Coastal Ecosystem Health and Communities (2014-2017)

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Project Type: 
Extension
Project Number: 
A/EXT-3

Participants:

Alyson Eberhardt N.H. Sea Grant Extension Specialist for Coastal Habitats
Stephen Jones N.H. Sea Grant Associate Director and Asst Director for Research
Situation: 
Citizen Science

Nearly 75% of New Hampshire residents live within 50 miles of the coast and the region is considered one of the fastest growing in the country. Continued human use and development of New Hampshire’s coastal watershed has resulted in significant ecosystem impacts, including habitat loss, nutrient enrichment and bacterial contamination, among others. N.H.’s coastal communities are currently attempting to mitigate such impacts through pollution abatement, restoration and conservation activities.

It is critical for scientists and natural resource managers to fully understand responses in ecosystem processes to both impacts and restoration efforts. Yet, many environmental issues in the N.H. Seacoast are not being fully addressed due to limited resources and the accompanying lack of capacity by local scientists and agencies to conduct robust studies. As local citizens become more aware of problems that threaten the N.H. Seacoast, they are increasingly motivated to see those problems resolved. Engaging citizens in ecological research projects (i.e., citizen science) not only enhances research, but also leads to greater ecological literacy and informed decision-making in the community (Trumball et al., 2000; Jordan et al., 2011). As such, local citizens have emerged as a critical partner for accomplishing coastal research objectives.

The Coastal Research Volunteer (CRV) program was created in 2010 as a pilot project in response to citizen interest in engaging in meaningful coastal research and monitoring efforts, and to expand researchers’ capacity and resources to conduct coastal research and collect additional data. The program provides an interface where interested volunteers are matched with researchers to work on a variety of funded projects in the N.H. Seacoast and surrounding watersheds. The CRV program serves as a clearing house for matching volunteers and researchers and as an umbrella organization through which the volunteers connect and communicate. This structure has tangible impacts on building trained research capacity and advancing management outcomes, and serves critical stewardship, engagement and education needs.

Invasive Species

The Chinese mitten crab, native to East Asia, was first reported in the U.S. in the San Francisco Bay in 1992; it was identified on the east coast in Chesapeake Bay crab pots in 2005. By 2007, specimens were found in Delaware Bay and the Hudson River. Although it has not been found in New Hampshire, resource managers are concerned that it will spread to this area in the near future. Documented impacts of Chinese mitten crab invasion include shoreline erosion due to burrowing in muddy banks and levees, food web disruption through predation and competition of native species, and interfering with fishing gear. Where populations have become established, efforts to eradicate it have failed. Given the potential damaging impacts of the Chinese mitten crab, it is critical that citizens and professionals be engaged in helping to observe and report early mitten crab sightings and that a plan be developed for managing this species to prevent it from becoming established.

Goals: 
Overall goal:

To develop and enhance approaches for restoration, conservation and stewardship of critical coastal ecosystems.

Sub-Goals:
Citizen Science

1.     Provide coastal scientists and environmental organizations with an organized volunteer program to help accomplish more environmental research in the N.H. Seacoast.

2.     Provide educational and stewardship opportunities for volunteers interested in direct participation in scientific research that addresses local environmental issues and human dimensions aspects.

Invasive Species

3.     Coastal marine invasive species incidences are prepared for and mitigated through a well-informed management and citizen community.

Objectives: 
Citizen Science

At least five researchers or natural resource managers will collaborate with volunteers via the Coastal Research Volunteer program to enhance field and laboratory research.

At least 100 coastal watershed residents per year will report gaining knowledge about New Hampshire’s coastal resources, ecosystems, research, stewardship and educational opportunities.

Invasive Species

At least 50 volunteers, interested citizens and professionals will gain knowledge in Chinese mitten crab threats, identification and appropriate actions following detection.

Key decision makers representing management, scientific and regulatory agencies and organizations will collaborate with Sea Grant partners to develop a regional rapid response plan for Chinese mitten crabs based on the best available science.

