Around the U.S. in Eight Hours
By Christine Hirt
2019 Knauss Fellow (Delaware Sea Grant)
Policy, Planning, and Communications Division
NOAA Office for Coastal Management
Annapolis. Honolulu. Oakland. Charleston. Minneapolis. St. Petersburg. Gloucester. My desk is in Silver Spring, but we also work in Saipan, Stennis, and Seattle. Working with NOAA’s Office for Coastal Management means working with regions across the nation’s states and territories and sometimes changing my surroundings, virtually, every hour.
The distinctive regional structure of the NOAA Office for Coastal Management (OCM) was formed in part by the visionary Margaret A. Davidson, who saw value in working at the community level and building trust among people across the coasts. Our coasts are as diverse as our people, and OCM is one of the few places within NOAA that was built in such a way to represent and support our coastal communities at the federal level.
I had the opportunity to tour the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center’s Global Change Research Wetland while supporting an evaluation of the Chesapeake Bay Sentinel Site Cooperative.
In OCM’s Policy, Planning, and Communications Division, I’m extremely fortunate to work with our regional staff and to “travel” around the world (via conference calls and Google Hangouts) almost every day. “Traveling” across the nation during these calls, I coordinate projects and facilitate the sharing of information across groups and regions, acting as a policy liaison to effectively keep our staff across the nation in “the know.” While exciting, this also came with its own challenges; I learned that a 1:00pm ET meeting is no fun when you’re in Hawaii, that the same word can have a totally different meaning in a different region, and that an acronym will be pronounced differently based on where you’re from. Working with a range of personalities, cultures, and coastal issues every day is an incredible example of not only our diversity, but also our shared passions.
While I couldn’t be more excited to be learning so much every day, sometimes I get to bring my own knowledge and expertise to projects. My master’s research at the University of Delaware focused on the perceived fairness of the planning process for the first offshore wind farm in the United States. I’m fortunate to see how OCM works with states regarding the Coastal Zone Management Act and developing coastal management programs to manage and balance competing uses of the coastal zone, including offshore wind. I’ve also had the opportunity to support a project to improve regional access to and use of coastal and ocean data. This information is valuable because these regions can use it to improve coastal management decisions, like planning for offshore wind. Just like an offshore wind turbine, while various challenges might create turbulent waters, a strong foundation will ensure partnerships remain steadfast.
Visiting the Block Island Offshore Wind Project
Even with our distinctive regional structure and the staff we have working with communities on the ground, however, we can always use a little help from our friends. One of OCM’s (not so) secret weapons is our partnerships. The Digital Coast Partnership, National Estuarine Research Reserve Association, and Coastal States Organization, just to name a few, work with OCM to create value greater than the sum of its parts. I recently had the opportunity to shadow Jeff Payne, OCM’s Director who is currently serving as the Acting Deputy Assistant Administrator for the National Ocean Service, for a day, and he credits the success of these partnerships to their shared purpose. By sharing priorities, resources, and a vision, we advance national, regional, and local objectives and see our accomplishments and the benefits of our teamwork flow beyond our individual boundaries.
During my fellowship I hope to visit a few of the beautiful area codes I dial and the passionate partners I work with (Honolulu, Charleston, and Gloucester are already on my calendar!). However, for anyone who has done an extended amount of travel, you know that while going to new places and seeing new things is exciting, there’s no better feeling than coming back home. I’ve been fortunate to travel right from my desk as part of my Knauss Fellowship and to make connections with passionate staff and partners who care about the coastal communities affected by coastal management policy and decision-making.
Wind turbines of Block Island, RI. Photo by Evan Krape