Seeking solutions to ‘wicked’ coastal issues

LIHUE — Experts have a good handle on the issues surrounding coastal hazards — like sea level rise and climate change – but what to do about these problems is another animal.

In order to help address these coastal hazards, the University of Hawaii Sea Grant College Program has created a new center for excellence.

It’s called the Center for Coastal and Climate Science and Resilience, and it is bringing together bright minds from various disciplines to weigh in on the problem.

“We’re bringing individuals with experience from many different disciplines to solve these wicked problems,” Said Darren Lerner, director of the UH Sea Grant College Program. “It’s more than getting together to talk about it, it brings researchers to do actual research and specialists to engage the public and communities.”

The newest center’s purpose is to assist coastal communities throughout Hawaii and the Pacific Islands to prepare for the impacts of both natural and human-induced coastal hazards, according to a news release from the UH Sea Grant Program.

The center — which is more of a connection of people than it is an actual building – brings together professionals in many disciplines including oceanography, law, economists, social scientists, engineers and members of the county planning departments.

Lerner explained the UH Sea Grant College program is a network of 33 national programs that focuses on the wide use of coastal and ocean resources, as well as conservation. For a large part of their 50-year history, the Sea Grant programs focused on specific issues as they were happening, but the focus has shifted in recent years.

“(It was) the realization that a large part of what’s happening on our coasts and in our oceans is due the activity of the human population on land and we need to be looking at land activities to solve the problems,” Lerner said.

Some of the University of Hawaii’s professors started collaborating, looking at the state’s built environment – infrastructure and housing – and how that interacts with the coast and the oceans.

“They realized if they were going to bring in solutions, they had to do it in an interdisciplinary way,” Lerner said. “So in that was born the idea for our center of excellence. It’s not a new idea, but it incorporates different disciplines to approach the problems in a holistic way.”

Lerner said the creation of the new center for excellence is timed perfectly, and not coincidentally, with a $850,000, three-year grant received from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

He said Brad Romine, a coastal geologist management specialist with the UH Sea Grant College Program, was the one that made the grant happen.

“With Brad as the lead attaining funding from the NOAA in the form of the NOAA resilience grant,” Lerner said. “Our program was awarded almost $850,000 over three years to focus on resilience issues.”

Romine said the money will be instrumental in developing an online, interactive coastal hazard viewer that will provide a planning tool for counties to better understand the vulnerabilities of coastal hazards with the addition of sea level rise.

In addition to developing a pathway for data, the money from the NOAA grant is helping fund connections between experts in different counties so they can learn from one another when it comes to disaster preparedness and preparation for coastal hazards.

“We just had a meeting on Kauai with Civil Defense and the planning department on Kauai, and we wanted to know what their experience was with Hurricane Iniki,” Romine said. “We want those lessons, particularly from Kauai, but from other counties too, to try to improve how we recover after a disaster – not just faster but more resilient.”

He said UH Sea Grant College Program’s staff members have been considering the concept for the new center for a few years, but the NOAA resilience grant gave it the “kick-start” it needed to get off the ground.

“We’ll be doing an outreach program throughout this coastal resilience project and we’ll be going out to a targeted cross-section of folks: decision makers, developers, resorts, insurances industries – folks like that,” Romine said.

He said the plan is to put together a public information session this summer, or sometime in the fall, to bring everyone up to speed on the coastal hazards that are prevalent, and the ideas being generated to help combat these “wicked problems.”


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