Accomplishments: 

2015

N.H. Sea Grant's Coastal Research Volunteer program offsets research costs

Participation of N.H. Sea Grant's Coastal Research Volunteers in local coastal research projects resulted in a savings of over $113,000 in research costs to local scientists.
Relevance: Scientists often lack the needed resources for conducting scientific research at the desired temporal or spatial scales. In addition, many scientists are uncertain how to meaningfully accomplish goals for outreach and engagement.
Response: N.H. Sea Grant's Coastal Research Volunteer (CRV) Program mobilizes volunteers to work with scientists on coastal research projects in New Hampshire and nearby areas. N.H. Sea Grant, along with project partners (e.g., University of New Hampshire, N.H. Fish and Game, The Nature Conservancy) train volunteers for each project, and work side-by-side with volunteers to collect data and learn about coastal issues.
Results: CRV involvement in research projects provided the help needed to conduct coastal research as well as provided an economic savings to researchers by offsetting the need for paid staff. Through the use of CRV participants as unpaid field help, in 2015 local researchers achieved an estimated economic savings of over $113,000 in contributed time to the following programs: oyster restoration, glass eel monitoring, stream health surveys, vegetated buffer restoration, fish surveys, phenology monitoring, and sand dune restoration.

N.H. Sea Grant's citizen science program increases research capacity and teaches skills to volunteers

In 2015, over 300 citizen scientist volunteers participated in N.H. Sea Grant's Coastal Research Volunteer program, collecting data for a variety of scientific projects which resulted in seven researchers at least doubling the magnitude and frequency of data collection while providing meaningful learning experiences for volunteers.
Relevance: The continued development and human use of New Hampshire's natural resources results in significant ecosystem impacts, but many environmental issues in the N.H. Seacoast are not being fully addressed because of limited resources available for scientific studies and the accompanying lack of capacity by local scientists and agencies to conduct robust studies. At the same time, local citizens are becoming more aware of problems that threaten the N.H. Seacoast and are increasingly motivated to see problems resolved.
Response: Founded in 2012 by N.H. Sea Grant, the Coastal Research Volunteer (CRV) Program is a collaboration between citizens and scientists who work together on research projects in the Seacoast and surrounding areas. Volunteers are trained then work with researchers to collect data and accomplish project goals.
Results: In 2015, 312 citizen scientists participated in N.H. Sea Grant's CRV program, collecting data for scientific projects on oyster restoration, glass eel monitoring, stream health surveys, riparian buffer restoration, fish surveys, phenology monitoring and sand dune restoration, allowing seven researchers to at least double the magnitude and frequency of data collection. In a 2015 survey of CRV participants, 97% reported increased knowledge as a result of training and research activities. Comments included that volunteers gained "valuable professional development experience," and the skills learned helped them "become a better scientist and educator." In addition, 91% reported making an impact in their community due to CRV involvement, for example stating that they were "contributing to acquisition of valuable information that will help inform decisions" about resource management, and contributing to "enhanced environmental awareness and activism among residents of N.H. Seacoast communities."

N.H. Sea Grant works with community members to increase coastal resilience

N.H. Sea Grant and the University of New Hampshire, as part of the UNH Coastal Habitat Restoration Team, have engaged over 1000 student and adult volunteers to increase resilience along the N.H. and northern Mass. coasts by restoring dunes degraded by both natural processes and human activity.
Relevance: Sand dunes provide a natural buffer from storm events and protect the coastline against flooding and erosion associated with storms. Given the increase in frequency and severity of storms as a result of climate change, restoring dunes where they have been destroyed or degraded is a critical shoreline management practice for increasing coastal resiliency.
Response: N.H. Sea Grant is working with five towns in Massachusetts and N.H., researchers from the University of New Hampshire, and citizen scientists and community volunteers to increase resilience along the N.H. and northern Mass. coasts by restoring dunes degraded by natural processes and human activity.
Results: N.H. Sea Grant and the UNH Coastal Habitat Restoration Team led more than 1000 student and adult volunteers in planting over 20,000 stems of beachgrass and goldenrod to restore sand dunes in five communities in N.H. and Mass. Volunteers planted multiple species as part of an experiment examining the potential for biodiversity to increase dune resilience. N.H. Sea Grant developed a school-based dune restoration program to increase student understanding of coastal processes and the role of dunes and dune habitat restoration in protecting coastlines while facilitating coastal resilience messaging to a broader audience of students, families and the community. Schools receive a classroom presentation, then students travel to a project site and take part in restoration activities. The program has been well received by teachers. In 2015, N.H. Sea Grant worked with more than 32 teachers and over 700 students. N.H. Sea Grant and UNH held meetings in all targeted communities to discuss the project, solicit input, and engage local landowners. In addition, N.H. Sea Grant established a garden of native dune plants where plants are available free of charge to local coastal property owners.

