By Mia Ambroiggio 

South Portland Sustainability Office 

With over 3,400 miles of coastline, Maine has the fourth largest coastline of any state in the U.S. Communities along the coast are dependent on their waterfront for recreation, economic opportunity, and transportation. However due to climate change, we are facing more frequent and intense precipitation, storm surges, and flooding. Our sea level is rising, worsening this flooding, and our shorelines are eroding. These climate effects will impact our most vulnerable communities the most, including communities of color and those with lower incomes, due to existing systemic inequities. To effectively prepare for the climate crisis, we need to build coastal resilience.  

Building resilience means strengthening the ability of our communities to withstand the effects of climate change and to bounce back after a climate event such as a major storm. Planning and preparing for the changes we know are coming will leave us stronger and more resilient. In Maine, there are many organizations and municipalities already working to find innovative solutions to climate threats and to build resilience. 

Climate action planning 

State and municipal governments should make a plan now to adjust for future conditions. In December 2020, Maine adopted its first climate action plan, Maine Won’t Wait. The cities of Portland and South Portland also adopted the country’s first joint climate action and adaptation plan between two cities, One Climate Future (www.oneclimatefuture.org) And the Greater Portland Council of Governments (GPCOG) is supporting membership towns in creating their own local climate action plans that align with the state plan. Taking a regional approach to planning is key because risks from climate change impact communities across borders. 

Nature-based solutions 

Solutions that reduce coastal risk include improvements to roads, bridges, homes, and other infrastructure, increased social programs, and nature-based solutions. Nature-based solutions involve the introduction or restoration of natural resources and systems such as salt marshes, rain gardens, open spaces, or even rocks and seagrass, to mitigate the effects of climate change. This natural infrastructure protects our coastal communities from climate threats while also expanding and enhancing our natural spaces. 

Solutions that reduce coastal risk include improvements to roads, bridges, homes, and other infrastructure, increased social programs, and nature-based solutions. Nature-based solutions involve the introduction or restoration of natural resources and systems such as salt marshes, rain gardens, open spaces, or even rocks and seagrass, to mitigate the effects of climate change. This natural infrastructure protects our coastal communities from climate threats while also expanding and enhancing our natural spaces. 

Caption: Living Shoreline Project in Brunswick (Courtesy of GPCOG

In November 2021, GPCOG was awarded $250,000 by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF) to pursue nature-based climate action in the greater Portland region. GPCOG matched these funds through the support of the Gulf of Maine Research Institute, grants, and municipalities. Over the course of the two-year project, GPCOG will work with 11 coastal communities to find nature-based solutions to combat coastal flooding. The project aims to be a collaborative effort between community members who will be affected by coastal flooding, and will include engagement with volunteers, city employees, elected officials, and community leaders. To learn more about the project, visit GPCOG’s website or contact Sara Mills-Knapp, [email protected]

Community-driven coastal resilience 

Several local organizations are building coastal resilience by empowering community members to be active participants in data collection and municipal decision making. 

Gulf of Maine Research Institute (GMRI), a nonprofit dedicated to building community and ecosystem resilience in the Gulf of Maine, hosts the Coastal Flooding Citizen Science Project. This project aims to study the impacts of a rising ocean on our shorelines and infrastructure, and deepen our understanding of how climate change impacts species, communities, and habitats in our region. Through the citizen science project, any person can visit coastal sites, take photos of the site, and post their findings to the GMRI Ecosystem Investigation Network dashboard, where municipalities, researchers, and community members can see their findings. While data can be collected from anywhere in the Gulf of Maine, there are currently four participating communities with designated monitoring sites: Portland, South Portland, Vinalhaven, and Belfast. To learn more about the citizen science project and begin posting photos, visit www.gmri.org. 

Another way to get involved with building coastal resilience is through the Friends of Casco Bay’s Water Reporter. This tool similarly allows volunteer water reporters to photograph evidence of sea level rise across Casco Bay to increase knowledge of how the bay is changing. and influence project and policy decisions related to coastal resilience. To learn more about how to become a water reporter, visit www.cascobay.org. 

Mia Ambroiggio is a GPCOG Resilience Corps fellow serving with the South Portland Sustainability Office. She can be reached at [email protected].