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Engineering With Nature® Podcast Episode Highlights Evolution of NCCOS, USACE Collaborations

Published on: 03/16/2022
Primary Contact(s): steven.thur@noaa.gov

NCCOS and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) Engineering With Nature® (EWN) Initiative began collaborating on coastal and community restoration projects in 2016. The evolution of these collaborations takes center stage in the final episode of the EWN® Podcast series, Season 3.

The podcast episode features Dr. Steve Thur, Director of NCCOS, Dr. Todd Bridges, Senior Research Scientist for Environmental Science with the USACE, and the National Lead of the EWN® Program, and host Sarah Thorne, who discuss how the practice of Engineering With Nature and the application of nature-based solutions are evolving, and the importance of protecting critical coastal ecosystems.

Steve Thur, second from right, speaks during a tour of Swan Island in the Chesapeake Bay. Congressional staff and members of the Maryland Governor's office visited the island to learn about the restoration and its importance to the local community. Credit: NOAA.

The powerful partnership started with a workshop to discuss the shared interests and synergies between USACE and NCCOS on using natural and nature-based features to improve coastal resilience and increase environmental value and social benefits.

The first two projects that the USACE and NCCOS collaborated on were located at Mordecai Island, NJ, and Swan Island, MD, a part of the Martin National Wildlife Refuge at Smith Island in the Chesapeake Bay. In both cases, dredged material was used to rebuild eroding islands, providing coastal protection and wildlife habitat, along with social benefits. These projects have generated a lot of interest with policy and decision makers, and demonstrate how a relatively small investment in science by NOAA can be used to effectively leverage larger investments by organizations like the USACE.

Recent outreach to policy and decision makers included a briefing on the International NNBF Guidelines by Dr. Bridges to the White House Coastal Resilience Interagency Working Group in September, 2021. In March, 2022  Dr. Thur and Dr. Bridges, along with Dr. Sherry Hunt of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, provided testimony From Grey to Green: Advancing the Science of Nature-based Infrastructure to the House Science, Space, & Technology Committee.

Todd Bridges, Steve Thur and Jeff King during a technical visit to U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services’ Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge near Cambridge, Maryland on Chesapeake Bay. Credit: NOAA.

The episode concludes with the discussion of what is next for the broader collaboration on EWN. Next steps include initiating a research program to look at multiple nature-based features that have already been constructed to evaluate performance over time, and a policy research project underway now that will provide insights for evaluating and documenting the comprehensive benefits produced by nature-based solution projects.

EWN solutions offer the potential for win-win-win solutions; single projects can offer multiple solutions including mitigating flood risks, restoring habitats, helping with fisheries, protecting threatened and endangered species, and providing many social benefits, such as recreation. This partnership supports the urgent need for action to build climate resilience and significantly renew and upgrade the country's infrastructure.

This is the second EWN® podcast episode to highlight the successful partnership between these two organizations. To learn more, listen to Season 1, Episode 5 featuring NCCOS research ecologist Paula Whitfield.

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