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Episode 1: Resilient Island Communities

In this episode of On My Coast, we share how governments, researchers, nonprofits and community members have come together to tackle the unique challenges islands face. 

Tune in for conversations with Joshua Tenorio (Lt. Governor of Guam), Austin Shelton (Assistant Professor at the University of Guam and Director of Guam Sea Grant), Sunny Rice (Alaska Sea Grant Marine Advisory Agent), and Shelly Krueger (Florida Sea Grant Extension Agent).


Related links:




Austin Shelton  00:00

On my coast, the views from the shoreline can only be matched by the wonders below the sea


Sunny Rice  00:06

people are respectful of the ocean,


Shelly Krueger  00:10

the water defines our way of life,


Lt. Governor Tenorio  00:12

and you could feel the sense of history.


Amara Davis  00:18

Welcome to the On My Coast podcast, where we will be sharing the stories of people on America’s coasts whose experiences and challenges have inspired and been the focus of Sea Grant’s work for over 50 years.


Amara Davis  00:30

The National Sea Grant College Program or Sea Grant is a Federal-University partnership program that brings science together with communities for solutions that work. It was originally created through an act of Congress in 1966 and the state and national programs work together with community partners to create and maintain a healthy coastal environment and economy.


Amara Davis  00:51

These stories are relevant because they show the important and necessary work that can happen through diverse inclusive collaboration.


Amara Davis  00:59

On this episode of On My Coast, we’ll be sharing how government, researchers, nonprofits and community members have come together to tackle the unique challenges islands face.


Lt. Governor Tenorio  01:18

The Chamorro people who are the Indigenous people of Guam have been here for nearly 4000 years. We are the first Pacific Island to have contact with the West, back in 1521. We have survived and thrived through war. We’ve had a wartime occupation in World War Two which was very brutal, but which also was a turning point, I guess in how dramatically life changed in Guam moving from an agrarian economy to an economy, now, one of the most developed economies in the Pacific. We have had three colonial powers that have been here, the Spanish, the Japanese, for, during the period of war and the Americans, and we still strive to improve our island. We’re still striving to make sure that we have policies that protect our natural resources, but also lift people out of poverty.


Amara Davis  02:18

That quick history lesson is courtesy of Guam’s Lieutenant Governor, Joshua Tenorio Lieutenant Governor Tenorio is passionate about the environment and also holds a position as the Co-chair for the Guam Green Growth Steering Committee.


Lt. Governor Tenorio  02:30

Clearly, the entire world, but especially here in the Pacific, we see the impact of climate change. And we see our brothers and sisters from elsewhere in the Pacific, the Marshall Islands, some parts of Micronesia, becoming the first climate refugees. And so this is something that is very troubling.


Lt. Governor Tenorio  02:54

I’m very happy that there is a large number of voices and people that are inclined to act to try and push back the effects of climate change and to adopt a posture of resiliency. And so we have done a few things, not only with climate change, but also addressing over fishing, some bad fishing practices. And we have demonstrated some excellent ways that we can push back.


Lt. Governor Tenorio  03:25

One such way has been, already we are now I think in it’s been 20 years, or maybe more than 20 years, since we designated marine preserves around the island that has rebounded fish stocks and that has been able to be very positive for us. However, we’re also seeing some coral bleaching events, just like some of the other places around the world. And so we’re very fortunate that we have the University of Guam Marine Biology program, which is one of the best programs, I would say, in the world conducting research and, and developing projects that can try and address that. On top of that, We also have the University of Guam Sea Grant program and folks in the Sea Grant program have been excellent participants in a lot of public policy that we have.


Amara Davis  04:18

One of those Sea Grant partners is Austin Shelton.


Austin Shelton  04:21

My name is Austin Shelton, and I am an Assistant Professor of Extension and Outreach here at the University of Guam, and I also serve as the Director of the University of Guam Sea Grant Program and Center for Island Sustainability.


Amara Davis  04:36

Outside of the more global climate issues like sea level rise, increasing frequency and intensity of storms, and rising sea surface temperatures, Guam also faces a host of local environmental stressors.


