Living with Water
Island Science

Living with Water

by Dr. Sarah Treanor Bois
Director of Research & Education at the Linda Loring Nature Foundation

Nantucketers have always been a people who live with water. We travel by water and recreate there. Many of our commercial endeavors depend on the ocean, and we rely on the ocean’s bounty. And now, with climate change impacts, we are going to have to learn to live with water in new ways.

We Nantucketers can also make bold moves when necessary. We can be leaders. The early conservation movement is a great example. Between the Nantucket Conservation Foundation, the Nantucket Land Bank, and Linda Loring, much of our landscape was protected well before there was a crisis, by people who saw a potential problem coming. Nantucket is special in many ways for what we protect and keep – buildings and natural landscapes.

So now we face rising seas, increased storm events, and coastal erosion. Again, we can see what’s coming and we, as a community, are figuring out our next steps to “stem the tide.” We are thinking about living with water in novel ways and looking at where we can be innovative to protect our resources and infrastructure, and where we may need to retreat to safer shores.

Being resilient means being able to recover from change. Nantucket is looking at issues of coastal resiliency in a few ways to diversify the possibilities and make us more resilient as a community. The more voices that participate in these conversations, the more diverse our toolbox of solutions will be.

One initial step came in 2019 when the Town of Nantucket created the Coastal Resiliency Advisory Committee (CRAC) to advise the Select Board on issues of coastal resiliency. The charge of this group, of which I am a member, is to assist with the “…development, oversight, and implementation of a Coastal Resiliency Plan for the Town of Nantucket to address the impact of climate change and sea level rise.”

The Town hired the firm Arcadis as consultants to work on creating the Coastal Resiliency Plan. These consultants are working with the CRAC to create the island-wide resiliency plan gathering data across the island. A draft of the plan is due out in September. An important part of that data collection process is understanding public opinion on coastal issues from all interested parties. Stakeholders include residents, visitors, renters, home owners, businesses, and anyone with an interest in coastal Nantucket. That means you! The overarching goal of the Coastal Resiliency Plan is to develop a plan for the whole island that addresses coastal erosion, sea level rise, and coastal flooding. Over the past year, Arcadis has been speaking with many stakeholder groups. In February, the consultants presided over the first open house with more than 150 participants. During the two hour session, break out groups discussed issues and vulnerable areas around the island. All participants were heard and notes taken to incorporate these opinions into the final plan.

Now, there is one more opportunity to participate in the CR plan’s creation. Thursday June 24, the next public open house will be held from 6 to 8 pm. Ideas and solutions for different neighborhoods will be presented and open for discussion and comment. The more people involved at this stage, the better the CR plan will represent the Nantucket community in all its forms. There will also be breakout sessions available in Spanish. To register for the virtual open house, go to the Town’s CR website at

While the CR plan will be comprehensive for the island, other measures on Nantucket focus on specific sectors of the island community. In May of 2021, the Town released the Resilient Nantucket Toolkit focusing on historic structures with climate change in mind. According to the Town’s website, “This toolkit is intended to provide information on flood risk, flood preparedness, flood insurance, flood recovery and flood adaptation alternatives useful for historic properties, cultural sites, and the island’s larger cultural landscape.” Funded with a Municipal Vulnerability Planning grant with the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, the toolkit is an important step in readying our historic resources for living with water.

The CR plan and the Resilient Nantucket toolkit are both measures taken by the Town of Nantucket to prepare the island for climate change impacts with practical approaches and plans and projects for the future.

ReMain Nantucket took another approach to thinking of these issues and embracing ideas of living with water. They created the Envision Resilient Nantucket Design Challenge which began in spring of 2020. The Challenge for five participating universities was to redesign and reimagine Nantucket with predicted sea level rise in the near and long term. The teams were from Yale School of Architecture, Northeastern University College of Arts, Media and Design, Harvard University Graduate School of Design, University of Florida, and University of Miami. Students primarily in architecture, but also landscape architecture, environmental sciences and other majors, created innovative solutions for various study areas located between Jetties and the end of Washington street including downtown. Throughout the spring 2021 semester, student groups were supported by their own academic advisors as well as a team of local advisors. Weekly lectures from experts around the globe were supplemented with “office hours” from the local advisors. The results of the challenge were presented at an event earlier in June.

Project ideas were broad in scope and included ideas like making Washington Street a walkway and bird sanctuary and re-creating saltmarsh habitat in that area. Others focused on multi-use housing and buildings that changed with generations and additional sea level rise. Some ideas included more nature-based approaches like increasing protective saltmarshes and adding aquaculture resources. Students reimagined the steamship dock while also thinking about public access, commercial endeavors, and housing. To see these new ideas and the presentations of the final results, visit the Envision Resilience Nantucket website at Final design proposals will be on display all summer on the second floor of the Thomas Macy Warehouse building at 12 Straight Warf. The exhibition, developed in partnership with the Nantucket Historical Association and the Artists Association, will run from July through December 2021. “Through the exhibition, the public is invited to explore the history of Nantucket’s relationship with water and the island’s resilience and adaptability to change.”

Interested in a deeper dive? The speaker series for the Envision Resilience students is still available for free on the ReMain website at The 10-week series features more than 20 speakers covering all aspects of climate change affecting Nantucket and the world.

With so much going on around coastal resiliency, sea level rise, and climate change, it may be difficult to sort through all the different events, news, challenges, and exhibitions. It’s a complex problem, and it will take many types of solutions to be resilient. We are fortunate our small island is already looking so far ahead, being innovative, and trying a multi-pronged approach.

Articles by Date from 2012