My experience as a Georgia Sea Grant State Fellow has shown me how diverse the field of marine science is, and how communicating with stakeholders of various backgrounds offers extraordinary results. To continue developing into a well-rounded biologist, I sought an opportunity outside of the fisheries laboratory, where I spent most of my time as a master’s student at Clemson University, that would allow me to learn the process of how science informs management. My time working in the realm of coastal hazards as a State Fellow placed in the Department of Natural Resources, Coastal Resources Division has allowed me to work toward these goals. My main focus has been the Flood Literacy Project, which has opened my eyes to the magnitude and impact of how our methods of communication could influence the ways in which communities prepare, adapt and recover from various coastal hazards.
Terms related to flood hazards are being used inconsistently and interchangeably among professionals and the general public. Some are not scientifically defined and have taken on several meanings (e.g., king tide, nuisance flooding), and various organizations use terms differently. The Georgia Flood Literacy Project is an effort to unite professionals from various sectors of the field to discuss important measures of coastal flood hazards, the terminology used to describe them and how these terms are being used. The Flood Literacy Taskforce is made up of members from emergency management, academia, non-governmental organizations, state agencies, federal agencies, the media and local governments.
One of the skills that I have been most excited to develop is facilitating meetings with the Taskforce, something that is not a part of a quantitative fisheries course. Facilitating a successful meeting means being flexible, making space for everyone to contribute while having a time limit and knowing how to handle the awkward silences. I have found the most productive meetings are when we accomplish action items with input from multiple people. Although their work has parallel focuses, many of these Taskforce members do not interact frequently so the various perspectives have been significant to the project.
One of the major goals of the Taskforce is to work toward clear, consistent, widely applicable and scientifically accurate definitions of flood terminology. These terms will be compiled into professional and public versions of a Glossary of Flood Terms, which along with videos and an interactive webpage, will be linked to https://coastalgadnr.org/FloodLiteracy. The Taskforce came to a consensus on how to define several terms. One example is coastal resilience, which is the ability of a coastal community to adapt to changing conditions and withstand—and recover from— a societal, economic or ecological disruption.
Making people feel involved and making your message clear and relatable are important ingredients in the recipe for resilient communities. The meanings of terms may need to be broken down to be easily understood by people of various backgrounds, professions and perspectives. If people do not understand or care about the message, it could be hard to encourage them to react in ways you suggest. If a community is engaged, they will learn how they can recover from disasters and how to prepare for the next one, and ultimately, they can work toward becoming resilient.
As a Georgia Sea Grant State Fellow, I have built upon my research-heavy background by gaining direct experience in coastal management and science communication. It has allowed me to see first-hand how science and collaborations are applied to make important decisions for the balance of development and conservation. I have gained invaluable skills and have become more mindful about how my message is interpreted so that I can work toward bringing the value of what coastal managers do to the world.