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Integrating Socio-Ecological Research and Collaborative Learning to Promote Marsh and Community Resilience

Michael Paolisso is pursuing a mixed-method project, funded by NOAA through the University of New Hampshire, to examine the socio-ecological system of the Deal Island peninsula in Maryland

Coastal habitats and communities are facing widespread degradation and losses of coastal marshes in the Mid-Atlantic region due to sea-level rise and other stressors. Accelerated sea-level rise under climate change will exacerbate these problems. There are restoration and conservation strategies available that may mitigate these losses, but implementation is slow in part due to a lack of stakeholder integration and a need for information on the socio-ecological factors that foster or inhibit implementation. Researchers for this project will use the coastal peninsula of Deal Island, MD as a case study of a community with a strong coastal heritage that is facing continuing and widespread marsh loss. They will use collaborative learning to facilitate and inform integrated anthropological, economic, and ecological investigations into the socio-ecological system of the Deal Island Peninsula.

Project goals are: 1) Establish a continuing collaboration among local community, state and federal agency, academic, and non-governmental organization stakeholders working towards the socio-ecological resilience of the marshes and local communities of the Deal Island peninsula; 2) Develop and test a broadly transferable socio-ecological system-based process of engaging stakeholders to optimize and implement strategies that restore and conserve marshes, local communities, and networks of stakeholders in the face of sea-level rise; and 3) Demonstrate how socio-ecological research, supported by collaborative learning processes, produces scientifically sound and stakeholder-relevant findings on the synergies, complementarities and conflicts among socio-cultural, economic, and ecological services provided by marshes.

The theories and methods of collaborative learning will be applied to accomplish collaboration goals. Interviews, surveys, workshops, hands-on learning, and literature synthesis will be used to accomplish these objectives. Results will be disseminated to a wide range of research, policy, and educational audiences through stakeholder-preferred formats.