This morning the second paper from our 2019 coastal resident focus groups for the NRCan-funded Making Room for Movement project is out in The Canadian Geographer, Coastal resident perceptions of nature-based adaptation options in Nova Scotia, led by recent MES graduate Krysta Sutton. This paper helps us to understand how those living on Nova Scotia’s coasts feel about living shorelines (supportive but skeptical), accommodation like raising homes (an expensive ‘band aid’) and retreat (inevitable in the long term, but requiring government support). Managed realignment of dykes was poorly understood overall, suggesting that additional work is needed to broach this subject with locals. Since Fiona in Sept 2022, the conversation in this region around retreat has really changed, however. We see residents in Port aux Basques who lost their homes, some uninsured, relieved at being bought out by the government and finding new places to settle. PEI residents are looking at their coasts very differently, too (I’m quoted on that one). It would be very interesting to re-run these focus groups now.
Last week was very exciting, as NSERC ResNet Synthesis team members Elson Galang and Elena Bennett came to Halifax to lead us in a scenario workshop for the L1 landscape case study of the Bay of Fundy dykelands and tidal wetlands. Eighteen interested parties joined us at the SMU CLARi site for a fun two days of reflection and visioning, and we finished up with four fascinating narratives of potential futures for the region. The creativity and expertise of our stakeholders resulted in some futures I’d never considered, but that were remarkably well fleshed out. I had never been involved in deploying such a method, and after the two days I am a big believer in its transformative potential (at least with Elson at the helm!). Thanks to everyone who contributed beyond those already mentioned, including postdoc Lara, TCA project manager Kristie, and grad students from Dal (Paria, Polly and Keahna) and SMU (Millie, Evan). I am looking forward to co-developing the workshop report and getting our work out in the world.
As an aside, I also had a first appearance in the Christian Science Monitor while the workshop was on. Another nice piece by Moira Donovan about the situation on the east coast post-Fiona, particularly in relation to managed retreat. These are interesting times in Port aux Basques, as 100 residents affected by Fiona have received demolition notices for buildings they own: I’m waiting to hear what support they’ll get to safely and meaningfully retreat.
As September comes to a close, the whole Atlantic region is still reeling from the impact of Hurricane/Tropical storm Fiona, which hit last Friday night and Saturday morning. Many remain without power and/or out of their homes and–most horrifyingly–some have lost their homes and/or their lives in the storm. Many beautiful coastal towns and holiday communities lie shattered, and sad, scary stories abound: I even knew the person missing and presumed lost on the NS coast. My home and family were thankfully spared, and we’ve started feeling a bit guilty about this as the recovery ahead looks so long for so many.
There will need to be a time, however, after the first stage of emergency response and before the recovery process begins in earnest, to ask questions about how and where that should happen. I think some people feel like a big storm like this is so rare and unlikely that once it is past, they are safe for a good while. That is not how it works, unfortunately, and certainly not anymore. With climate change these outsize events will become more common, so this storm is a very stern warning to those who live in vulnerable coastal areas. People may think the changes associated with the climate will come slowly and they’ll have time to react and to decide, but storms like this show they likely won’t. Change will be noisy and unpredictable, not gradual. What we have seen is an extreme form of unmanaged retreat. It’s the worst case scenario, but we’ll have more of if we don’t listen to the lessons Fiona offers and be proactive.
There is a policy window now to consider managed retreat in a coordinated way that supports local communities to reimagine what it might look like to thrive coastally. I did a little media for the Toronto Star and Toronto’s News 1010 morning show in the last 24 hours about this. There will be a lot of insurance and emergency response money flowing, sooner or later. I hope that the political pressure to use such funds to rebuild in situ, regardless the risk, can be shifted to a broader conversation about the resilience that comes from leaving more space for the ocean to do its thing. It’s thing is dynamic, and against that dynamism hard infrastructure will always have it’s limits. Getting out of the way won’t. Yes, this might mean sacrifice, for instance new regulations and constraints on land long-held and cherished (such as the setbacks proposed in Nova Scotia’s Coastal Protection Act), or a lower tax base for municipalities. The conversations won’t be easy and the implications will be uneven, falling at times on people who will need more public support than others to accomplish it. But we should tackle it as a shared challenge, a duty not only to current generations but also future ones.
Last week I was doing revisions for a paper and a reviewer pushed back against the estimation of the length of the Nova Scotia coastline that I had included in my paper. I looked around and found others had used mine but also two other dramatically different numbers. In the end I decided not to include a length, because, well, how do you measure a coastline anyhow? But it is always constantly changing, as the recent PEI pre/post imagery shows quite well. An unavoidable lesson from Fiona is that coastal stability is an illusion. We need to learn to live with that fact.
I spent most of this week at an excellent workshop organized by TransCoastal Adaptations, a group led by Danika van Proosdij at Saint Mary’s that I’m aligned with via the Making Room for Movement project. Attendees came from across Canada and the US from academe but also government, NGOs, consulting and other practitioners, and instead of most conferences where those fragment across parallel sessions, the entire event was held in plenary style. This led to wonderfully rich conversations around the shared challenges we faced as members or stakeholders of the Cold Regions Living Shorelines Community of Practice. I met engaged folks from West Coast Environmental Law, White Point Lodge, Helping Nature Heal, Nature Conservancy, Kensington North Watersheds Association, Army Corps of Engineers, CBCL Consulting, and the Geological Survey of Canada, to name just a few, and had the rare opportunity to have dinner with Patricia Fuller, Canada’s Climate Change Ambassador.
Many definitions and synonyms of ‘nature-based’ were discussed, and I noted the tendency of the conversation toward ‘holding the line’ naturally rather than changing what we do behind that line, however green and/or fuzzy it is. Danika and I co-led a session on the communication dimensions where I called for empathy around the challenges that people face talking about retreat and other significant adaptations. We also presented our OECD case study, which prompted a discussion about how communication can be unpredictable. One person volunteered that instead of telling citizens what needs to be done, Surrey found it is best to show them the data and let them discover what needs to be done, then they own it. A Clean Foundation program manager talked about how they approached a First Nations community looking for sites to restore to salt marsh, but heard back about values to restore (such as specific plants). The Ecology Action Centre found that attendance at meetings varies dramatically depending on how recently adverse events have been experienced in the location. There is much more work to be done on best practices in this space. We are looking forward to contributing to the conversation after our focus groups in coming months.
Weather was fine for my drives back and forth to Fredericton for Christmas, but the rains that had come a few days before were clearly taking their toll. The Saint John River (Wələstəq) commonly sees spring flooding, particularly bad this past year, but Christmas floods are not common. I took the 105 from Sheffield to Fredericton both ways, and the flooding along Maugerville and the Nashwaak looked like spring, save the ice pans in the river.
It was also interesting, however, to see residents taking action. After the last floods, the government offered to buy severely damaged homes (>80% of assessed value in damage), or pay out a higher amount (15% more to help with moving, raising, etc) if the homeowners would sign a document agreeing never to ask for flood compensation from the government again. I wonder if this monetary incentive to adapt in situ was the reason for some of the works I saw along the 105 during my drive. The Saint John River is still affected by Bay of Fundy tides at this point, so sea level rise will only make this area more affected in future. Whether these adaptations are fit-for-purpose remains to be seen.