Coastal Research Volunteers work with a N.H. golf course to mitigate stormwater impacts to a local stream

Based on data collected by sixth grade students and N.H. Sea Grant's Coastal Research Volunteers, a vegetated buffer restoration project was created in 2015 to reduce the amount of potentially harmful nutrients and sediment entering Cornelius Brook at the Sagamore-Hampton Golf Club.
Relevance: In 2014, N.H. Sea Grant worked with sixth graders and Coastal Research Volunteers (CRV), a group of citizen scientists trained and coordinated by N.H. Sea Grant, to collect data on water quality and benthic macroinvertebrate communities along Cornelius Brook at the Sagamore-Hampton Golf Club. Data indicated high levels of nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment in Cornelius Brook. The brook is a tributary of the Winnicut River and ultimately the Great Bay Estuary.
Response: Based on the student- and volunteer-collected data, N.H. Sea Grant was awarded a N.H. Department of Environmental Services Watershed Assistance grant, with the Sagamore-Hampton Golf Club as a partner, to work with volunteers to restore vegetated buffers to reduce the amount of sediment and nutrients entering the brook.
Results: In 2015, N.H. Sea Grant and its project partners developed criteria for site selection. The presence and quality of existing buffers was assessed remotely in a geographic information system using high-resolution aerial imagery, hydrography data and national wetlands inventory data. Volunteers were recruited, and N.H. Sea Grant staff conducted two shoreland surveys with community volunteers and two University of New Hampshire undergraduate interns. Data were compiled on a draft restoration map and potential restoration areas and activities were revised based on input from golf club representatives. In fall 2015, N.H. Sea Grant and CRV volunteers planted over 500 native perennials in three beds to create a riparian pollinator meadow. Additional restoration areas will be planted in spring and fall of 2016.

Coastal Research Volunteers count over 5,000 eels in monitoring effort, help agency fulfill its monitoring requirements

N.H. Sea Grant's Coastal Research Volunteers, a group of trained citizen scientists, contributed almost 400 hours in 2015 to collect abundance and life stage data for over 5000 glass eels in a local river as part of N.H. Fish and Game's required annual glass eel survey.
Relevance: The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) Fishery Management Plan for the American eel mandates that each state must conduct surveys of the upstream migration of glass eels at a minimum of two locations. Citing a lack of resources, the N.H. Fish and Game Department was monitoring glass eels at only one location.
Response: Since 2013, N.H. Sea Grant's Coastal Research Volunteers (CRV), a group of citizen scientists trained and coordinated by N.H. Sea Grant, have assisted the N.H. Fish and Game Department with its annual glass eel survey by staffing a monitoring site run solely by volunteers for the full duration of the survey.
Results: In 2015, 45 volunteers contributed close to 400 hours to collect abundance and life stage data for glass eels in the Oyster River in Durham, N.H. Volunteers sampled five days a week and collected data for over 5,000 eels, fewer than previous years due to the delay in the eel run as a result of prolonged cold temperatures in N.H. By working with the CRV program, Fish and Game doubled the size of its glass eel monitoring program and met the minimum standard for number of sampling sites required by the ASMFC. To date, CRV participants have provided N.H. Fish and Game with data for over 30,000 eels. These data are used by the ASMFC to inform stock assessment models for the American eel.

N.H. Sea Grant's Coastal Research Volunteer program conducts fish surveys to guide restoration of a local creek

N.H. Sea Grant developed a sampling design, recruited and trained volunteers, and led fish surveys with the goal of understanding fish community composition and abundance in a local creek in order to guide restoration of the system.
Relevance: A pipe culvert under a road connects the upstream and downstream sections of Lubberland Creek in Newmarket, N.H., but restricts the flow of water at the system's tidal and freshwater interface. The Nature Conservancy seeks to restore connectivity, increase resilience to sea level rise, and remediate flood hazards in the Lubberland Creek system by enlarging the culvert. However, no information exists on the fish and crustacean communities currently inhabiting the upstream or downstream areas of the creek to guide the design of the enlarged passage.
Response: The Nature Conservancy engaged N.H. Sea Grant to gather this information. In 2015, N.H. Sea Grant developed a sampling design, recruited and trained volunteers as part of N.H. Sea Grant's Coastal Research Volunteer program, and led fish surveys with the goal of understanding fish community composition and abundance both upstream and downstream of the culvert in order to guide restoration planning.
Results: Twenty samples were collected during three sampling events, resulting in over 3700 fish, shrimp and crabs captured. Approximately 2000 glass eels captured downstream of the culvert indicated that Lubberland Creek could serve as an important waterbody for American eel populations, a species of special concern in N.H. However, given that no eels were captured upstream, the culvert appeared to be restricting eel access to upstream habitats. N.H. Sea Grant recommended restoring connectivity between the upstream and downstream sections of the creek in order to provide eels access to valuable upstream resources for feeding and growth as well as to increase habitat availability for other resident species, including redfin pickerel and white perch.

