Photo by Zach Frailey, 2011 (Flickr)

Our lands and waters represent a unique and ever-unfolding story about the biodiversity and cultural heritage of our part of the world. Yet there is also another story of conservation that can be told; that of the strong network of partnerships, cooperatives, and communities that weave a mosaic of conservation actions across our region. The North Carolina Sentinel Site Cooperative is an example of such a story.

One of only five Sentinel Sites in the country, the North Carolina Sentinel Site Cooperative brings together researchers, scientists, resource managers, and local communities to help address the impacts of sea level changes. Established by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), all Sentinel Site Cooperatives are anchored around existing efforts to monitor coastal conditions and collect environmental data to help develop training and tools that enable local, state, and national resource managers to better understand their surrounding environment. The North Carolina Sentinel Site geography includes Carteret, Craven, and Onslow Counties as well as the Rachel Carson National Estuarine Research Reserve, state and national parks, Department of Defense installations, and State Port facilities. This geography is characterized by extensive marsh and seagrass systems, beaches and dunes, a strong commercial and recreational fishing economy, and tourism—as well as hosting many academic and scientific institutions and state coastal management and fisheries agencies.

Recently, the North Carolina Sentinel Site Cooperative hosted a partner meeting that brought together academics, researchers, local municipalities, natural resource managers, non-profits, and planning organizations to identify gaps in research, management and education related to sea level rise and to update the Cooperative’s Implementation Plan for the next three years. High priority needs identified during the meeting include communication products related to sea level rise and community resiliency in the Cooperative’s geography, as well as the sharing of data between research and management communities. Meeting participants also identified the need for a NOAA Tools workshop that will train users in the available tools for sea level rise planning and adaptation. A technical memo detailing the meeting outcomes will be available by late Spring 2017 and the North Carolina Sentinel Site Cooperative will host a climate tools workshop this fall.

While all Sentinel Sites play an important role in science communication, public education, and conservation actions, the North Carolina Sentinel Site Cooperative is an excellent example of a Cooperative working with and for local coastal communities to help them become more resilient in the face of future change.