Environmental Resilience Institute Externship Grant Reflection: Center for Coastal Resources Management at VIMS

Julia Stanganelli

Externship Location: Center for Coastal Resources Management at VIMS

Monday: Today started with a monthly center staff meeting, where I was introduced to everyone working at the office, and got to hear a bit about what types of projects were going on. Following this meeting, I sat in on a myriad of other meetings and phone calls. First, there was a meeting about preparations for part of a bill on living shorelines that is being brought to the Virginia General Assembly next week, carried by the Secretary of Natural Resources. CCRM is providing the secretary and his assistant with data and briefing statements to help back up the bill. I also sat in on a meeting about a project with VDOT that is focusing on road flooding, and a call with the Department of Social Services. This call was about getting data to be able to identify, at a high resolution, vulnerable or at-risk populations. This has a lot of implications for CCRM projects, as they are focused on resilience not just from an environmental standpoint, but also from the community side. It was very interesting to see that their research folds in these social layers and elements, rather than just focusing on the ecological perspective.

Tuesday: Today I was introduced to many of the different projects going on at CCRM, from mapping road flooding, to creating and refining models that can assess the condition of tidal and non-tidal wetlands, to mapping the importance of existing green infrastructure and potential for further expansions, and more. Most every project going on at the center comes from a research background, but has a practical approach, and really focuses on ways that the models and tools they are building will be useful for communities and citizens. This is definitely the type of work that I would love to do in the future, as I love scientific research, but I want to be engaged in the implementation of its discoveries. It was eye-opening to see all of the different uses for GIS and modeling that I would never have thought of before, and really made me think about opportunities for a future in this field.

Wednesday: Today I helped with reviewing some of the briefing statements for the bill that is being carried to the Virginia General Assembly on tidal wetlands. It was very interesting to see how they are able to translate and distill all of the research and data that goes into their work to be understandable from a citizen’s perspective. This really made me think about scientific communication, and how important it is to make science understandable to everyday people, or else the field will be inherently exclusionary, and not serve its desired purposes of meaningful change and advancement.

Thursday: Today I helped work on more of the review of the briefing statements for the Virginia General Assembly. I also got a tour of the entire VIMS facilities. It was really neat to see all of the academic buildings, the aquarium, and the boatyard that is used for research purposes.

Friday: Today I sat in on a project group meeting for a green infrastructure for coastal resilience project going on at the center. Involved in the meeting were also folks from the non-profit group Wetlands Watch, who are mainly helping with outreach for the project. The team at CCRM has developed a GIS tool to model existing green infrastructure, as well as identify target areas for new green infrastructure, to help reduce the risks of coastal flooding. This meeting was basically to decide what the output for the project is going to be, and how to best get feedback from and train local governments on how to use it. It was very interesting to see all of the details that go into making a project like this possible, and how it goes from the initial stages of research to the final stages of outreach and education.

Overall impressions: Overall, this week was extremely helpful in showing me what some of the opportunities of working in practical marine science look like. It gave me a whole perspective, outside of the purely academic world, of how modeling and various tools for building coastal resilience can be applied and used on a practical level. This is definitely the type of work that I want to look toward doing in my future career.