New Landscape Methods to Improve Coastal Resilience

Three Rhode Island communities will serve as new pilot projects to increase coastal resilience to climate change impacts, such as sea level rise, flooding, and increased storminess, according to the Rhode Island Sea Grant.

The project will explore landscape methods that are natural – or that mimic nature – to restore ecosystem services (habitat and stormwater filtration, for example) to developed areas.

The project, funded by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and the U.S. Department of the Interior, is led by Pamela Rubinoff and Teresa Crean, extension specialists with the URI Graduate School of Oceanography’s Coastal Resources Center and Rhode Island Sea Grant.

It will look at how green infrastructure could be used in coastal areas in Newport, Warwick, and North Kingstown, to aid those municipalities’ efforts to make their communities more resilient.

Caitlin Chafee, policy analyst for the R.I. Coastal Resources Management Council, described some of the challenges of landscape design and development in coastal area: “One of the most obvious is you are on the shore, you’ve got sea levels, tides, coastal storms, elevated water tables – this is a situation that is not going to get any better with climate change and sea level rise. This is something we have to consider when we are … choosing our designs. Our coastal areas are some of the most densely developed. There’s not a lot of open space to work with.”

She pointed out that coastal areas are also economic engines for their communities and the state, so how projects will impact economics is also a consideration.

Jamie Houle, program manager for the University of New Hampshire Stormwater Center, added that investments in landscaping should aim to serve multiple functions that have economic, environmental, and social benefits.