Austin Shelton  04:48

We have issues with our watersheds. So the watershed is a catchment area where all the rainwater, the condensation that do everything collects into these catchment areas between the divides of the mountain and it flows through the land and into rivers and streams where it eventually discharges out to the bottom of the watershed at the coral reefs down below. And everything that we do in that catchment area has an effect on the water quality that gets discharged below and the health of those, those coral reefs.


Austin Shelton  05:21

So some of the stressors, environmental stressors that we have in the watersheds are wildland arson fires, which means that deer poachers are illegally setting fires to the hillsides to make it easier for them to catch deer. So that causes a lot of the vegetation to burn away and causes soil erosion.


Austin Shelton  05:41

We also have federal ungulates pigs that don’t really belong in Guam, but they can tear up large expanses of our, of our land here. And there’s also other feral ungulates like deer that that are also invasive and cause issues. We have irresponsible off roading.


Austin Shelton  06:00

So these are some of the issues that are tearing up the soil. And then when the heavy rains come, it causes our land to bleed into the ocean. And so we’re trying to prevent that soil from getting onto the corals where it smothers and kills them.


Austin Shelton  06:15

In addition to the watershed stressors, we also have more impervious surfaces for more development. And so the more concrete and parking lots and buildings that you have, the less area for rainwater to or storm water to absorb into the ground. So that creates more velocity and volume that’s going directly out into our oceans.


Austin Shelton  06:36

We have the overharvesting of herbivorous fish, like parrot fish, for example, that keep coral reefs in check or in balance with the algal communities. So those are just a handful of things that we’re thinking about, that we know we need to reduce or eliminate these local environmental stressors to be more resilient.


Austin Shelton  06:56

We have a program here called the Guam Restoration of Watersheds, or GROW initiative, for short. And this is something that we do here in our University of Guam Sea Grant and Center for Island Sustainability and EPSCoR programs. We bring together partners like our soil and water conservation districts. And right now we’re doing things like planting trees, installing erosion control mats, putting in these devices called sediment filter socks, which are really cool. We’re also working with the off roading community who I mentioned earlier could be one of the biggest environmental stressors in the watershed if there’s irresponsible off roading happening, but we have groups that are working on being environmental stewards with us that are helping us take trees and other materials into hard to reach places. And lastly, one of the responses in the GROW initiative or the interventions is that we have are now using UAV or drone technology to drop seeds and seed balls into these hard to reach areas.


Austin Shelton  07:59

At sort of a higher level we have been facilitating this island-wide initiative called Guam Green Growth. And this is a partnership that we have between here at the University of Guam and the Governor’s office in Guam. So we are now facilitating the islands most comprehensive public-private partnership ever created to achieve our sustainable future. And this is aligned around the 17 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.


Austin Shelton  08:29

That GROW initiative I mentioned is just one of those action items or interventions that are part of the overall framework to achieve our sustainable future that includes not just things for our environment, but also for a more healthy and prosperous society. The Governor created a working group and assigned 99 members representing all of our society and our Center for Island Sustainability and Sea Grant programs act as facilitators of this process, and we’re really hopeful that we will be able to see a sustainable future through all the momentum that is being built up through Guam Green Growth.


Amara Davis  09:11

Further north in the Pacific on Mitkof Island, Alaska, another community’s livelihood is also dependent on its marine resources.


Sunny Rice  09:18

My name is Sunny Rice, and I work for, we say, the Alaska Sea Grant Marine Advisory Program. And I’m based in Petersburg, Alaska, which is in Southeast Alaska. It’s actually this section of the state that’s stuck along the coast with British Columbia. And we’re we’re housed within the University of Alaska Fairbanks. And Petersburg, is a commercial fishing town through and through. We have a large fleet, we have three harbors, we have more boats by far than residents, including children. Almost all professions are directly or indirectly to the ocean.


Sunny Rice  09:20

I think a resource dependent community like Petersburg, I guess, is always going to be challenged by changes in the resources that we don’t have any control over. Salmon runs go up and down and have been on a little bit of a down, and salmon is kind of the heart of most commercial fishing operations in Petersburg. A lot of our boats, and our fishermen will also fish for other things like halibut, or black cod, crab. But most everyone is tied to salmon in some way. And so in particular king salmon, we aren’t seeing the returns. And this is all up and down the coast of Alaska, are not seeing the king salmon returns that we once did. So as far as fishing goes, that’s a challenge.


