Coastal SEES Collaborative Research: Coastal sustainability: A cross-site comparison of salt marsh persistence in response to sea-level rise and feedbacks from social adaptations
Coastal marshes are among the most ecologically productive & threatened ecosystems on earth. Leaders make use/conservation/restoration decisions based on the perceived values of the benefits these ecosystems provide. Coastal SEES was a multi-institutional, interdisciplinary, National Science Foundation-funded research project investigating changes in and people's perceptions of salt marshes. Through the NSF’s Long Term Ecological Research network, this project examined how marshes in Massachusetts, Virginia, and Georgia may change with relation to sea-level rise and how residents would respond to these changes. FAU collaborated with researchers from the University of Virginia, Clark University, the Marine Biological Laboratory, the College of William & Mary Virginia Institute of Marine Science, and the University of Georgia Research Foundation on this research project.
FAU CES researchers conducted nine semi-structured, group interviews with local residents who were audio recorded and transcribed verbatim. The researchers systematically developed theory though the grounded theory approach to code qualitative data and calculate prominence of codes to determine major and minor themes. The researchers organized themes into process maps to tell a story of what matters most to residents as related to the salt marshes in Massachusetts, Virginia, and Georgia and presented the results at three stakeholder charrettes in each state’s community. Stakeholder attendees included representatives from local environmental planning and consultant agencies, engineering firms, non-profits, and federal agencies, university students, and scientists.
Researchers found that Massachusetts residents’ recreational experiences in beautiful marsh and open water landscapes inspire serenity, which, in the context of residential development, leads to conservation support. CES researchers found Virginia residents’ recreational experiences and water-based livelihoods inspire a marsh and "shore" identity, which, in the context of industrial agriculture and growing flood risks from rain and storm surge, leads to community activism and conservation needs. CES researchers found Georgia residents’ childhood experiences in expansive marshes inspire stewardship cultivation, which, in the context of industrial pollution and residential development, leads to regulatory enforcement needs.