2014

N.H. Sea Grant’s Coastal Research Volunteer program offsets research costs
Participation of Coastal Research Volunteer citizen scientists in local coastal research projects resulted in a savings of over $38,000 in research costs to local scientists.
RELEVANCE: Scientists often lack the needed resources for conducting scientific research at the desired temporal or spatial scales. In addition, many scientists are uncertain how to meaningfully accomplish goals for outreach and engagement.
RESPONSE: The Coastal Research Volunteer (CRV) program is a citizen science group created by N.H. Sea Grant to pair local citizens with researchers. By partnering scientists and citizens, the CRV engages volunteers in meaningful science and stewardship opportunities while enhancing and expanding local coastal research.
RESULTS: CRV involvement in research projects provided the help needed to conduct coastal research as well as provided an economic savings to researchers by offsetting the need for paid staff. Through the use of CRV participants as unpaid field help, local researchers achieved an estimated economic savings of over $38,000 in contributed time to the following programs: oyster restoration, glass eel monitoring, stream health surveys, phenology monitoring, beach microplastics monitoring, blue mussel monitoring and sand dune restoration.

Undergraduate team creates Coastal Research Volunteer poster to draw attention to NHSG opportunity
Working with a team of technical writing students from UNH’s English 502 class, N.H. Sea Grant Communications produced a poster for the program’s Coastal Research Volunteers. Printed on waterproof canvas to make it more versatile, the poster is being used by the CRV coordinator to recruit both environmentally conscious volunteers and research scientists in need of assistance with their monitoring efforts.

N.H. Sea Grant staff win award for innovative internship program
Four staff members representing N.H. Sea Grant and UNH Cooperative Extension won the 2014 Academic Engagement Award issued by UNH Cooperative Extension for their work to improve the experience of student interns. Recognizing that summer interns often worked in isolation and without peer support, the award recipients organized two gatherings during the summer to introduce interns to each other and to a wider audience of partners to enhance communication and professional networking, as well as to increase opportunities for feedback, collaboration and assistance. At a final meeting of all interns and hosts, interns presented their projects and reflected on their summer experiences, allowing them to practice presentation skills and enabling the mentors to learn about the work of all of the interns. Interns stated that the series of meetings created a better experience for them than if they had not been able to network, and the hosts learned ways to provide a more meaningful internship experience by getting feedback from each other and from the interns.

NHSG develops intern community with UNH Cooperative Extension
N.H. Sea Grant staff worked with colleagues from UNH Cooperative Extension (UNHCE) to bring interns together across multiple programs (e.g., UNHCE, N.H. EPSCoR, and the Stewardship Network:New England), including two interns working with N.H. Sea Grant staff in the Coastal Communities and Healthy Coastal Ecosystems focus areas. This intern community, established in the summer of 2014, has helped create connections with UNH students, increase awareness of N.H Sea Grant with faculty advisors and professors, and involve interns in events that help link NHSG’s work with their academic programs.

N.H. Sea Grant produces rack card to promote Coastal Research Volunteer Program
N.H. Sea Grant produced a rack card in 2014 to describe the role of the Coastal Research Volunteer (CRV) Program, a citizen science organization run by NHSG and UNH Cooperative Extension. The CRV rack card helps to inform the public about volunteer opportunities and benefits of being involved with the program. The publication also provides information to researchers about how the CRV participants can assist them in their research efforts. The rack card has been distributed electronically and in hardcopy format to encourage volunteer and researcher participation in the program and promote coastal science in N.H. and surrounding regions.

