The New England Sustainability Consortium began as a team of researchers across Maine and New Hampshire colleges and universities. The team was formed through a competitive grant process that secured substantial funding from the National Science Foundation to form a research network in New England and mobilize it to search for solutions to key problems in the preservation of coastal resources.
The initial leadership team included Kathleen Bell, David Hart, and Laura Lindenfeld from the University of Maine and Kevin Gardner, Steve Jones, and Tom Safford from the University of New Hampshire. They were joined by dozens of faculty and students from universities and colleges throughout Maine and New Hampshire.
The overall mission of NEST is to enhance the use of science in decision-making. Such a mission relies on deep collaborations between scientists, industry workers, policymakers, and the public in order to meet the needs and interests of each group.
NEST's first project was on Safe Beaches and Shellfish. These industries and resources are linked by location as well as by common threats such as pollution and climate change. As a research consortium, NEST was charged with assessing the current state of these industries and conducting a thorough scientific investigation of the physical and social forces that shape their success, sustainability, and safety.
Beaches and shellfish are part of complex systems. NEST brought together an array of researchers across different disciplines. For example, geologists and biologists explored how landscape and water interact, how surface water carries pollutants to the sea, and how those pollutants threaten the health of people who swim at beaches and eat shellfish.
In partnership, economists and communicators looked into human sources and responses to the problems, such as willingness to protect the coast by changing what happens upstream, how changes in these industries affect the people connected with them, and appropriate messaging about the threats that remain. NEST approaches these diverse challenges together as a group with its own diverse skill set.
Beaches and shellfish are culturally and economically important, so NEST sought to ensure that current and future generations could continue to participate in these resources. The diverse approaches on NEST work together as sustainability science.
NEST's work is largely based on learning what people in the region need and want, and sharing knowledge about the environment to help many of these various interests find common ground so they can work together. Much of the challenge comes from the need to balance human production and environmental preservation, so collaboration is an essential part of this process.
Shellfish and beaches are important to people. Whether they appreciate them recreationally or their jobs depend on them, these coastal systems mean something. Shellfish are major industries for Maine and New Hampshire. Soft-shell clams in particular are a highly valued resource, and nearly $17 million of clams were harvested in Maine during 2013, according to the state Department of Marine Resources. Beaches are also an important resource, and are linked with shellfish. Pollution can endanger both.
The New England Sustainability Consortium (NEST) is working to protect these resources and increase the scientific knowledge about how they operate and might be threatened by factors such as pollution and climate change. To do their work, NEST relies on a collaborative branch of science known as sustainability science.
The Safe Beaches and Shellfish project is an ongoing research effort in sustainability science. But what is sustainability science? For that matter, does everyone even have the same perspective on what sustainability itself is? Below, three individuals connected with the NEST project (a graduate student, a shellfish harvester, and a postdoctoral researcher) share different ways of understanding sustainability.
Sophia Scott is a master's student on NEST from Plymouth State University. She studies surfers and their use of the beaches in the region.
Fred Moore is the chief of the Pleasant Point Reservation near Eastport, Maine. He introduces himself as "a 100th generation lobsterman."
Bridie McGreavy is a postdoctoral researcher on NEST at the University of Maine. She studies the culture and sustainability of clam harvesting.