastal Review, Kelly Garvy from lighthouse environment partners, and Isabella Thayer from NC State University. As sea level rises and saltwater intrusion grows worse, we need more collaboration and data sharing so we can move towards a resilient future smartly.