August 2017: Reflection from a Fellow: Two Years of Social Science in the Seacoast

By Simone Barley-Greenfield

Touring Berry Brook
I can still taste my first bite of the fish tacos at Lexie’s as if it was only yesterday that I sat on the faded picnic tables at Great Bay Marine, looking out over an unfamiliar water body and wondering what the next two years would bring.  Having said goodbye to the coastal cultures of California and the Pacific Northwest, I had no idea if this newfound place, the beautiful New Hampshire Seacoast, would fill the Pacific Ocean-sized void left in my heart from leaving my home coast. I knew nothing about life in the Piscataqua Region, but it was my job to discover as much as I could over the next two years.  I was here find out what made this place special, both as a unique, ecologically diverse landscape and as an exciting and fulfilling community in which to build a life.

Planting dune grasses
And learn I did.  Over the past two years, I have had the opportunity to absorb information from hundreds upon hundreds of New Hampshire and Maine residents, who all have fascinating anecdotes about why they love this little corner of the nation. As a NOAA Fellow, I have gained more experience in coastal and watershed management than I ever thought possible, from exploring new and exciting strategies for increasing resilience in local communities to compiling and (imminently) publishing a colossal regional report for a National Estuary Program.  And I have had an incredible amount of fun along the way!  I summited my fair share of 4000-footers over the course of two years; ran all the way from Kittery, ME to Salisbury, MA while training for my first marathon, sampled all the local ice cream hotspots, and familiarized myself with all the New England varietals of apples.

Eastern States 20 Mile

Picking some local produce
I knew my time as a NOAA Fellow would be rewarding, but even I was not prepared for the depth and breadth of opportunity I would enjoy, especially the conferences, events, and gatherings I have been lucky to attend and be a part of.  I am so grateful to everyone I have worked with over the last two years, especially everyone at PREP, the New Hampshire Coastal Program and Department of Environmental Services, the Great Bay Estuarine Research Reserve, the University of New Hampshire, and all the folks who are part of the New Hampshire Climate Adaptation Workgroup.  The management community in this region welcomed me with open arms, and this willingness to share knowledge and insight gave me the support and confidence I needed to get my project off the ground.
Now two years later, my project team and I have amassed vast amounts of data and collected a wealth of perspectives from stakeholders around the Piscataqua Region watershed.  I have learned that not only do people love living here because the oysters are tasty and the mountains are close, but also because community runs deep and there exists this culture of rolling up one’s sleeves and getting things done at the local level.  I have spoken with hunters who are eager to drag literal tons of trash away from the shoreline surrounding Great Bay in order to leave the resource in better shape than when they found it. I have talked with scientists willing to sit on their local town boards in addition to their day jobs to help towns make informed decisions about water quality and environmental impacts.

Great Bay Cleanup
The residents of this coastal watershed are deeply connected to and invested in the long-term wellbeing of this region.   I am glad that I got to help build on the energy that already existed in this region around linking human wellbeing to the wellbeing of the ecosystems that support all the things that make the Seacoast such a great place to live.   I hope that the social indicators in this year’s State of the Our Estuaries report keep this conversation alive and serve as a reminder that human beings are an integral component of a social ecological landscape whose quality of life and wellbeing matter.    There is still so much great work to be done to ensure the Piscataqua Region remains healthy and vibrant for generations to come, and I cannot wait to see how things progress, from the release of this year’s State of Our Estuaries report to development of new management goals for the region that include social ecological perspectives. I will miss this place and the people who live here so much, but I know I am leaving the Seacoast in very capable hands!

PREP is part of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s National Estuary Program, a joint program between local, state and federal agencies established under the Clean Water Act with the goal of protecting and enhancing nationally significant estuarine resources. PREP is supported in part by an EPA matching grant and is housed within the School of Marine Science and Ocean Engineering at the University of New Hampshire.