Coastal Research Volunteers work with sixth graders to assess a local stream
In 2014, a N.H. Sea Grant staff member helped four Coastal Research Volunteers (CRV), six teachers and 20 sixth graders from North Hampton (N.H.) School to assess the health of Cornelius Brook at the Sagamore-Hampton Golf Club. Prior to the data collection effort, the staff member trained the students and the citizen scientists who participate in CRV in sample collection and analysis methods. CRV participants and teachers then led the students in the collection and identification of benthic macroinvertebrate samples and the calculation of a stream health score. Based on the student and volunteer collected data, N.H. Sea Grant has submitted a grant proposal, with Sagamore-Hampton Golf Club and North Hampton School as partners, to restore riparian buffers in an effort to reduce sediment and nutrient loads to the brook.

Coastal Research Volunteer program at N.H. Sea Grant increases scientists’ capacity
In 2014, over 190 citizen scientist volunteers contributed more than 1670 hours as part of N.H. Sea Grant’s Coastal Research Volunteer (CRV) program, collecting data for scientific projects on oyster restoration, glass eel monitoring, stream health surveys, beach microplastics research, sand dune restoration, phenology monitoring, and blue mussel monitoring for toxic contaminants. These efforts allowed at least 10 researchers working in the New Hampshire coastal zone to increase the magnitude and frequency of data collection in their research and monitoring projects. Ninety-seven percent of volunteers reported increased knowledge as a result of training and research activities while 85% reported applying the knowledge they gained through their involvement with CRV. Volunteers continue to value working in concert with scientists to gain from their expertise in research settings.

NHSG citizen scientists participate in New England phenology program
N.H. Sea Grant partnered with Maine Sea Grant and University of Maine Cooperative Extension in 2014 to expand the Signs of the Seasons (SOS) phenology program, which trains people to observe and record seasonal changes in the timing of plant and animal life cycle events. Thirty-two additional volunteers in N.H. were recruited and all N.H. SOS volunteers contributed 434 hours to phenology training and monitoring. By partnering with the Harris Center for Conservation to hold an SOS training workshop at Keene State University, participation in the program was expanded to western N.H. By engaging local citizens in phenology data collection, the program seeks to increase participants’ connection to the nature around them, deepen their understanding of the implications of a changing climate, and provide opportunities for them to contribute to scientific discovery.

N.H. Sea Grant works with community members to increase coastal resilience
Working with the town of Newbury, Mass., and researchers from the University of New Hampshire, N.H. Sea Grant and citizen scientists from its Coastal Research Volunteer program are increasing coastal resilience along Plum Island by restoring grasses trampled by recreational users. In the fall of 2014, 15 community members gathered for a workshop to learn about the project and the role that sand dunes play in protecting and stabilizing coastlines by making them more resilient to storm surge. In addition, more than 70 volunteers helped plant over 4,000 stems of beachgrass and goldenrod. The volunteers planted a variety of species as part of an experiment looking at the potential for biodiversity to increase dune resilience. The project seeks to increase the resilience of both the natural communities (through dune planting and fencing efforts) and human communities (through extensive outreach and engagement) in Newbury.

Coastal Research Volunteers count over 25,000 eels in monitoring effort
N.H. Sea Grant’s Coastal Research Volunteers (CRV), a cadre of citizen scientists, assisted the N.H. Fish and Game Department with its 2014 annual glass eel survey by staffing a monitoring site run solely by volunteers. Mandated by the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC), the regional surveys provide important information on the status of this species, which is considered in decline over the extent of its range. Over the course of 10 weeks, 45 volunteers contributed 388 hours to collect abundance and life stage data for glass eels in the Oyster River in Durham, N.H. Volunteers sampled five days a week and collected data for over 25,000 eels. By working with the CRV program, Fish and Game doubled the size of its glass eel monitoring program and met the minimum standard for number of sampling sites required by the ASMFC. In addition, CRV participants continue to highlight the eel monitoring as one of their favorite projects as they get to observe and learn more about the mysterious and fascinating life history of this species.

Publications

Available from the National Sea Grant Library (use NHU number to search) or NH Sea Grant

Brochure

  • Join the Coastal Research Volunteers (2014)

Information Sheet

  • New Hampshire Sea Grant Coastal Research Volunteers (2014). Alyson Eberhardt and Steve Adams.

Poster

  • Coastal Research Volunteers (2014). Emily Kallgren, Stefanie Casella and Joao Tavares-Carreiro.