Sunny Rice  10:18

And those salmon are not just for commercial fishermen. So I’ve lived here for 25 years, and every Memorial Day is the King Salmon Derby. And everybody goes out and tries to catch the biggest king salmon. So I think it’s been the past three years, there haven’t been enough king salmon have a king salmon derby.


Amara Davis  11:14

Apart from the decreases in fishing stocks in some years, the area also faces the challenge of recruitment into the fishery. The reason may not be what you think, either.


Sunny Rice  11:23

So the challenge there that I’ve been doing and working on for many years has been prices to get into the fishery have increased. And so it’s harder for a younger person to start fishing. We looked at it sort of from an education angle. What can we do from an education angle to help with that? And you can lend money and you can do all kinds of other things. But, so we’ve done a lot of just business, basic business management training, websites, a big annual, biannual summit, where we bring young fishermen together to sort of give them tools, skills. They’re going to need more than that, but we’re giving them the skills so that they’ll be able to make these decisions, at least, with their eyes wide open, right.


Amara Davis  12:11

And even with your eyes wide open, it can be hard to see how global climate changes might affect your small community.


Sunny Rice  12:19

We started this annual festival and it includes scientific talks, field trips, some activities and stuff about wild harvest of foods, because like I mentioned with the king salmon, you know, eating foods that we pick and harvest is a big part of living here, because there’s so much. So, this rain forest festival is sort of a way to have the scientific discourse, make help people sort of appreciate the world around them, and celebrate, you know, this great culture that we have here of arts related to the outdoors and food and harvesting related to that.


Amara Davis  13:01

For people who live and work on islands, the water connects everything.


Shelly Krueger  13:06

My name is Shelly Krueger and I am a Florida Sea Grant agent in the Florida Keys for the University of Florida IFAS extension. I am an extension agent based in Key West Florida, and I provide science-based information to all of the members in my community.


Shelly Krueger  13:23

The Florida Keys are surrounded by the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, and virtually everyone who lives here is connected to the water, either through their jobs or how they spend their free time. Fishing and tourism are our leading economic engines and people come from all over the world to enjoy our year-round warm tropical waters, and to go fishing and enjoy local seafood.


Amara Davis  13:47

And when those waters are facing threats, whether from pollution or our changing climate, it affects everyone.


Shelly Krueger  13:54

We’ve seen Florida’s coral reef decline since at least the 1980s. The long-spined sea urchin die off in the early 1980s really started a precipitous decline in coral cover, which is ongoing. A series of diseases have been very devastating for stony corals. We’re using stony coral tissue loss disease as an opportunity to teach more people about the importance of coral reefs. No matter where you live, coral reefs protect the upland from storms and hurricanes, which is really important locally, but our seafood is enjoyed by people everywhere all over the world.


Shelly Krueger  14:30

We’ve also started a Sargassum compost research project, because since 2011, we’ve had really heavy accumulations of Sargassum washing up on the shore. And this has caused real problems with fish kills. People who live on residential canals and the marinas, the Sargassum comes in and becomes so tightly packed that the dissolved oxygen is removed from the water leading to fish kills. And also it has impacted the tourism industry because people don’t want to eat dinner at a hotel when there’s rotting seaweed on the beach.


Amara Davis  15:04

We’ve heard a lot about the challenges facing each of these places. And while they’re all individual and unique, there are some common threads that join these islands together.


Amara Davis  15:14

Water is more than just the wet stuff that surrounds them. It’s life. It provides food and jobs, it’s a part of the culture, and it’s everywhere. So understanding it is key to protecting and preserving the island way of life.


Amara Davis  15:28

Thank you at home for listening to this On My Coast podcast. We look forward to having you with us again as we continue to tell the stories of Sea Grant and the communities it serves.


Amara Davis  15:38

If you’d like to hear more from us, please like, share, and subscribe to our podcast. And follow us on Instagram (@seagrant_noaa), Twitter (@SeaGrant), and on our Facebook page (National Sea Grant College Program).


Amara Davis  15:52

I’m your host, Amara Davis, and on my coast, the water is as warm as the people.



Music: OUR PLANET, FineTune Music, Adobe Stock License ASLC-12A2C55E-6B2E494BBB
Graphic created using Canva


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