by Dr. Sarah Treanor Bois, PhD
Director of Research & Education at the Linda Loring Nature Foundation
This September, Nantucket is once again celebrating Climate Change Awareness month. However, few people on Nantucket need to be made aware of climate change: erosion on the south and east coasts, storm surge, and coastal flooding are regular enough events on-island that the conversation has moved from awareness to how much and when.
What people might not be aware of is the extent of climate change in the near term. By 2030 (just 9 years away) Nantucket is predicted to have between 1 and 1.6 feet of sea level rise (intermediate to high scenarios). By 2050 we expect to see 1.7 to 3.5 feet. Are you prepared for that much water? Keep in mind, sea level rise is the height of water at calm seas. Sometimes called a “bathtub model”: these predicted water levels represent water at mean high tide. It doesn’t take into account additional storm surge, wave action, or other weather conditions.
For the second year in a row, Nantucket Island officially recognizes September as Climate Change Awareness Month. “We, the Select Board of the Town of Nantucket in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, do hereby officially proclaim the month of September, 2021, is ‘Climate Change Awareness Month’ and do hereby encourage all residents to learn more about the threats of climate change and sea level rise and the planning efforts underway to increase community resilience.”
Climate Change Awareness month is a great way to learn more about future predictions and what various groups around the island are doing to either mitigate for these changes or how they’re learning to live with water.
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. For a one-stop-shop on all climate change related events around the island, check out acklimate.org. Their programming calendar compiles the climate-change related events from organizations throughout the island.
Some of the month’s highlights include free guided walks by both the Nantucket Conservation Foundation and the Linda Loring Nature Foundation. All with specific discussions and tours of climate change impacts on-island.
The Envision Resilience Nantucket Challenge, a project of ReMain Nantucket, is hosting the results of the challenge in an exhibit called Envision Resilience: Designs for Living with Rising Seas at the Thomas Macy Warehouse building at 12 Straight Wharf through December. The beautiful historic space features images and information from the various academic teams who worked to envision possible future solutions for living with water in Nantucket’s downtown areas. Project designs 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. The exhibit is free to visit.
Envision Resilience is also hosting workshops and talks (even beyond September) further highlighting living with water in our community. September 27 at 10am, they are hosting a roundtable/coffee conversation titled Climate Change and Conservation: Resilience in Landscapes. NCF’s Dr. Jennifer Karberg, Dr. Sarah Bois (yours truly) of LLNF, and Emily Molden from Nantucket Land Council will discuss climate change impacts on Nantucket and how our conservation lands and open space help mitigate these effects. “The conversation will explore how these three local experts see the impacts of climate change on the island of Nantucket, from our coastlines and harbor to freshwater ponds and wetlands, to our grasslands and forests.” It’s a great opportunity to learn what various organizations are doing as well as an opportunity to ask questions and participate in the conversation.
September is also the month when Nantucket’s Coastal Resiliency Advisory Committee (CRAC) will be previewing the draft of the Coastal Resiliency Plan from town consultants Arcadis. The CRAC has two monthly meetings which are open to the public. Drafts of various aspects of the plan are also available for viewing. The CRAC meeting recordings have presentations by Arcadis on their predictions and proposed solutions for each area. They can be viewed on YouTube at youtube.com/playlist?list=PL49sKqpy7VAiUk-g5h2jIuAn_2jqocI2L. The committee and the consultants are still interested in hearing from the community. Constituents are encouraged to send comments and concerns via the questionnaire/ form at townofnantucket.typeform.com/CoastalResComms.
The CR plan goes into detail about the vulnerable areas throughout the island. It then details specific actions recommended. Solutions include raising roads to protect them from flooding, nature-based solutions like restoring saltmarsh and eel grass beds, and adaptations to public piers and docks.
The most dramatic solutions are needed in the most vulnerable areas. Short term solutions for the downtown involve raising Steamboat Wharf and Straight Wharf, as well as adapting buildings and infrastructure for coastal flooding. The most dramatic and arguably necessary solutions suggested are in the long-term solution for downtown. Various scenarios are proposed, but, basically, all involve a surge barrier protecting the downtown harbor. A flood gate could be closed during storms to further protect our downtown resources. With the downtown as our lifeline to the mainland, the strategies focus on protection. However, there is an alternative on the table which allows for flooding and saltmarsh migration. The focus with this long-term strategy is more about relocation of buildings and resources. If you have thoughts about these plans and want to share with CRAC and the consultants, fill out the comment form mentioned above . The committee wants everyone to participate and would like to hear from all corners of our community. This is a plan for the entire island.
It’s a complex problem, and it will take many types of solutions and voices to be resilient. We are fortunate our small island is looking ahead, being innovative, and trying a multi-pronged approach.