As a Georgia Sea Grant Legal Fellow, I have the opportunity to synthesize my foundation in environmental science with my legal training. I admire how Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant embodies the “Think Globally, Act Locally” approach to environmental issues, and my favorite aspect of the fellowship is the problem-solving required. My job is to identify potential legal and policy solutions to complex problems affecting coastal communities. This puzzle rarely fits perfectly, but I enjoy the challenge. The fellowship involves researching and writing, as well as working regularly with lawyers, scientists and politicians. My current projects include comparing Southeastern U.S. shoreline protection laws, legal issues surrounding road abandonment in Florida, and state riparian buffer taxation requirements.
I am especially looking forward to presenting one of my projects, “Shore Protection for a Sure Tomorrow: Evaluating Legal Provisions Governing Coastal Development,” at the Social Coast Forum in Charleston, S.C., next month. Shoreline protection in the Southeast generally falls into two categories: “fixed” and “floating” setbacks. Fixed setbacks create a line between certain structures, such as monuments, from the ocean to determine where development may begin. Floating setback lines, on the other hand, often depend on coastal erosion rates. My goal is to present the benefits and disadvantages of each setback option, particularly to encourage coastal resiliency as communities choose how to respond to sea level rise.
Another topic I am interested in is microplastic pollution in coastal waters. I learned about microplastics at while touring Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant’s facilities on Skidaway Island and in Brunswick and meeting with faculty and staff that work for the program. Skidaway Institute of Oceanography professor, Jay Brandes, is working on a Georgia Sea Grant-funded study that involves researching the presence of microplastics in aquatic organisms. As a result of his presentation, I chose to write my capstone report for law school on microscopic plastic fibers, or microfibers. Microfibers from synthetic clothing materials are commonly released in washing machines. Some fibers are too small for wastewater treatment plants to capture, so they are released into waterways. Ultimately, some microfibers are ingested by aquatic organisms. While these may pose physical threats to the organisms, the microfibers can also carry harmful chemicals. These chemicals may affect humans through bioaccumulation, but the specific health impacts remain largely unknown. My report focuses on legal and policy options to reduce and mitigate risks posed by microfibers.
This is just one example of how Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant has provided meaningful ways to incorporate current environmental issues and professional skills into the classroom, and will undoubtedly benefit my future as an environmental lawyer.