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A Collaborative Effort Against Sea Level Rise

Sea Grant’s role in the NOAA Sentinel Site Program

By Robin Garcia, National Sea Grant Office


The NOAA Sentinel Site Program was started by NOAA’s National Ocean Service (NOS) in 2011 as a means of creating a cooperative effort to measure the ecological impacts of sea level rise and apply science-based solutions to coastal regions. Sentinel Sites in five locations – San Francisco Bay, the Hawaiian Islands, the Northern Gulf of Mexico, North Carolina, and the Chesapeake Bay – are led by teams that include federal, state, and local efforts. 

Sea Grant plays a large role in the Sentinel Site Program by providing Sentinel Site Coordinators who maintain relationships among the partners, from researchers to decisions makers to members of the community. 

The five sites that have been chosen provide opportunities for measuring the ecological impact of sea level rise, to expand the use of existing NOAA tools and service, and the potential to apply science-based solutions to unique coastal issues. Jennifer Dorton, a Sentinel Site Coordinator for the North Carolina Sentinel Site Cooperative based at North Carolina Sea Grant, explains that, “North Carolina is known for the Outer Banks region, but most people don’t realize that the barrier island system runs the length of our coastline. We have barrier islands which have been developed as well as barrier islands which are still natural, making them ideal for comparative research.” 

Another benefit of the current sites is the ability to utilize existing tools and services. “Something that many people don’t expect about the Hawaiian Islands Sentinel Site Cooperative (HISSC) is the extent to which current work within the HISSC sites builds off of past collaborations, research, and community based efforts.” says Maya Walton, the Sentinel Site Coordinator based at Hawaii Sea Grant and a 2014 Sea Grant Knauss Fellow with NOAA’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries. “The HISSCʻs work on planning and preparedness for climate change impacts and impacts from sea level rise has benefitted immensely from a long history of conservation planning at each of our sites. Several of the NOAA tide stations have observations that span several decades.” 



A culture of collaboration continues to be the key to success for the Northern Gulf of Mexico Sentinel Site Cooperative according to Renee Collini, the Sentinel Site Coordinator based at the Mississippi-Alabama Sea Grant Consortium. “The Northern Gulf of Mexico was able to publish its comprehensive database of surface elevation tables online, which required the agreement of many individual researchers and institutions.  This was possible, in part, due to the strong collaboration and cooperation between agencies, organizations, researchers, governments, and institutions across the Gulf of Mexico.” 


The role of Sea Grant in the success of the Sentinel Site Program is so important that the program has recently added another Sentinel Site Coordinator. Sarah Wilkins is the newest coordinator for the Chesapeake Bay Sentinel Site Cooperative and is based at Maryland Sea Grant. She was also a 2014 Sea Grant Knauss Fellow for NOS.


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