NEST has focused efforts on helping organizations that are already doing important work to use science in decision-making about coastal resources. These include Maine Healthy Beaches, Maine's Department of Marine Resources, New Hampshire's Department of Environmental Services, and New Hampshire Fish and Game. In turn, these organizations provide opportunities for public participants to engage in sustainability science themselves. NEST researchers have been meeting with these stakeholder organizations to provide data and tools to enhance the use of science, and the stakeholders have helped shape how NEST's research work unfolds as well.
Keri Kaczor is a marine professional with the University of Maine's Cooperative Extension and coodinator of the Maine Healthy Beaches program. She says that Maine Healthy Beaches acts as a conduit that forges relationships between state agencies, community partners, and researchers to ensure the state's beaches maintain healthy water quality. She says that through their water quality monitoring program they seek to "find, fix, and prevent the sources of pollution." Kaczor has seen some of the challenges that Maine beachgoers are faced with when they use public beaches. "When we have an elevated or a high bacteria level at the beach, it's not just one thing that's causing the problem," Kaczor said. "It's many things compounding together. I think people don't realize their funny business upland-say a septic system that's not working or functioning properly-I don't think they're making the connection to beach advisories and closures down the way." One of the key issues that Maine Healthy Beaches has to solve in many cases is whether bacterial pollution is from human or nonhuman sources. Human waste can often present more serious problems for a beach, and using science to prove that pollution is human in origin is an important step in taking action to solve problems when they arise. "We really want to help communities direct their time and resources to hone in on those human resources," Kaczor said. But there are often gaps in the available knowledge to do this with limited resources, staff, and time. "There's no quick or easy or inexpensive solutions to beach bacteria levels. It's a long-term commitment to cleaning up the situation," Kaczor said.
This commitment relies on collaboration with external partners. Researchers on NEST have been working with Keri and have been providing scientific information, analysis of water quality data, and support in key decision-making and conversations with town leaders. Kaczor says that the collaboration with NEST has been meaningful. "It's so great to see researchers interested," Kaczor said. "What's also been really remarkable to me is some of the researchers' willingness to really get kind of down and dirty with this work. This whole focus on engagement and stakeholders has been really tremendous because they're considering all sides, and there's a lot of sides to these issues that plague beaches and shellfish growing areas, so I really appreciate that sort of 360 approach to this program." Importantly, Kaczor explained that the collaboration between NEST and Maine Healthy Beaches would not be possible without the efforts of a statewide team of citizen volunteers that regularly carry out extensive sampling efforts across all of the state's beaches. "We can always use more volunteers to help collect water samples and give life to some of our data and reports and some of the work of NEST," Kaczor said.
Engagement doesn't just mean NEST researchers sharing what they think is important for others to know. There are key opportunities for the public to get involved with coastal action, policy, and research. You are a key part of this process, and if you care about improving beaches or shellfish, there are several ways you can get involved in sustainability science. You can volunteer with one of NEST's core stakeholders, participate in a citizen science program directly supported by a NEST educational institution, or join a public sustainability effort.
Maine Healthy Beaches performs water quality monitoring at many of Maine's beaches. The goal is to notify the public of health risks and help keep the beaches healthy. Maine Healthy Beaches runs an extensive citizen science program that relies on a large number of statewide volunteers to collect regular samples at beaches.
The Maine Department of Marine Resources also has a volunteer water quality monitoring program that accepts volunteers for special projects in certain coastal areas.
New Hampshire Watersheds with the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services is responsible for monitoring watersheds in the state, from lakes to rivers to the sea. Their volunteer opportunities page lists a range of ways to get involved with their important work.
New Hampshire Fish and Game has a number of volunteer opportunities across diverse geographical and topical areas of interest.
The University of New Hampshire runs the Stewardship Network: New England, which is a program designed to support citizens getting involved in sustainability science. They have regular events, training, and seminars to serve a network of citizen scientists in New England.
At the University of Maine, there is the Signs of the Seasons program, which is about scientists and citizens working together to grow understanding about how global climate change affects local areas. In addition to training and presentations, they also host webinars that you can access online.
Beyond NEST, there are many other opportunities to make a difference. One we really like is Anecdata, an online citizen science platform developed at the Mount Desert Island Biological Laboratory.
Anecdata is a powerful platform to organize and present any environmental data you may find or produce (especially data about species or habitats) no matter where you are. It's incredibly easy to contribute to the database, and you can share a wide range of information, including photos, measurements, statistics, and observations. The data belongs to everyone and can be explored by anyone.
Although NEST is focused on beaches and shellfish, sustainability involves the whole environment and the opportunities to get involved are everywhere. You don't need to have a PhD to help make a more sustainable future possible. If you live closer to a different college or university, ask around or do a web search for citizen science at that institution to see what similar opportunities there might be in your area.
If you'd like to contribute directly to the work NEST is doing, find more information, or just get in touch, feel free to drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org. We'll be more than happy to talk about the opportunities for working with us toward a more sustainable future for beaches and shellfish in New England.