Human and Ecological Interactions in Dune Systems: is New Hampshire ready to build resilient coasts?

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Project Type: 
Research
Project Number: 
R/HCE-5
Inception Date: 
2016
Completion Date: 
2017

Participants:

Gregg Moore UNH - Department of Biological Sciences Principal Investigator
Alyson Eberhardt N.H. Sea Grant Co-Principal Investigator
David Burdick UNH - Department of Natural Resources & the Environment Co-Principal Investigator
Catherine Ashcraft UNH - Department of Natural Resources & the Environment Co-Principal Investigator
Abstract: 

Seabrook and other N.H. coastal towns face devastating climate change-related risks if no action is taken to prepare and adapt. Dune restoration is a good example of the complexity of implementing specific climate adaptation measures in coupled social-ecological shoreline systems. Intact dune systems protect the neighborhoods behind them from sea level rise and flood risks from storm surges. However, Seabrook’s dunes are currently destabilized by both human and ecological threats. Recent beach nourishment created prime nesting habitat for piping plovers, which triggered enforcement of the Endangered Species Act (ESA) through the temporary fencing off of dune sections and potential plover nesting sites, but also blocked homeowners’ individual access paths to the beach. Homeowners threatened legal action asserting their right to access the beach over the dunes. In a storm, these same access paths serve as conduits for storm energy and increase the flood risk to homes.

An interdisciplinary team will investigate community engagement tools coupled with field activities in the Town of Seabrook to: (1) conduct a stakeholder assessment to evaluate stakeholders’ willingness to pursue a consensus building process informed by science as an alternative to the current adversarial approach to resolving the conflicts around shoreline management, including climate adaptation, beach access, plover protection, and dune restoration; (2) determine the extent of die-off of the primary plant used in dune restoration, American Beachgrass, and examine potential causes, treatments, and adaptation toward a more diverse plant community. Understanding the prevalence, spread and potential treatment of this disease is critical information for guiding preservation and future restoration efforts; and (3) engage local residents and volunteers throughout the project in order to create a network of informed citizens and landowners who contribute to healthier dune systems.

Objectives: 

(1) To evaluate the potential for a new collaborative process and develop an actionable plan for management that can be used to improve decision making related to natural resources (RCE Research Goal 1)

(2) Assess barriers and incentives to adoption of effective natural resource protection strategies (RCE Research Goal 1)

(3) Explore risk perception and associated decision making (RCE Research Goal 2)

(4) Assess barriers and incentives to adoption of climate adaptation strategies (RCE Research Goal 2)

(5) Help Seabrook effectively plan for the future and mitigate existing problems associated with human disruptions of coastal ecosystems

Methodology: 

An interdisciplinary team will investigate community engagement tools coupled with field activities in the Town of Seabrook to: (1) conduct a stakeholder assessment to evaluate stakeholders’ willingness to pursue a consensus building process informed by science as an alternative to the current adversarial approach to resolving the conflicts around shoreline management, including climate adaptation, beach access, plover protection, and dune restoration; (2) determine the extent of die-off of the primary plant used in dune restoration, American Beachgrass, and examine potential causes, treatments, and adaptation toward a more diverse plant community. Understanding the prevalence, spread and potential treatment of this disease is critical information for guiding preservation and future restoration efforts; and (3) engage local residents and volunteers throughout the project in order to create a network of informed citizens and landowners who contribute to healthier dune systems.

Rationale: 

Seabrook and other N.H. coastal towns face devastating climate change-related risks if no action is taken to prepare and adapt. Dune restoration is a good example of the complexity of implementing specific climate adaptation measures in coupled social-ecological shoreline systems. Intact dune systems protect the neighborhoods behind them from sea level rise and flood risks from storm surges. However, Seabrook’s dunes are currently destabilized by both human and ecological threats. Recent beach nourishment created prime nesting habitat for piping plovers, which triggered enforcement of the Endangered Species Act (ESA) through the temporary fencing off of dune sections and potential plover nesting sites, but also blocked homeowners’ individual access paths to the beach. Homeowners threatened legal action asserting their right to access the beach over the dunes. In a storm, these same access paths serve as conduits for storm energy and increase the flood risk to homes. This project will focus on the myriad conflicts, scientific and technical questions, and barriers to collaboration in Seabrook, which are characteristic of the issues facing other coastal towns.