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Hurricane Preparedness Week: Spotlight on Maine Sea Grant Extension Associate Kristen Grant

Southern Maine Marine Extension Associate

As Southern Maine Marine Extension Associate, Kristen has worked in that region of the state since 1999. Her office in Wells is housed at the Wells National Estuarine Research Reserve, facilitating partnerships with NOAA colleagues there.

Coastal Southern Maine’s proximity to urban centers such as Boston has translated into significant population and development pressure as these metropolitan areas expand. These realities create a set of regional issues and opportunities that distinguish this region from other parts of the state.

In response to these issues, the majority of Kristen’s work focuses on the interactions between the people, the resources, and the ecosystems of the coast. Her work includes a range of activities to build the capacity of coastal communities to plan and adapt for their future, such as understanding erosion trends and planning for coastal hazards, considering housing options, addressing coastal access and waterfront development issues, and engaging community stakeholders. To this work, Kristen brings a Master of Science degree focused on Environmental Education, and has an extensive background in outreach education and community development.

It’s Hurricane Preparedness Week, what is one thing everyone needs to know about preparing for a severe coastal storm?

My work focuses on outreach to coastal property owners and the municipal officials who work with them, to address the barriers they face to taking action in advance of coastal hazards impacts. In this context, there are a few key assessments for coastal property owners to make in order to anticipate and proactively address potential impacts from coastal hazards such as hurricanes. These include identifying how any structures are sited on the lot. Are buildings set back from the water? Is any living area elevated above the flood level? Is there a barrier (such as a dune or a seawall) between any buildings and the water? Answers to these questions can provide an indication to coastal property owners of the potential vulnerability or resilience of their property.

What is something cool you learned while working on coastal hazards outreach?

Before beginning outreach efforts, we needed a clearer understanding of the barriers coastal property owners and municipal officials who work with them face to taking action in advance of coastal hazards impacts. To do this, we conducted extensive social science research including focus groups and surveys. Several key themes emerged from the data that guided our outreach planning. Among these, we learned that many coastal property owners would plan to rebuild their coastal homes, even in the event of extreme storm damage. This is because many have made a long-term investment in their properties. But this is not simply a financial investment, many have a strong, even multi-generational connection to their properties and moving even to another lot on the same beach, never mind moving inland, is not an considered an option for them. We also learned adaptive actions taken by coastal property owners were often motivated by  their neighbors at their beach, or their peers, and their local government. This discovery that action by the local government often motivates individual action is an important lesson learned because it suggests that community members are looking to their local officials for leadership.

What drove you to work on coastal hazards outreach?

I have been working with coastal property owners in southern Maine since I began my extension position in 1999, initially through a beach profile monitoring program. Through those interactions, it became clear that beach management conflicts among scientists, regulators, and coastal property owners were not leading Maine in the direction of actions that would result in sustaining life, property, or natural resources on Maine’s unique sandy beaches. A more collaborative approach was needed that was based on an improved understanding of coastal property owners’ interests, and needs. It was this realization that directed my work toward coastal hazards outreach.

How did you get involved with Sea Grant? When did you join Sea Grant?

I joined Maine Sea Grant and University of Maine Cooperative Extension in 1999 when a new extension position was created in the southern part of the state, where my office is hosted at the Wells National Estuarine Research Reserve.

What is your favorite part about being a Sea Grant Extension agent?

My extension position is always evolving. My approach to the work focuses broadly on coastal community development and as such, I see it as my work to help stakeholders in our coastal communities to address locally identified needs and issues and to plan for their future. With this needs assessment orientation, my work over these 15 years has run the gamut from environmental monitoring and habitat restoration, to coastal access, working waterfronts, affordable housing, community planning and engagement, and much more.

What is the biggest challenge you face at your job?

Giving projects up. Having been involved with and invested in numerous projects for numerous years, knowing if, when, and how to transition out of effective projects is always a challenge.

What part of your job did you least expect to be doing?

Way leads to way and I have learned not to have narrowly defined ideas of what my work should involve. As I’ve said, the work evolves as does the various roles I take on in support of the work. Really, I see my work as a whole – the sum of its parts. So while I may not have been able to envision each separate part, none of it seems truly unexpected.

What’s at the top of your recommended reading list for someone wanting to explore a career in science?

Rather than a book, I think I’d recommend an experience, or better yet, many experiences. Volunteer for science – take on an internship or apprenticeship – get out in the field (literally and figuratively) – work side-by-side with people who do stuff that interests you and stuff that doesn’t. Open yourself to new experiences and find what you love.

And how about a personal favorite book?

Anything by David Sedaris – I have 2 kids and short stories are about all the free reading time I have.

Do you have an outside hobby?

All things outdoors with my family – kayaking, fishing, hiking, biking, skiing, snowshoeing, sledding – the list goes on.



Meet other people in the Sea Grant Network that help communities prepare for severe coastal storms like hurricanes:

Hawaii Sea Grant Extension Agent: Dennis Hwang
National Severe Storm Laboratory Sea Grant Extension Agent: Kodi Monroe
New York Sea Grant Communication Specialist: Paul Focazio
MIT Sea Grant funded researchers: Robert Beardsley and Changsheng Chen 
South Carolina Sea Grant funded Researcher: Scott Schiff
Texas Sea Grant Extension Agent: Heather Wade

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