A Schmidt Partnership in Coastal Resilience

On a recent Friday afternoon in February, the worlds of 11th Hour Racing and ReMain Nantucket converged over a Zoom call with undergraduate and graduate students from five universities participating in the Envision Resilience Nantucket Challenge. Both organizations are part of Eric and Wendy Schmidt’s philanthropic network that also includes Schmidt Futures, Schmidt Marine Technology Partners, Schmidt Ocean Institute, The 11th Hour Project and The Schmidt Family Foundation.

The Envision Resilience Nantucket Challenge, a virtual design studio calling on university teams to reimagine the Nantucket waterfront with the threat of sea-level rise, seeks to inspire coastal communities around the world to imagine a future that is adaptive in the face of climate change.

Michelle Carnevale, grant program director at 11th Hour Racing and an advisor to ReMain’s Envision Resilience Nantucket Challenge, shared her knowledge of coastal policy, climate adaptation, and innovative approaches to solutions for coastal communities. As student teams near the mid-term of the spring design studio, they are connecting with local community members and experts in the field.

“To all the design students on this call: the work you do is so important,” Michelle said. “Coastal communities around the world need you and your ideas and innovations.”

Teaming up with advisor Emily Molden, executive director of the Nantucket Land Council, Michelle spoke to university teams and faculty leads about her prior experience as the “bridge” between stakeholders—community members, businesses, and local municipalities—during her time at the University of Rhode Island’s Coastal Resource Center. There she spent six years working on the state’s climate change adaptation plans and developing state policy and best practices for offshore wind energy development. In that work, Michelle managed engagement processes and coastal resilience plan development that connected the best available science on sea-level rise, storm flooding, and erosion to inform adaptation planning at the municipal level throughout the state.

“There are communities around the world right now having these exact conversations, struggling with the best way to balance stakeholder input and provide the best possible outcomes for their community’s resilience,” she said.

In Providence, R.I., at the beach at Rose Larisa Park, there stands a sea wall built in the 1950s. The wall is crumbling and in decay, and there no longer exists much beach at all. Historically, “hard” solutions like this sea wall were implemented in an effort to save and protect shorelines from erosion and rising sea levels. However, it is becoming increasingly clear that these hardened structures might in fact be worsening the impacts of tidal surges and rising tides, according to Eco RI News.

Adjacent to the sea wall is an example of a nature-based solution that’s being piloted by the Rhode Island Coastal Resources Management Council (CRMC) and The Nature Conservancy (TNC). Relying on natural materials like plants and sand to reinforce the existing beach, while at the same time benefiting the natural marine habitat, leaders hope this living shoreline project can serve as an example for other coastal communities.

“While these new techniques have been implemented extensively elsewhere in the United States, few have been permitted, built and evaluated in New England. These small-scale, experimental projects will give coastal engineers and coastal permitting agencies a better sense of their cost and effectiveness,” CRMC and TNC stated in a joint press release.

A grant from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Coastal Resiliency Fund helped support the project, which broke ground in April 2020. Additional matching funds through grants from 11th Hour Racing and the RI Coastal and Estuarine Habitat Restoration Trust Fund were raised by TNC and administered by CRMC.

“The idea of building resilience through human-made infrastructure interwoven with nature-based solutions is becoming the new paradigm,” Michelle said. “It is a slow process—the regulatory process is still behind—but that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t do it.”

Michelle believes that for community members to make actionable change in their own neighborhoods, they must witness pilot projects like this.

“Homeowners need options and resources. If we make it easy through education and demonstration, it’s an effective way to build momentum,” she explained to the student teams. “We have to accelerate and take risks in nature-based solutions, in the hopes that these solutions can effectively demonstrate their success.”

“Small focus projects can build momentum, knowledge, and capacity,” echoed Alan Plattus, faculty lead for the Yale School of Architecture, one of the five participating universities.

n initial design proposals presented by the Envision Resilience Nantucket Challenge student teams this week, common themes of conceptualizing adaptive living, transforming unstable shorelines with new habitats, amplifying new ocean industries, and the island acting as a natural laboratory for other coastal communities emerged. The final proposals, to be presented in late spring to the community, will hopefully galvanize not only Nantucket but also nearby coastal and island communities like Providence and Newport.

At 11th Hour Racing, Michelle leads the organization’s ocean health grantmaking, including projects focused on coastal resilience and nature-based solutions to the impacts of climate change. 11th Hour Racing works to mobilize sailing, maritime and coastal communities with an innovative approach to inspire solutions for the ocean. Additionally, through its grant work, the organization continues to demonstrate the effectiveness of nature-based solutions through the case studies and projects it supports.

Currently, 11th Hour Racing is funding projects in Rhode Island, New York, Florida, and Puerto Rico that are demonstrating nature-based solutions like living shorelines and salt marsh adaptation, oyster reef creation, seagrass, and mangrove restoration. 11th Hour Racing also funds the Urban Water Challenge that awards funding to new startups that are tackling coastal resilience issues through innovative technologies.

The sibling organization to ReMain Nantucket, 11th Hour Racing shares the mission of supporting sustainable, equitable coastal communities. Based in Newport, R.I., 11th Hour Racing embraces sponsorships, grantees, and ambassadors who integrate sustainability into their values and operations while educating, innovating, and inspiring people with the critical message of ocean stewardship.

Similarly, ReMain Nantucket is dedicated to strengthening the enduring economic, social and environmental vitality of downtown Nantucket and to encouraging innovation and resilience across the island.

In addition to being home to seasonal tourists, sailing aficionados, and plastic-free practices, both organizations reside in year-round coastal communities that continue to be invested in sustainability, equity, and adaptation.

Header image credit: The Nature Conservancy in Rhode Island

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