The Wrack is the Wells Reserve blog, our collective logbook on the web.
The Wrack is the Wells Reserve blog, our collective logbook on the web.
A few weeks back we hosted a New England regional meeting for reserves located in Maine, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island. In attendance were approximately 40 staff members from the four reserves spanning research, education, stewardship, coastal training, managers, and friends.
As an employee of the Wells Reserve for almost a year now, I had the privilege of attending this meeting and learning more about how the reserve system works as a whole, how neighboring reserves strive to work together, and how staff members collaborate on ideas.
This was the first time the northeast reserves had an official regional gathering. The idea stemmed from conversations at the national meeting held in the fall, and with the help of Betsy Nicholson, northeast lead in the Office for Coastal Management, and Alison Krepp, regional liaison, the two-day conference was considered a success by all!
Prior to the meeting, everyone seemed to agree that it just makes sense for the four reserves (Wells ME, Great Bay NH, Waquoit Bay MA, Narragansett Bay RI) to hold a conference such as this. We are all geographically close and support relatively similar ecosystems and species, so collaboration, a better understanding of other sites, and consistent messaging are all a no brainer!
The objectives for the meeting were quite clear but in my opinion it was the participation and involvement of all attendees that made this meeting such a success. The goals were as followed:
Walking into this meeting on Tuesday morning I was not sure exactly what to expect. Although the more time I spend at the reserve the more professional conferences I am able to attend, I thought the agenda of this one seemed a bit different. The schedule included items like Gallery Walk-Regional Info Round Up, Cracking the Communication Code, NERRS YouTube Mini Film Fest, and SWMP Swap and Ignite Sessions. I couldn't help but wonder — what am I, a research assistant, going to get out of the next two days? What is a gallery walk, and how is it going to start this meeting off on a good foot? More SWMP (System Wide Monitoring Program) talk? Wasn't there already an annual meeting for that program which all reserves are a part of? But in the end all of these thoughts and questions were answered. I quickly realized that the informal schedule and discussion-based breakout sessions were exactly what all 40 attendees needed for a successful event.
Narragansett Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve, Rhode Island
A few days before the meeting, Alison and Betsy sent out a survey asking:
They took the answers and wrote them on large poster sized sticky notes and displayed them around the auditorium. For many projects they included fun illustrations and drawings. When we first arrived at the meeting we were asked to walk around and look at these displays, like were we at an art gallery. We were given a marker and told to put a check mark next to any question or idea that we were also interested in. This ended up being a very interesting, and interactive, way to display information! I thought this was a great start to this meeting — it broke the ice to strike up a conversation with someone you didn't know, and it educated everyone on current events going on at the different reserves — already accomplishing objective #1!
Next we broke into discussion groups, but the topic of each group was decided on as a large group. For example Sue Bickford, a GIS and natural resource specialist here in Wells, is very interested in using unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), better known as drones, in ecological research. She wanted to see if other attendees had thoughts or interest on this topic. Of course some did, so she held a discussion session on that. Other sessions included NERRS Science Collaborative ideas for 2016 and a salt marsh management mash-up, which I attended. We spoke about crab research, floating marshes, and the possibility of putting together a regional salt marsh conference. Once again I thought this was an informal but productive way to discuss topics that were of interest to everyone.
Based on the "big questions" displayed on the walls in the morning, it was clear that communication and sending out messages from the reserves to the public were topics on everyone's mind. Laudholm Trust President Nik Charov was already aware of this, so he had arranged for three guest speakers to come in the afternoon.
Bonnie Pothier, southern Maine liaison for Senator King, and Kyle Molton, former regional liaison for Congresswoman Pingree, talked about how to be heard by your government representatives. I felt that their biggest pointer was to establish and maintain a relationship with those people you want to advocate for you. They were great guests and answered all sorts of questions that reserve staff members had! Also, Laura Dolce, past editor of the York County Coast Star, talked about being an advocate for your own reserve using the media. She also had many helpful hints on how to sell stories you think are important to share as well as establishing relationships with news writers and editors.
The final part of the first day's activities was probably my favorite of the entire conference. The education coordinators led breakout groups where they gave a brief overview of the Teachers on the Estuary program (TOTE) and asked participants for suggestions on how they might expand the applications and activities. I particularly enjoyed this "mini think-tank session" because the groups were a cross between sectors and reserves so everyone came with a different expertise and knowledge set and each participant made suggestions that were unique to their line of work.
Great Bay National Estuarine Reserve Reserve, NH
Day one wrapped up with a fun meal at a local restaurant followed by a YouTube mini film fest displaying short clips of fellow colleagues' 15 minutes of internet fame — or at least recognition. Again, this activity allowed attendees to get a better understanding of what is going on at each of the reserves.
Day two kicked off at the Alheim Commons, a change of venue but equally productive and even cozier! We began with a presentation by Narragansett Bay's Robin Weber, who has been working in Rhode Island on the Climate Change Vulnerability Assessment Tool of Coastal Habitats (CCVATCH). This new tool is used to determine which specific habitats are vulnerable to climate change. Robin's presentation sparked conversation on potential application of this tool specific to each reserve and ways to improve it.
Our morning finished with four ignite sessions — 5-minute presentations consisting of about 20 slides that advance every 15 seconds. The theme of these presentations was SWMP and how the data is used in different ways at different reserves. Again this session gave audience members a better understanding of research projects, monitoring programs, and outreach events.
Our final breakout session was initially left unplanned. This allowed for a set amount of time for attendees to follow up on discussions or ideas that were started over the last two days. In a very natural way, two discussion groups were formed — one focusing on salt marshes and research and the other focusing on consistent messaging and promotion of the New England reserve system as a group. I participated in the research discussion, where we collaborated on methods and ideas on studying invasive crab species. I was extremely surprised at how much we were able to collaborate on ideas and put together future projects.
Overall I can pick out specific conversations showing that as a group we did indeed meet the objectives of better understanding, greater collaboration, and identifying areas for regional work. On a personal level, this meeting allowed me to network with other professionals in my field, it gave me a better understanding of the National Estuarine Research Reserve System, and it showed me the importance of establishing relationships with colleagues, the public, and government officials.